A short while ago we were invited to Burford Church for the launch of a brand new Rugby League team. The name was chosen for two reasons - firstly because of the weight of Civil War history in the county and secondly, to put the team in direct competition with the only other Rugby League side in Oxfordshire, the Cavaliers. It was 18 September, the same night that 20 miles away and 370 years ago, Private Biggs and Private Piggen were executed at Gloucester Green for being Levellers. The link with history was doubled by our location – Burford Churchyard being the site of another execution of Levellers by Cromwell’s forces.
The team is the brainchild of John Connaughton, a secondary school rugby coach with a passion for developing Rugby League in the county and getting kids active. Introducing himself and the project, he demonstrated how the value of sport extends beyond physical wellbeing. He received a cancer diagnosis in November 2016 and, quite understandably, it left him in need of support.
“I remember playing a game at Oxford Rugby Union and I had to speak to my coach, Will Brewer. I said to him before the game, ‘I’ve just found out recently I have cancer and I don’t know how this game is going to play out for me, my mind’s not on it.’ But as soon as I set out on the pitch, everything was forgotten about. There were no problems, it was unbelievable. It was like a cure for me in that moment.”
The networks you build through sport are invaluable through good times and bad, and this was part of what got him thinking about starting a new team. His first thought was to name it the Roundheads after the Civil War anti-Royalists, but he changed his mind after he met the founder of the Oxford Cavaliers in the very same church we found ourselves in. He began to investigate the noble history of the Levellers and reached out to The Sealed Knot, the oldest re-enactment society in the UK that promotes the history of the Civil War across the country. They collaborated on the design of the team’s insignia, with each element representing an aspect of history. The motto ‘Valiant and True’ is taken from the tombstone of Thomas Rainsborough, a key spokesman for the Levellers killed by Royalists at the siege of Pontefract. Levellers wore rosemary as an identifier and sign of remembrance, and thus two sprigs are duly placed on the badge, framing the helmet.
Training sessions are going on every Sunday from 9-10.30am at Bartholomew School (£3 each). The sessions are for boys and girls, ages 7-14, all abilities welcome. Adult volunteers are also required for various roles in this exciting new team!
For all details, find the team on Facebook @WestOxfordshireLevellersRLFC
Also present were three members of The Sealed Knot, including Mike Molcher, who gave a fascinating insight into the Levellers and their importance to us all.