QLD Premier Rugby: A family affair at GPS

By Michael Atkinson. Photo: News Corp

Like the famous transport slogan says, “without trucks, Australia stops moving”; so too could the same logic apply to families and club rugby.

The Richards family at G.P.S. Old Boys Rugby club in Brisbane’s inner-west suburb of Ashgrove are part of a large collection of families in the area who’ve helped keep the club moving. Their association with the ‘Jeeps’ dates back 20 years when the first of six sons – in a family of 8 children, 6 boys and two girls – started playing juniors.

“The outlet here for young families to enjoy themselves is enormous” said patriarch of the family, John.

“It’s a local community, your local club, good people, good times, and the rugby is good – but that was sort of secondary.”

As the family grew, the natural progression was for the younger boys to spend their weekends running around in the green and blue, building a love for the game and, more importantly, building lifelong friendships.

But John’s involvement was just in a supportive parent role at that point. Then, while watching a Reserve Grade game in the early 2000’s, he saw an opportunity to get involved.

“I’ll always remember, I was watching reserves and there was a bloke writhing on the ground in a bit of pain, and no one came near him,” recalls John.

“There were no water boys back then. No trainers or physios or anything like that. And I remember seeing that, then going home and saying to the boys, ‘I’m going to become a water boy.’”

“They said ‘Oh, you’re too old to be a water boy’. But I started doing it anyway.”

John sunk his teeth into life at the club even more that year when another family, the Arnolds – of whom, son Shane is now Assistant Coach of the Reds – took the reins of the Reserve Grade side.

“At the time, the club was all about the A Grade (Premier) and nothing much about the B Grade (Reserves), so me and some other blokes got right behind the Reserve Grade that year,” said John.

“We all chipped in and got them training jerseys, and water bottles, and Gatorade for half-time, full-time, that kind of stuff – we just tried to elevate it a bit, and it worked.”

“The thing about this club and, all clubs, the more you care and the more you turn up and the more you’re interested, the better outcome it is for everybody.”

These days, John is the President of the club, and match day ground announcer. He proudly sits in the stands each weekend while he watches three of his sons still represent the Gallopers.

Third son, Matt, 28, plays second grade; youngest, Nick, 21, is a backrower for Reserve Grade; and second youngest, Michael, 24, is blindside flanker or number 8 for Premier Grade.

“We really love the club and that’s probably kept me and my family coming back each year,” Michael said.

“You genuinely do have a love for the place. For myself, coming through from juniors, it was always about playing with my mates.”

“I love playing for Jeeps and some of my best memories as a kid are coming down and watching Premier Grade on a Saturday afternoon with all my mates.”

“To now be playing at that level is a massive privilege.”

Michael, or ‘Kramer’ as some of his mates like to call him because of his sharing of the same name with the actor who played the quirky Seinfeld character, will line up for the Gallopers against Brothers in Jeeps’ annual Old Boys Day this Saturday.

“It’s a great honour to play Premier Grade on a day like that for the club, and particularly against a club like Brothers,” said Michael.

“You don’t want to let any of the Old Boys down and you feel responsible for the performance you put out on the field.”

While victory on Saturday is crucial for the Gallopers in the context of their season, trying to avoid a third straight loss, the result will do nothing to blemish Michael’s, John’s and the rest of the Richards clan’s tireless contributions to the club.

With six sons who’ve all played rugby at Jeeps, it’s natural to wonder which one John thinks is or was the best of the bunch.

But, like any good President, he is diplomatic.

“We do a good job of keeping inflated egos in check, but I am supremely proud of all of them,” John said.