THE city is split down the middle when it comes to rugby union and this season is going to be a crucial one for both Milton Keynes and Bletchley as the two clubs do battle for the right to be known as number one on the local scene.
Bletchley ply their trade a division above Milton Keynes, but after struggling to hold their own at South West 1 East level for the past couple of seasons, the Manor Fields side are desperate for an upturn in fortunes on the field – particularly in light of off-field improvements continuing.
However, Milton Keynes – buoyed by the move from Greenleys to their new home at Emerson Valley – are desperate to become top dogs in the city, and have targeted the 2011/12 campaign as the one in which they finally make the step up.
Promotion from the Southern Counties North league is the target for City, while for Bletchley the aim is to make sure they stay where they are after narrowly avoiding the drop last season.
Relegation this term would be a disaster for Bletchley, but the club is aiming higher this time around and are hopeful that an unprecedented piece of generosity from a former club captain turned entrepreneur is going to inspire them to success.
Peter Webster has offered to pay all the match fees for the club’s four senior sides this season – adding up to around £30,000. He’s done so in the hope that it will help to raise morale at the club, and also to attract new players to Manor Fields.
From U6 players right up to U17s, ladies and seniors, Bletchley is the rugby club of choice for more than 400 people in the city and that’s a figure they’re extremely proud of. However, Milton Keynes are determined to take rugby in the city to the next level in years to come, and won’t be happy just to sustain life at level six of the English game.
There’s a healthy rivalry between the two sides and as they won’t meet when it comes to league action this season, Milton Keynes and Bletchley took the opportunity to lock horns in a pre-season friendly at Emerson Valley on Saturday afternoon. Two matches were played and Bletchley came out on top in both games, winning the first team clash 38-18.
Bletchley made a flying start and got on the scoresheet inside five minutes when the visitors’ forwards gained control of the ball and Carl Miller went over to score. But the home side were quick to reply with a try by winger Rob Matthews and another from full back Dan Walker, with all three conversion attempts being missed.
Wayne Kelly slotted home a penalty for City but Bletchley began to take control as they ran in two more first half tries. The first came from Tim Stobbs before John Kirwan put the visitors in front, with the successful conversion making it 13-17 to the visitors.
Things got even better for Bletchley early in the second half with a converted try from Will Garrett, soon followed by another, this time John Kirwan going over for his second.
Scott Aspinall got on the scoresheet for City to reduce the deficit but Bletchley had the final say as Chris Coussels crashed over to complete the scoring and end a thrilling and hard-fought derby.
The battle of the two clubs’ second string sides also ended in a win for the visitors, this time 26-15. However, the real action begins this Saturday when Bletchley head to High Wycombe for their first South West I East league outing, before they face Swindon at Manor Fields in front of their just finished remodelled clubhouse.
City kick-off their new league season a week later at Alchester after they end their pre-season schedule with a home friendly game against Bugbrooke on Saturday.
Head coach Sam Viggers said: “Training has been very encouraging and we have a few new players on board who we think will help improve the side.
“We ended last season well but this year we really need to be pushing for promotion. The club has taken huge strides forward in the last 12 months and we need a first team to match the club’s ambitions.
“We’re going into schools and becoming a big part of the local community and key to our success is a highly competitive senior team.”
Bletchley director of rugby Pete Garrett said: “We’re being realistic this season and know that improving on staying up last year will be an achievement.
“To be honest we stayed up by the skin of our teeth and we need to be looking for better. There’s a really good feeling about the club at the moment and we really want to turn that into success on the pitch.”