US Portsmouth RFC aiming to ‘build on the momentum’ created by 10-team NHS lockdown fundraiser

Nick Parker is hoping to ‘build on the momentum’ created by a lockdown fundraiser among his US Portsmouth RFC players.

Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 5:13 pm
Updated Tuesday, 26th May 2020, 6:12 pm
Phil Gilliland in action for US Portsmouth. He has been going out at night to exercise after finishing his day job with the NHS. Picture: Keith Woodland.

Parker was appointed director of rugby towards the end of March, but due to the pandemic has obviously not been able to get his squad all together in the same place.

Parker is determined to oversee a brighter era at the club, who before the advent of professionalism regularly played games against some of England’s top clubs.

However, USP were forced to withdraw from London 3 South West last November due to a lack of players.

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Petersfield's Tom Whitehouse (with the ball) in action during his side's Hampshire Premier win over Fareham Heathens this season. Picture: Vernon Nash

‘Even before the lockdown we were looking to re-engage with the players in different ways,’ explained Parker.

‘We were in that mode already.’

The USP players have been competing against nine other sporting teams this month in a transatlantic fundraiser for the NHS.

They are Portsmouth RFC, Southsea Nomads RFC, Petersfield RFC, Rugby against Cancer RFC, University of Portsmouth RFC (x 2), Ellingham & Ringwood RFC, Haringey Rhinos RFC and Portsmouth Hockey Club.

Ben Horrod. Southsea Nomads v Basingstoke 2nd XV. Picture: Chris Moorhouse (260119-)

Each team has a maximum of 25 members and in the month of May have to complete 3,200 miles - 128 miles per person. Each person can only exercise for one hour each day and cyclists’ distances are halved - for example, a 50-mile bike ride equals 25 miles towards the 3,200 target.

There is a reason for the 3,200-mile limit - that is the distance from Portsmouth in Hampshire to Portsmouth in New Hampshire.

‘We were looking at ways to keep the players connected, keep them engaged, and also giving them a challenge,’ explained Parker.

‘We thought by getting other teams involved it would create a real element of competition.

‘Rugby players aren’t known for going out for long runs or cycling, but this idea seems to have really worked.

‘The engagement has been great, the feedback has been great. Other clubs have told me it’s really helped to get their engagement levels up.

‘We are very aware that in these socially distancing times it’s very easy for people to get down and their mental health to suffer.

‘We wanted to make it as inclusive as possible, so you can run, walk, cycle. The Nomads chairman Ken Walker is in his 60s but he’s been going out for walks.

‘We know some people are working, some have childcare, but we thought most people would be able to get out for an hour to exercise - and that was in line with the government guidelines when we started on May 1.

‘One of our players, Phil Gilliland, works for the NHS, he hasn’t done much exercise in the last two years and he’s become a dad.

‘The fundraising is obviously very personal for him - he’s been coming back from 14-hour shifts, settling a baby down, and then going out at 11pm at night for his hour just so he’s done it by midnight.’

As of last Friday, the only non-rugby team - Portsmouth Hockey Club - were leading with 2,344 miles followed by Ellingham (2,299) and US Portsmouth (2,226). That meant, on average, each of the 25 people in the hockey team had chalked up 4.2 miles of exercise a day over 22 days.

‘I know different clubs have organised different fundraisers, but this one is unique as it hasn’t just engaged our club, it’s engaged a wider sporting community,’’ Parker explained.

‘Hopefully that will hold rugby in this area in good stead.

‘It’s done a really good job, it’s got our players feeling more like a team. We’ve had 25 players taking part in the activity and 10 others who we know are engaged.

‘That’s given us a fairly good base level, and hopefully going forward we can build on that momentum the event has given us.

‘We just want to build as we go forward.’

The 3,200-mile challenge is due to finish this weekend. The JustGiving fundraising target is £1,000 and, as of yesterday lunchtime, the total stood at £855.