In 1893 the New England branch of NSW Rugby Union was affiliated, officially becoming part of the NSWRU, and this weekend 600 former players and 13 Wallabies will celebrate that milestone and the New England history of the game they play in heaven.
The weekend will be a feast of rugby games and entertainment that includes a welcome Wallabies function, a huge 1980s cocktail function, a sevens competition, a women’s competition, a UNE first XV game against a Barbarians team, and, last but not least, a huge Golden Oldies carnival consisting of teams representing former and current clubs.
A tragedy galvanised the rugby community in Armidale recently with the death of Wallaby legend and former Armidale teacher, coach and player John Hipwell.
Organiser Scott Williams said many people were coming to honour Hipwell, who famously coached the 1985 TAS side to a GPS victory with a side that included Wallabies Sam Payne and Richard Tombs, who will also be attending the reunion.
“The term legend gets thrown around too loosely these days, but John truly was in all aspects of his life,” Williams said.
There will be a small memorial before the main game this afternoon with a lone bagpiper playing Flower of the Forest before a minute’s silence in memory of the great halfback and educator.
The golden oldies’ gala day has attracted the biggest crowd, with 20 teams from 13 clubs signed up to have a run around and recapture their youth.
The now defunct United Club will have the biggest roll-up, with four full teams lining up today and over 100 players returning.
Tamworth’s Barry Everingham will be captaining the 1974-82 City Smashers United side and is not surprised so many former members are returning for the weekend.
“We were a pretty social club at the time and that has continued with a lot of the guys staying in touch,” Everingham said.
“It has been very well organised and should be a great weekend and a great catch-up.”
Albies college will also be fielding three sides and plenty of supporters, with one side in particular sure to turn heads.
Member for New England Barnaby Joyce will be pulling the boots out of the back of the cupboard and taking to the field.
There is sure to be plenty of people keen to play alongside him and plenty more keen to have a run against him.
Over 700 people are expected to attend tonight’s main function at the Armidale Jockey Club, with many of them backing up for a round of golf tomorrow to close proceedings.
The reunion that started out as a 1988 grand final reunion between Old Boys and Albies colts has exploded into a huge event.
“I originally thought it would be good to get about 30 blokes to have a rematch and tell tall stories to each other at the pub,” Williams said.
The idea went out on Facebook and Williams, with the help of some others, “just picked the ball up and ran with it.”