Penrith Rugby Club officials have reacted with “great sadness” to confirmation that their traditional festive friendly double-header against Keswick will not go ahead this year.
Held for many decades, the social matches are seldom cancelled and see Penrith host their near neighbours at Winters Park on Boxing Day before making the short journey to Keswick for the return New Year’s Day fixture.
They compete for the Jimmy Morton trophy — in memory of the late Penrith Vagabonds stalwart — in the first game, and then for the Firpress Trophy — provided years ago by referee Mike Firby — in the second encounter.
Lads and dads have appeared together in matches which have spanned generations and attract healthy numbers of visiting supporters keen to sample after-match hospitality.
They have also helped to raise money for good causes.
“It’s always been a big social occasion,” said Penrith chairman Geoff Matthews, who captained the club’s Vagabonds in the first festive fixture away to a Keswick first XV an estimated 40-plus years ago.
“Last year we took two bus loads of supporters and a team bus. It’s just got bigger and bigger.
“I’ve seen us even go to Keswick when there’s been no game.
“When they were flooded out five years ago after Storm Desmond we went anyway. Just for the crack.
“Everybody takes a hamper and we all sit in the grandstand.”
And so it was with great reluctance that Geoff and Keswick vice-chairman Trevor Keough — who have both maintained the traditional games — agreed there would be no such meet-up this time around.
“In view of the escalating numbers of coronavirus cases nationwide, and in Eden itself, we are being asked to avoid large groups and adhere to the rules closely,” said a Penrith RUFC spokesman.
“As a club and advocate of the sport, we have a duty of care to our players. Regardless of how social the festive games are, they will always have a competitive edge to them.
“Putting players who have not had any physical contact for nearly nine months into a game situation is likely an invitation for some form of accident.
“Playing touch rugby was a considered alternative. However, the factor of travel and the inability to host a social gathering afterwards made this alternative much less appealing.”
Geoff said: “It’s the only game of its kind left in the county. It’s just a chance to get together and for everyone to have a bit of fun, so it is sad.”
A statement on the Keswick Rugby Club website said: “Over the last few years the games have become big social occasions for players and supporters alike and have been eagerly anticipated as part of festive season celebrations.
“It is a great disappointment alongside many other things in the current situation that we can’t continue with this great tradition for this year.
“Concerns for player safety and a move to new laws that have not been practised properly, restrictions on numbers, social bubbles, social distancing and all the phrases and actions that have become part of the new daily conversation mean this is the only sensible solution.
“We look forward to the time we can get back to normal rugby with its associated enjoyment and social interaction amongst our own club and our welcome visitors from other clubs, most notably Penrith in this instance.”