Armed Forces Day 2023 marked the inaugural Military vs Cancer Rugby match held at Kingston Park, Newcastle. It was a momentous occasion as the UK Armed Forces played their first-ever match in the North East of England against a North of England select team. The organisers Military vs Cancer are a newly established charity founded by WO1 David Bathgate, who was motivated by the loss of relatives and close friends to cancer. He has dedicated the past six years to supporting cancer patients and their families to live a better life.
The best rugby players from the Royal Navy, Army, and RAF were chosen to represent the UK Armed Forces. In August, they will be heading to France to compete in the International Defence Rugby Competition. Among the standout players for UKAF was Vereimi Qorowale, who currently serves with 2nd Battalion The Rifles and plays for the Newcastle Falcons.
The North of England select team comprised players from the six counties in the region. They boasted the talents of international players such as Talite Vaioleti, who represented Tonga, and Cooper Vuna, who earned caps with Australia and Tonga. The player of the match was undoubtably David Fairbrother. From the opening whistle , Fairbrother showcased his exceptional skills, determination, and tactical awareness, leaving a lasting impact on the match. His ability to read the game, make crucial passes, and contribute defensively was unmatched. Fairbrother’s leadership and composure under pressure were evident throughout the game, making him standout to Commodore Aitkin who selected and presented player of the match.
All three Armed Forces collaborated to make the day truly spectacular, featuring marching bands, air assets, boat simulators, and various stands for people to engage with. The professionalism displayed by the Armed Forces throughout the event was commendable and reflected positively on the military and the country as a whole.
The official opening of Newcastle Armed Forces Day was conducted by Lord Mayor Dunn of Newcastle, who raised the flag alongside Commodore John Aitken RN, Lieutenant Colonel Andy Black, Ammar Mirza CBE and WO1 Gareth Evans . The Lord Mayor warmly welcomed everyone to Kingston Park, expressed gratitude to the Armed Forces for safeguarding our way of life, protecting British citizens globally, and strengthening our alliances with partners and allies.
With a crowd of over 2,300 at Kingston Park, the Fusiliers band performed the national anthem, creating a proud chorus of serving personnel and veterans. The North of England team took an early 14-point lead, catching UKAF off guard. However, the UK Armed Forces displayed remarkable resilience, fighting back to level the score. Despite some outstanding phases of play, North of England regrouped and scored several tries, ultimately winning the Military vs Cancer trophy.
The day yielded numerous positive outcomes, with the large crowd contributing to the joyous celebration of Armed Forces Day and fostering a fantastic atmosphere. It also provided a valuable warm-up game for UKAF before their journey to France for the Forces World Cup, where they hope to surpass their achievements from four years ago and emerge victorious. The primary objective of raising awareness for Military vs Cancer and ensuring families receive support was successfully met, as several families sought assistance on the day, with more expected to come forward.
Given the tremendous success of the event, all those involved are eager to participate in Armed Forces Day 2024. Keep an eye out for updates on the Military vs Cancer Facebook page.