STILL GOING STRONG
RUGBY IN Marton has been around in some shape or form for the past 125 years, but this small-town club itself has enjoyed two lives during its colourful history.
The first Marton Rugby Club operated from 1885 to 1928. It was a stand-alone entity, with two other rugby fraternities – Old Boys and Athletic – also on the local scene.
When Marton folded, Old Boys and Athletic continued to go about their business until 1990 when they merged out of necessity to form the second Marton Rugby Club. Aside from amalgamating with Huntersville to create Pourewa (the marriage lasted from 1997 to 2004, but the clubs well and truly split in 1999), it has been trading ever since.
Long-serving club president and senior A player-coach Bob Fittler and club legend Bruce Galpin – another veteran player who also runs the bar and ensures the field is spick and span – believe Marton is a family-orientated club which has strong ties to its community.
“We try to make our clubrooms a second home for people,” says Fittler. “What makes our club special are its members – we have a diverse range of people and that’s what makes it a great place. When you can sit down at the end of the day and have a sense of belonging to something, well that’s what it’s all about at grassroots level, isn’t it?”
Hospitality is also something Marton prides itself on. All the essentials of a rugby diet – meat, vegetables and potatoes – are on the menu when the team is in town. It is usually washed down by a couple of cold ones afterwards. The latter are some of the cheapest beers going around, so I am told.
The clubhouse itself overlooks the pleasant and picturesque Marton Park. Around 120 kids ranging from under fives to 13s can usually be seen chasing a ball around like headless chooks, while on the adult side of the equation last year, there was a Senior A, Under 21s and “half a senior B team until it fell over”.
Fittler’s last remark is probably a reflection of where the club is in terms of numbers. There is a committed core of players and administrators who turn up for duty week-in, week-out, but it’s not how it used to be in the good old days where, according to Galpin, the team had eight Wanganui reps and was a handy side on the local club scene.
With little employment opportunities in Marton, people are forced to head to nearby areas for work. Not helping matters was the fact that three major industries also shut up shop.
“We’re battling,” says Fittler. “But you’ve got to be realistic about it – we are a small club in a small town. Marton is becoming a place where people live and do everything else outside of it.”
Be that as it may, however, Marton does – and will continue to – battle on in this difficult rugby climate. Men like Fittler and Galpin will do everything to ensure it stays afloat – including lacing the boots, even if they are starting to get on a bit and cop a “bit of shit” from their younger teammates.
“But that’s the good thing about being the boss – you can make them do a few extra push-ups,” quips Fittler.
Those younger fellas might be a cheeky bunch, but he acknowledges they are important to the club’s future. Several of them are also on the committee, so that is a positive.
The club boasts no All Blacks, although former Hurricanes, Wanganui and Manawatu flanker Bruce Hansen passed through its ranks in his earlier years.
“We try to foster as much rugby around the town and see ourselves as a stepping stone. If someone from Marton with any talent plays one season for us and then goes on to bigger things, then that’s a big kick for us in a small town like this,” says Fittler.
Another thing Marton gets a kick out of is beating rivals Utiku Old Boys: “We have a love-hate relationship on the field, but a good one off it.”
Something that should be a good celebration will occur on Queen’s Birthday weekend when Marton celebrates 125 years of rugby in the town. Games have yet to be confirmed, but the union has booked home gigs for all its teams that weekend.
No doubt the turnstile will be spinning like mad. After all, as Fittler says, the club is the best place to be on a Saturday afternoon.
As far as club president Bob Fittler and club legend Bruce Galpin are concerned, the 1994 season is one Marton can look back on with pride, as both the Senior As and Under 21s won their respective finals.
The Colts beat Marist in their competition decider at Spriggens Park. Not to be outdone, however, the club’s top team convincingly beat Ohakune at the same venue later in the day to ensure it was a double celebration for Marton.
Galpin remembers the Senior A team had eight Wanganui reps within its ranks, but only qualified fourth for the semifinals.
Still, that did not stop them from coming home strong in the final: “The game was all over after about 20 or 30 minutes, as we were up by 20-odd points,” says Galpin.
According to Fittler, the celebrations carried on long into the night, but unfortunately for Marton, that was the last time it tasted club championship success, with the team in recent years finishing near the bottom of the table.
There are not many guys who are still playing premier rugby after 26 years, but Bruce Galpin is one of them.
Not bad for a farmer who is 43. His longevity is even more remarkable given he is a back (he plays halfback these days, but appeared in other backline positions over the years), rather than a gnarly, old forward.
“We can’t get him anywhere near the forward pack,” laughs club president Bob Fittler.
His match total is uncertain (he stopped counting after 300), but it is believed he has racked up more than 400 games for Old Boys, Marton and Pourewa since making his debut as a baby-faced youngster in 1986.
He also played four games for Wanganui in 1994 and 1995.
“I sat on the reserve bench for a lot of the time,” he says. “But my first game for the province I was dragged from the stand. They had some injuries and I got called to strip down,” he laughs.
As for when Galpin will finally pull the pin, well that’s anyone’s guess. “You never retire – you just slowly don’t play again. But as long as I’m enjoying, I’ll keep going.”
Besides, as Fittler jokes, what else is he going to do on a Saturday?
With the series level, expect both teams to put it all on the line as they seek to win the deciding test in Sydney on Saturday night.