After 100 years, rugby club still flying high

By Jane Williams

With just over 100 years of history under their belts, the Bristol Aeroplane Company Rugby Football Club is going from strength to strength. But while they may now be top of the league, it hasn’t been an easy journey to get there.

Filtonvoice caught up with the club’s chairman and forwards coach Adam Arnott to find out more about this inclusive club, which Rugby World magazine has just awarded its Team of the Month for January 2023.

Founded as a works team at BAC in 1921, the BAC RFC was originally just for employees of the Bristol Aeroplane Company. But these days, anyone is welcome to pull a team shirt on.

“The beauty of the club is, because of its aerospace links, a lot of the time we’ve had some of the Airbus and Rolls-Royce guys come over from Toulouse,” says Adam. “So you get this crazy mix of French engineers and locals from Southmead all on the same pitch, and you couldn’t make up a way to put them together apart from on a rugby pitch and it works fantastically, and we’ve had many brilliant French players play for us over the years. It’s a very inclusive club. Once you join, people don’t tend to leave.”

Adam joined the club in 2009 after moving to Bristol from London and looking for a way to get to know some people in his new home city. He hadn’t even played rugby for five years but, after spotting an ad on Gumtree saying that BAC RFC were looking for new players, he turned up one night and “it was like an instant 30-40 new friends overnight”. He explains: “You go to training and socials and it was just nice to be involved. My feeling with rugby has always been its 50% playing the game and 50% being social. The year after I joined they made me first team captain, and one of the things I brought in almost instantly was monthly socials.”

But don’t go thinking that rugby club socials are all boozed up affairs, because at BAC RFC they do things differently. Recent social events have included a boat trip around the harbour, go-karting and even axe throwing. “Anyone can go to the pub and drink pints, but a lot of the lads don’t drink so we don’t lead with that side of things,” says Adam.

The welfare of the players is very important for the club, especially after sadly losing two of their team to suicide within just two years of each other. The deaths of Mark Dewhurst and Steve Moore around ten years ago has led BAC RFC to set up the hashtag #talkmarktalkmoore to keep the two men in everyone’s memories, and to open up the conversation about mental health. “If anything’s going to come out of people taking their own lives, it’s people coming together and being stronger,” says Adam. “We have close links to Bristol Mind, and we have our annual inter club game which raises money for Mind and we make a donation each year. We keep Mark and Steve in our minds all the time and make sure we’re constantly checking on our mates. We’ll keep doing it because we never want that to happen again and we make sure everyone looks out for everyone else.”

At the time of writing, BAC RFC are sitting at the top of the league and Adam says: “There’s 10 of us in the league, we’ve beaten everyone once so it’s in our hands now. We’ll win the league if we do exactly what we’ve just done again.” And it was the club’s recent successes that helped propel them to the attention of Rugby World magazine for their recent Club of the Month award. “We were surprised but we feel like we’ve earned it,” says Adam proudly. “Obviously it’s about performances on the pitch, but it’s also about teams that have come out of adversity and shown fighting spirit on and off the pitch. So we held off a little bit and then we started this run of wins and it’s now it’s paid off.”

Looking ahead to the next season, Adam says BAC RFC is focused on developing its junior section, which was phased out a few years ago due to a lack of resources. But the club is very keen to build that up again and start training up the next generation of players. Adam is also keen to introduce a women’s team for the first time, so that everyone who wants to can have the opportunity to play rugby with them.

On which note, if anyone reading this would like to join BAC RFC, Adam says they would be most welcome. You just need to turn up on a Tuesday evening at the BAWA health club on Southmead Road, or visit BAC RFC’s website or social media pages if you’d like to ask a question beforehand. “We’ve got a first and second team, so you don’t need lots of experience,” says Adam. “Some people don’t play rugby due to a fear of injury but contact isn’t mandatory. If you want to just come along and train, you’re welcome to. Some of our players don’t play on Saturday matches, they just come along and support us in other ways. It’s not all about rugby, it’s about being part of a team.”