Family traditions can transfer across generations, giving families a special bond that can never be bought or replaced. For some families it’s a special place or grandma’s secret recipe; for others it’s a piece of jewellery or a distinguished military service. For the Seabrook family, a passion for rugby union flows through them – from a Great-Grandad who played international rugby for Ireland, down to one of the family’s youngest members who is already school captain and has dreams of becoming a sports journalist.
We met with father and son duo, Tom and Hal Seabrook, at Lymm RFC in Cheshire where siblings Hal, Betty, and Barney play and Dad Tom inspires the next generation of rugby enthusiasts as coach.
It’s currently off season but the club is still busy as we watch various diggers working on a new artificial grass pitch as part of the club’s redevelopment project to give the local community an all-weather playing surface.
The facilities and professional sporting standard of the game that Hal plays today are already different from when Tom played in the 80’s and 90’s and are a far cry from the days of great-grandad playing for Ireland.
“As well as playing for Ireland, Great-Gramps was a Church of Ireland priest, and rumour has it he also ran a shebeen (an illicit bar at the time of alcohol abolition in Ireland) in Tipperary. We never met him, but he sounds like one of those larger than life characters. He was a full back, first played for Ireland when he was just 18, won a Triple Crown and is reputed to be the first man to kick a drop goal in an international match – against England as it happens.
Back in his day it was a case of turning up half an hour before kick-off, pre-match cigarette, and then running out with your mates to work up a thirst I imagine. You just wouldn’t see that in international rugby now or even in many first team games at any level. It’s an entirely different game thanks to a different attitude to coaching, tactics, nutrition, and commitment of players.” commented Tom.
“I just saw the onset of professionalism when we really started thinking about performance and improvement. That’s not to say there is no such thing as social rugby still, far from it. One other big difference is that there aren’t many backs in the family these days, we’re not really built for that anymore.”
As we contemplate the benefits of how national, local, and junior rugby has changed, Hal added - with comedy gold timing - “people at the club still talk about the day that I told some Sale Sharks players about Dad’s training (run once round the pitch and you could have a pint, run round twice and you could have two), and that he says money has ruined the game. I was 7!”
“It’s great to play a game that many of my family have played before so I can talk to them about it and learn. Gramps played up to divisional level and he always gives me good tips; I always play better when he’s watching.” commented Hal.
Great Gramps’s name is still recognised by many in Ireland, which Tom admits to having dined out (or at least drank out) on the family connection many times. Family pride around rugby successes big and small is also something that Hal shares as he talks about one of Great-Gramps’ international caps being on loan to the IRFU and on display at the Aviva Stadium in Dublin, and how one of his coaches teases him about his rugby heritage and mimes drop goals at him. (“I still don’t know how he knows!” says Hal). Tom also beams as Hal talks about his recent captain’s speech, scoring tries, winning trophies, and the challenges of being team captain:
“If we are winning, they think I am the greatest captain and even player in the world. If we are losing everyone thinks they can do a better job! Sometimes it’s difficult because if the referee asks me something I have to be truthful; last season he asked me if one of my team had fly hacked the ball (we’re not allowed to do this yet as juniors) and I had to say yes, so our try was disallowed. Some of the team were very cross but this was the right thing to do.”
Accessible to all ages and abilities
Hal, who has suspected dyspraxia and problems with his vision, draws inspiration from England Rugby prop Ellis Genge, who himself is dyspraxic and at Hal’s age had difficulties at school too. Despite what some would consider too big a challenge to overcome, Hal brushes it off to captain his school rugby team, has won local tournaments, and been mascot for Warrington Wolves.
“But sometimes the others can be thoughtless and cruel if I drop the ball or can’t run fast enough. Some of my coaches tell me I have a great understanding of the game and Dad says that is something that can’t really be taught. So, I just have to keep working on the other stuff and doing my best.”
Thankfully, accessibility in sport has also moved on, which Tom knows all too well as a Non-Executive Director at UK Deaf Sport, a national charity that promotes deaf participation and inclusion in sport. As Tom lost his hearing and his ability to hear his teammates, opponents approaching, or the referee, it became time to hang up his rugby boots; “most people probably don’t realise what a big part hearing plays in a game.”
Since then Tom, received a cochlear implant and is using all his experiences to coach youth teams.
“I love helping the youngest ones to improve their agility, balance, and co-ordination but also teamwork, attitude and respect for team mates and opposition are very important. Those skills underpin everything and are fully transferable to other sports for those who decide rugby is not for them. It’s very rewarding to see how far they have come at the end of a season.”
Tom's life before and after an implant
In this video, Tom tells MED-EL how having a cochlear implant has changed his family life, his working life, and his role as a rugby coach.
Rise in 'tag' and walking rugby
For people who are unsure about whether full contact rugby is right for them, many clubs offer non-contact tag or touch-rugby sessions for both adults and children. Walking rugby is also seeing a surge in appeal with people starting out in the game in their 50’s and 60’s – including Tom (although he’s keen to point out he is not that old!).
“I’m really enjoying walking rugby which I started this season. I was very rusty at the outset but I’m starting to feel some of the spatial awareness coming back. Because you can’t beat people with pace you have to find other ways to do it. Great fun!”
Deaf rugby is also growing quickly with the first world deaf rugby sevens tournament being held in Australia in 2018 and ambitions to compete in the Deaflympics.
To find out more about rugby in your area, visit your national RFU website or deaf rugby teams.