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Mobbs Memorial Match giving rugby the chance to commemorate World War I centenary

Edgar Mobbs - Saints, England and World War I hero ©

Club News Mobbs Memorial Match giving rugby the chance to commemorate World War I centenary

As has been well documented in the media and beyond, 2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. And on Wednesday, March 19th, rugby union will be able to commemorate the memory of a true legend of the sport and the battlefield when the Mobbs Memorial Match returns to Franklin's Gardens.

The Mobbs Memorial Match is one of the longest-standing representative fixtures in English rugby. Inaugurated in 1921, at one stage the Match was one of the biggest games in the domestic calendar, pitting star-studded Barbarians teams against the East Midlands, who themselves featured internationals and British and Irish Lions such as Jeff Butterfield and Dickie Jeeps.

The Match honours one of the true legends of Northampton Saints. Even through his exploits as a rugby player alone Edgar Mobbs would be worthy of a place in the club's Hall of Fame.

The first Saint to captain England, Mobbs was an inspirational leader, skippering the club for five seasons and playing 234 times. He also led the East Midlands, Midlands and the Barbarians, and upon his retirement club official Albert Orton said: “Wherever he led, everyone would follow” with Northampton journalist Tommy Mitton adding: “Mobbs is undoubtedly the finest footballer Northampton has produced.”

But Mobbs would cement his place in history with what he did when he retired from playing. After the outbreak of World War I Mobbs was refused a commission on account of being too old, aged 32. However he was not a man to take “no” for an answer, and formed his own special corps.

The 264 men who were passed fit to fight were known as the Sportsman's Battallion and formed a large part of the 7th Battallion, the Northamptonshire Regiment. Only 85 survived the War, with Mobbs himself killed while charging a German machine gun nest during the Battle of Passchendale in 1917. He had previously been wounded three times, and told his friend Claude Palmer during his final period of recuperation in Church Brampton, Northamptonshire, that he did not expect to return home alive.

In the 21st Century the nature of the fixture may have changed, but the dedication to honouring the legacy of Edgar Mobbs lives on. Following the withdrawal of the Barbarians in 2011, former Saints chairman Keith Barwell headed a group committed to ensuring that the Mobbs Memorial Match did not become a victim to the professional game.

The British Army took the place of the Barbarians, with Northampton Saints and Bedford Blues alternating as the host venue and team, recognising that while Mobbs was primarily a Saints player he was also a pupil at Bedford Modern School and turned out for the Blues before moving to Franklin's Gardens.

There may be fewer household names on the team sheet, but the Mobbs Memorial Match still gives supporters the opportunity to witness future stars in action. Indeed, two years ago future Bath star winger Semesa Rokoduguni lit up Franklin's Gardens while in the red of the British Army, while Alex Waller, Tom Collins and Will Hooley have gone on to be regular players in the Aviva Premiership for the Saints.

In 2012 3,500 supporters headed to Franklin's Gardens to support the two teams, and it is hoped that this figure will increase this year, with proceeds from the game all going to support the charitable aims of the Mobbs Memorial Trust.

In addition to the Mobbs Memorial Match itself (which kicks off at 7:45pm), the day will also include the British Army's 'A' team taking on an East Midlands Counties XV at 5pm, the Northamptonshire leg of the Elite Insurance Sevens Series – a tournament for Under-13 schools teams – as well as marching bands and plenty of British Army hardware in the Village.

Saints chairman Tony Hewitt says that 2014 will be an important milestone for the Mobbs Memorial Match.

“You cannot overstate how important a figure Edgar Mobbs is in Northampton, both within the club but also in the town as a whole,” he said. “Not only was he the first Saints to captain England, but his leadership qualities extended far beyond that with his formation of the Sportsman's Battallion.

“All you have to do to see the impact that he had is to look at the pictures of the homecoming parade and the unveiling of the Mobbs Memorial in the town centre, and the fact that the Mobbs Memorial Match was founded in the first place, along with the Mobbs Memorial Trust, shows the extent of the respect that people had for him then, and now.

“We are proud to be associated with the Mobbs Memorial Match, and are delighted to be playing the British Army on March 19th in what is sure to be an emotional occasion. It is our own piece of history, and hopefully plenty of people will come and support it.”

Tickets for the 2014 Mobbs Memorial Match can be booked now, with the suggested donation of £10 (adults) and £3 (concessions and juniors) all going to support the charitable aims of the Mobbs Memorial Trust. To book online just CLICK HERE and follow the straightforward instructions!

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