Blackbrook chairman vows to come back stronger after arson attack

Chairman Gary Swift (left) and steward Stuart Halliwell in the burned-out remains of the shelter at Blackbrook Rugby Club

Chairman Gary Swift (left) and steward Stuart Halliwell in the burned-out remains of the shelter at Blackbrook Rugby Club

First published in
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by , Senior Reporter

A DEVASTATING arson attack at an amateur rugby league club’s headquarters caused thousands of pounds’ worth of damage and was minutes from spreading to the clubhouse.

Blackbrook’s chairman Gary Swift described the blaze in the early hours of Sunday as “heartbreaking”.

But he insisted that he is as determined as ever to ensure that the club continues to progress.

The 50-year-old said that the devastating fire destroyed a supporters’ shelter which was just two weeks away from its official opening.

To replace it will cost around £35,000.

“It’s no longer about what is salvageable,” he told the Star. “It will have to be demolished. It was all ready for the bad weather and the start of the season.

“We built it ourselves and it was a massive structure, around 24 metres long. We had local businesses donating and sponsoring us.

“There were lads down there building it at nights and on the weekends. Countless hours have gone into it and it was a credit to everyone who worked on it.

“Fortunately the fire didn’t spread but there was some damage to the clubhouse from the heat. Some of the windows cracked and it melted plastic through roller shutters.

“According to the fire department the clubhouse was five minutes from going up. It’s horrible to see after the amount of time and effort that’s gone into it.”

Blackbrook is very much in the blood of the Swift family. Gary’s father Harold was a founder member and chairman who was involved in the club in various roles for more than 50 years before his death in 2012.

Harold’s grandson Adam, a former Blackbrook Royal, is now on Saints' books. Gary is a former player and coach at the club and took over as chairman three years ago.

He added: “The ethos of the junior Royals is that if a kid wants to play he can play. We are here for the community for everyone to use, so for someone to try and take it away is heartbreaking.

“It will be an inconvenience but I won’t let it stop any games. We will get the members, players and coaches together and get it rebuilt.

“One way or another we will find the funds. But the next one will be vandal-proof. It may not look as good but we will get there.

“It’s sad but this won’t beat me.”

Fire service received six calls about the manager Ian Mullen, Arson Reduction Co-ordinator at the fire service, said: “Luckily no one was injured this time, but fires started deliberately can pose a risk to people, including those who start the fire."

“We investigate every fire we are called to and pass information to the police to help bring those who commit arson to court to face the consequences of their crimes.”

Call police on 101 or Crimestoppers on 0800 555 111.

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