The Scarlet Warriors

13th October 2023

With an exciting month ahead as the Rugby World Cup final draws closer, we caught up with some of our own walking rugby team – the Scarlet Warriors. Made up of Chelsea Pensioners and some staff members, the team have been training weekly since their foundation in April 2023 and have already had some fantastic game successes against their competition. 

Here at the Royal Hospital, walking rugby is a perfect opportunity to play the sport in a less impactful environment to keep active aligning with our ‘Active Ageing’ ethos. We heard from some of our Chelsea Pensioners how the sport has helped them, why they love being part of the team and their hopes for the team’s development. 

The Royal Hospital Chelsea's walking rugby team stood in front of the Royal Hospital building

Mike Bardell

My favourite thing about the Royal Hospital is the walking rugby. 

I played rugby until I was 36 and I stopped due to an injury in my ankle. But I played for all the regiments I’d been in too, I loved it. Then someone here said, ‘I’m going to start’, and I thought I can’t do that. I’m too old! But it is fantastic - you get on the pitch and when you come off, you’re buzzing. I have a walking stick so I can’t move fast but that’s why something like this is great. You get such a fantastic feeling that you’ve done something, you’ve achieved something at 80 years of age and it’s great.

Chelsea pensioner Mike Bardell stood outside holding a rugby ball in the Scarlet Warriors kit
It is has helped me mentally as well as physically. Having done something that I used to love doing and being able to do something like that again, it’s great. I can tell myself there’s nothing wrong with you, you can do these things and it’s a fantastic feeling. The freedom to do something like you used to do. It makes you feel good! 

I would recommend to anyone over the age of 60 to take something up like walking rugby – besides the game, the social life is also fantastic! 

Ann Phipps

The Army gave me an incentive to be fit and that's happened here which is fantastic.

I’ve got to admit before the rugby I wasn’t doing much. I counted steps but nothing too specific as you don’t have as much incentive to be active. I used to go to the gym regularly, but after Covid my fitness slipped back quite a bit. So, when the walking rugby came up, I thought why not? It is a great way to stay fit and active. 

Chelsea Pensioner Ann Phipps stood outside in Scarlet Warriors walking rugby kit

I hadn’t ever really played rugby before. In my generation, you weren’t allowed to play football or rugby at school. When I joined the Air Force at 17, women only ran 200 yards but now women’s sport has taken off. It’s amazing! So, I love that the team welcomes all levels of ability. 

When we have the practices, we have a laugh and we have fun!

I’ve always been a fan of sports so it’s great to be taking part in something and trying something new. You don’t realise how much you are walking when you’re playing the game. When I did the first training evening, I could hardly move the next day, but I think quite a few of us were having the same trouble. I got back to my room and fell asleep for two hours in the chair. The older you get; you do need a bit more recovery. I think that’s also important not to be ashamed in needing time to recover. But the more I go, the easier it gets, and I can notice the improvements in my fitness.

And it’s fun! When we have the practices, we have a laugh and some fun and then when we are playing against teams, it’s great for meeting new people. 

Ivan Sangster

It's such good fun and it brings us closer together having a common interest.

I try to keep myself as active as possible which is why I took part in the 16 London Bridges charity walk the other week. I enjoy walking as I’m not much of a gym goer, and I’ve always liked team sports; rugby, football, cricket – I’d say that’s my passion! So, when the walking rugby came up and they were looking for people to come along, I thought why not? I never looked back really, it’s one of the best things I’ve done. It’s such good fun, it brings a few of the pensioners a lot closer together because we’ve got a common interest. We recently went down to Guildford for the walking rugby tournament, that was fantastic!

Chelsea Pensioner Ivan Sangster in his Scarlet Warriors walking rugby kit
It’s something other than walking. I know you’re supposed to be walking, but things happen a lot quicker than when you’re just out for a walk. You’ve still got to get back quickly, you’ve got to walk with a ball, try and find a gap, so I find myself getting out of breath quickly. But it’s also good for your mental health as well. I find walking a great mental health boost, and the walking rugby is the same. It’s something I really look forward to and afterwards I think I’m glad I did it. It’s great physically and mentally. 

Charlie Farley MBE

From the age of 14 I loved rugby. Playing rugby in the Army was where my obsession with it really began.

I joined a junior leader’s regiment when I was 15 and they sent me back to school for another two and half years. It was like a military college where I really started getting into sport big time. Then I did pre parachute selection, where I served with the reserve parachute regiment and played rugby for the Army and the ‘Gunners’. I played rugby for anybody because I liked it so much.

Chelsea Pensioner Charlie Farley in his Scarlet Warriors walking rugby kit
In the Army, there was rugby training every day. It was very organised and structured. So, rugby became an obsession! Later in life, I went on to be a coach. I coached Hampshire while in the Seventeenth's Regiment, and there was a young chap called Johnny Wilkinson. I didn’t teach him how to kick, but I like to claim it. 

When I came to the Royal Hospital, I knew there were teams you could join but I needed somebody like-minded to see if we could get the walking rugby going forward. Brian, the President of the team, was all over it and we’ve got it going. We have a sponsor now who very kindly offered to get us kit and we’re excited to start playing more matches. 

On a Monday night at six o’clock, I’m twitching. I’ve got to get out there to get on the grass – we’re out there for just over an hour and when I come back, I’m drenched. Sweat! But I have the biggest smile on my face. Seeing other people enjoy it too, some of them have never even touched a rugby ball before, but watching how they enjoy it is fantastic. We’ve even had new people turning up and hopefully we’ll get some more. 

My hope is to get a walking rugby match at the Army Navy game - for Veterans, seniors and people who are injured. Maybe one day it will happen!

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