How Ellis Genge returned a favor for Bristol Rovers to inspire the next generation of rugby talent

The junior section of the Ashley Down Old Boys rugby club is only seven years old, but can already boast two Bristol rugby legends among its ranks after Ellis Genge and Joe Joyce were the guests of honor at the award ceremony end of season prizes. .

Bristol Bears forwards Genge and Joyce visited the Lockleaze-based club to hand out medals, chat with the younger players, sign autographs and pose for photos for inspiration.

The genesis of the presence of such esteemed figures in the rugby world, with Knowle West-bred Genge captaining England in the Six Nations and ‘Mead King’ Joyce, a Bears stalwart for the past nine years, it lay just over a mile away. away at the home of Bristol Rovers.

Ashley Down committee member Ian Holtby served as stadium manager at the Mem for 21 years and during that time became friends with the Genge family. Dad Richard used to operate a bar service on BS7 and with Ellis an avid Gashead, his connection to Holtby was formed. The two would meet on Filton Avenue, with Holtby sorting complimentary tickets for him, before escorting him to the Mem where he could meet his father and watch the games.

A little over seven years later, and with Genge now a full-fledged international star, all it took was a phone call to Richard and the 28-year-old was more than happy to return a favor.

“I thought it would be great for young people to take Ellis Genge there. We all talk about him being a local guy and I’ve known him a long time, when he was young,” Holtby said. “When he was at Rovers, I used to look after him. Meet him outside and take him to the ground so he can go meet his dad and watch the game.

“He remembered that. When I spoke to his father, he passed the message on to Ellis, who said: ‘Is that Holts from Rovers? I will, he always used to help me, so I’ll help him.’

“They were just amazing. They stayed for two hours, handing out medals, signing every single autograph, picture, photo, and then when she left he said, ‘Holts, you have an amazing rugby club here.’

Ellis Genge presents a medal at Ashley Down RFC (Paul Gillis/Reach Plc)

“Then he said he would give us a signed England shirt that we can raffle off and wear on our youth club tour. Just a class act.

“I can’t speak highly enough of what they did; Giving up your time on a Sunday morning. For them to do that was amazing.

“The kids were blown away, absolutely blown away. Very excited. Having the captain of England and the captain of the Bristol Bears at the small Ashley Down rugby club. It’s about treating people and taking care of people and that’s what we do.”

Unsurprisingly, it turned out to be a memorable day for all involved and served as a symbol of how far Ashley Down has come in a short space of time. The club itself celebrated its centenary in 2022, but the youth section was born from the work of James Hall and Kevin Shipway, who established a new wing in the organisation.

Now with over 250 youngsters from under 5 to under 16, it is not only a club that plays regular matches but also helps the community with a number of projects such as rugby sessions in schools, raising money for the British Heart Foundation. and cancer charities and volunteering at various local events.

Joe Joyce signs a rugby ball at Ashley Down RFC (Paul Gillis/Reach Plc)

“Having two local Bristolians who are playing at the top of their game, one representing their country and one captaining the Bristol Bears, will inspire the kids,” added Holtby, with daughter Isla at Under-12 and his son JJ in the U12. U9s. “They were so excited to see them. They were hanging on his every word.”

The event was a mark not only of the club itself, but also of the two Bears stars who in the not too distant past were also wide-eyed youngsters who simply enjoyed playing a weekend away, before their talents take you further than you probably ever imagined. .

However, it was not an entirely pleasant experience for Joyce. While Genge has been a lifelong Gashead, the 29-year-old is a passionate City fan and was given a very visual reminder of which side of town he was on when he arrived at the clubhouse.

As he stepped out of his car, he was greeted by a sea of ​​blue and white rooms as a Rovers academy team played on an adjoining pitch.

“Oh, we all beat him up for that,” Holtby added. “Especially Ellis.”


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