BUILDING A STRONG PROFILE
A SIGN proclaiming ‘Welcome to Carter Country’ points the way as you enter the tiny township of Southbridge. Population 900. Reputation growing.
The Southbridge Park clubrooms are smallish, but some of the most well-appointed premises you will find in most metro clubs, let alone in the country, 35 minutes from Christchurch. They act as a fine vantage point over the three fields when the cold southerly starts to blow.
Southbridge is one of the oldest clubs in New Zealand, established in 1876. It was a founding member of the Canterbury Rugby Union, and now plays out of the Ellesmere sub-union.
A trio of Southbridge men are there to give me the oil: club manager Chris McMillan, bar manager and life member Neville Carter, father of Dan, and club legend Albert Anderson. The latter is fresh off a long cycle and some harvesting on his nearby farm, and wanting to know why the bar wasn’t yet open!
Southbridge may be small, but it is well organised, and its website has a wealth of information. Its Facebook page has over 500 members, making it one of the most popular in the Canterbury-wide region. The search was on last month for locks and props, and this message was promoted through the site.
It carries more prominence than most country clubs as being the home of Dan Carter. Rugby-lovers from around the world drop in, and during the Rugby World Cup a bunch of Irish fans got the surprise of their lives when Carter himself, Ali Williams and Jimmy Cowan dropped in for a quiet Friday night beer when the All Blacks were briefly based in Christchurch. There is a small glassed-in room with a heap of Carter memorabilia, which acts as a shrine to the All Black, and of which Southbridge club people are justifiably proud.
Southbridge is one of nine Ellesmere clubs, but also plays in a combined competition with its North and Mid Canterbury counterparts. That can make for some long hauls to away games.
But the atmosphere at home games is still vibrant. In 2011 there were 10 teams, from juniors up, with colts, division three and division one. Players are drawn mainly from the locality, where dairy farming is predominant, with around 250 registered members. Not bad for its size. A Golden Oldies team, for which Nev Carter still turns out, holds its Friday night trainings in the bar, and enjoys planning its road trips to All Blacks and Super Rugby matches. They play some 12 games a year.
Albert Anderson Day has run since 1986, and some $250,000 has gone back into the community, $18,000 from last year alone. Read more about this annual event in the Club Legend profile.
“It’s a way of the rugby club giving back,” says Nev Carter. “It’s a great fundraiser for the community.”
The big local derby is Southbridge versus Leeston, home of former All Black Sam Broomhall, a short drive to the east.
“It’s like Australia versus New Zealand,” explains Anderson. “We struggled for a number of years to get a senior team but always used to put one up against Leeston. There was no love lost… but if you can’t have a beer with them after the game, then there’s something wrong with you.”
There has been the odd cold shower for the opposition though, at either club after the big match! Carter adds that plenty of product goes on the game too.
Southbridge is clearly a club with some get-up and go, and regularly attends the Bangkok 10s (reaching the semis in 2012) thanks to some tireless fundraising and good sponsorship.
So the outlook is very promising as Southbridge sets sail on its next 125 years.
“I think we are fortunate. We get a lot of support from local businesses and club members, not just financially but support through all the grades and bigger corporate sponsors as well. Our profile we’ve got now helps that,” says McMillan.
Times have changed since the days when players used to wash in the ditch behind the old stand. Now there are plans afoot to carry out more alterations, and even install a library.
ALBY ANDERSON cannot pinpoint one moment that stands out in over 40 years. That’s his right.
“It’s all just good fun. It could take hours if you sat down and worked it all out.”
Life member Nev Carter, who is nearing 50 years at the club as player and administrator, is more equivocal: “It was pretty special when Alby made the All Blacks (in 1983). He was the first club member to do that. We had a function here at the club for him. The club gave him a wee tankard to take away. But it was also special when Dan made the All Blacks.”
That was back in 2003, though Carter junior was an All Black then out of Christchurch’s High School Old Boys club. In 2009, when he played his first, and so far, only premier game for Southbridge, he officially became the club’s second All Black. A large crowd of fans (and media) were on hand that day at Denton Oval to see Southbridge play Hornby.
Southbridge has won more Ellesmere senior titles than any other club in the sub-union, but has gone through a dry spell since the early 1980s. The golden on-field era was in the 1960s, when seven titles in a row were chalked up. Two of the club’s finest – Gerald Patterson and Bing ‘The Bruiser’ McPherson – also went on to represent Canterbury.
THE CLUB’S first All Black started in “bantams” at Southbridge around 1970. Barring a couple of seasons at Lincoln, he has been a fixture here ever since.
Not many players get a day named after them, but Albert Anderson Day is an annual event on the Southbridge rugby calendar.
On that day, there are matches, raffles, auctions, the player of the year award, and all sorts of fun to be had. Historically, it has also snowed on Albert Anderson Day, Princess Diana died on that day, and the club got robbed at gunpoint on that day! Anderson has noted the irony in his self-deprecating manner.
“It’s not about me. It’s just a name. I just turn up like everyone else. I don’t do anything. I just walk around like a prize peacock,” he jokes.
“They oughta have a Danny Carter Week if they’ve got an Alby Anderson Day!”
Anderson served on the committee when he was a young man. Now he’s just a keen supporter who lives up the road.
ALL BLACKS (2)
Albert Anderson 1983-85, ’87-88
Dan Carter 2009-11
All the fixtures you need to plan your viewing pleasure!
Big signing, big money, warm-up games... then the bench. Please explain.
Despite the coverage on professional rugby in NZ is there still a place and an interest in grassroots rugby out there
Who, if anyone, will make it to the AB's squad for the June international series?