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Sheppey rugby club's outgoing president Gerry Lawson on old merger proposals with Sittingbourne as he stands down from role


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A merger between rival rugby clubs in Swale shouldn’t be discounted says Gerry Lawson, Sheppey’s outgoing president.

It’s a debate that has long been discussed but one that was shut down by Sittingbourne RFC back in 2014 when Mr Lawson asked if they wanted to join forces as part of plans to build a new complex at Sheppey’s home ground.

Sittingbourne (blue) and Sheppey (in white) in action in 2020 Picture: Ken Mears
Sittingbourne (blue) and Sheppey (in white) in action in 2020 Picture: Ken Mears

Sittingbourne made it clear they weren’t interested but Mr Lawson - who will formally vacate the Sheppey presidency in July - hasn’t changed his view that an amalgamation would be a benefit to them both.

Commenting on a range of topics following his decision to stand down, Mr Lawson was asked about those old merger proposals.

He said: “I attended several meetings with Sittingbourne to merge with us but for whatever reason they didn’t want to take up the opportunity, which was a shame.

“It would have been better for both clubs if we did. They didn’t have a permanent base themselves and that was always their problem. For years and years the rivalry between Sittingbourne and Sheppey was strong in all sports and they wanted to keep their identity.

“I personally think [it would still be beneficial]. They have probably been in the ascendancy [over Sheppey] for the past few years to be honest, but I cannot see how it cannot benefit both clubs to get together, it makes sense.

“Several clubs have gone together where never the twain shall meet. Many years ago you would never think Deal and Betteshanger would be together but they have done it. Clubs have done it because purely and simply if they didn’t they wouldn’t survive.

Sheppey's outgoing president Gerry Lawson Picture: Bob Kitchin
Sheppey's outgoing president Gerry Lawson Picture: Bob Kitchin

“Blackheath, the premier Kent club, they have just been relegated, it makes you think what we should do. Old Elthamians, they got right up to the National level and now they have gone into liquidation.”

Sittingbourne finished third in Kent 2 last season while Sheppey ended the campaign in mid-table.

There have been better times previously for Sheppey but in recent years that came through individuals sponsoring overseas players, which wasn’t always popular.

Mr Lawson said: “We went from the third division to London South East 3 in just four or five years, that was an incredible achievement, but some people don’t like that.

“I don’t think it puts off local players, I think it enhances the strength of the club. If you are an average player with a very good one it can only rub off, but there was a feeling that was the wrong thing and it was decided not to do it.

“We had good sides, a couple of hundred watching, but there are ups and downs at every club.”

One major factor that Mr Lawson feels has had a negative impact on their club - and others - is the lack of school kids progressing. He and many of his friends went from playing for the [Sir] Thomas Cheyne into the teams at Sheppey.

“We need that lifeblood of young players coming through and I don’t think the schools stand up to this any more,” he said. “They virtually play no sport now, the competitiveness is gone, it doesn’t seem to happen and it is sad for sport in general.

“When I was in secondary school you were guaranteed a team of boys, virtually half the side that played for the school would be playing for the rugby club the next season, certainly at Thomas Cheyne.”

*Mr Lawson reflects on more than half a century at Sheppey in next week’s Sheerness Times Guardian.

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