One of Grand Bahama’s oldest sporting clubs, Freeport Rugby Football Club (FRFC), is now back in action after a low profile due to hurricanes and the pandemic.

Club President Rob Speller is excited about the new season fixtures and in a recent interview with Grand Bahama News,said, “Freeport has a young aggressive team and will be challenging our old rivals, the Nassau Buccaneers, and other teams, for the Bahamas Rugby Cup with the first match to be held here in March.”

Formed in 1965 by the late Chris Cafferata, school teacher John Lively and others, the club property was a popular venue for various sporting and social events and used to host an annual Easter Festival Rugby Tournament with visiting clubs from all over the world. In the late 1970’s, members of the New York Cosmos soccer team were frequent visitors with world-famous payers like Chinaglia, Alberto and Beckenbauer holding their off-season training camps at the club and playing friendly matches against Freeport on a couple of occasions in 1979.

Donnie Knowles is one former sportsman with vivid memories of those times.

“I was the Freeport goalie and I managed to save a few but I will never forget Franz Beckenbauer slamming a ball into the back of the net, just missing taking my head off,” he said.

“I think we lost 12-0 that time.”

Even Pelé, recognized as the world’s greatest soccer player, was supposed to come to Freeport but was called back to represent his home team Santos.

The Youth International Rugby Festival was formed 13 years ago, catering to junior players and consisting of teams from Freeport, Nassau, the Cayman Islands, Bermuda and the USA. Over the years, hundreds of youngsters from all of the named countries battled it out on the field and made lifelong friends during the after-match celebrations.

FRFC celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2015 with a special party and banquet on the field and many of the former members flew in from all over the world to the event.

Hurricane Matthew tore the roof off the clubhouse and blew the storage shed over the fence into the YMCA in 2016, then the whole field and club apartment was flooded by Hurricane Dorian in 2019. During the cleanup after Dorian, the club was used as the base of operations for the Rubicon Disaster Relief Team, a nonprofit US-based organization whose volunteers are all US military veterans, to assist in the rip-outs and build back of all the flooded residential houses in Freeport.

Then came the virtual shutdown of just about everything when COVID arrived six months later.

Despite the recent difficulties, the club still managed to keep up a training schedule for its players. Five members, Justin Lewis, Treyvon Henfield, Spencer Graham, Marcus Gouthro and Michael Watkins were selected from Freeport to play for The Bahamas National 7’s team at the Rugby American North Tournament in Mexico City last November.

Grand Bahama Rugby Coach, Nigel Kirkby, traveled with them and said, “Despite the fact that they haven’t been able to play against other teams for so long, the lads did really well and I was proud of their aggressive and sporting spirit.”

In December, the Miami Tridents Rugby Team, who is presently celebrating its 50th anniversary season, came over on the recently introduced Margaritaville At Sea cruise ship for a friendly match, which was combined with a celebration cocktail party designed to attract new Freeport rugby members. The social game was a fiercely fought affair with the gracious Freeport team submitting to a loss at the hands of a very talented touring side who happen to boast being state champions for the past five years.

A number of fixtures are planned for this year to be hosted by Freeport and Nassau and hopefully more foreign touring teams will be added to the programs later in the season.

The Freeport Youth Festival is once again scheduled to take place in Freeport this year on May 13 and 14. – Dave Mellor

Photo: FRFC’s Michael Watson leaps up as he scores a try against Buccaneers during their Heineken Cup match Saturday, January 4, 2020 at the Freeport Rugby Club. Credit: Timmy “Muscles” Aylen