John Mulholland (left) is honoured as finalist for the RFU Volunteer of the Year award

Twickenham Stadium to welcome teacher named RFU Volunteer of the Year finalist

A school teacher from Tower Hamlets has been recognised by the RFU after sparking the rapid growth of grassroots women’s rugby in his local area.

John Mulholland has been named as one of the RFU Honda Volunteer of the Year finalists for his incredible dedication and efforts in forming a rugby club for young girls in a culturally diverse and economically challenged borough of London.

The awards are part of the Honda Volunteer Recognition Programme that provides opportunities for grassroots clubs to recognise the integral work done by volunteers.

Mulholland has been invited to Twickenham Stadium on August 30 for the award finals, acknowledged for imparting his lifelong love of rugby onto a new generation of players who previously had very little opportunities to play the game.

“My daughter had always wanted to play rugby,” Mulholland said. “But we live in Tower Hamlets in Central London and there was nowhere around for her to play girls rugby.

“I complained about it, she complained about it, and then because I work at a school, Morpeth School, my wife just said to me, ‘why don’t you stop complaining about it and actually just set up a rugby club?’

“I thought I’d do that and advertise it at my school. We’ve got a very ethnically diverse population – most people, even the boys, hadn’t heard of rugby.

“But I put it out there and got a good handful of girls interested, and it kind of built from there. I was surprised to get quite so much interest.”

Mulholland is one of a number of grassroots volunteers recognised by the Honda Volunteer of the Year awards, which shine a light on those who have had a major impact within their clubs and communities over the past 12 months.

Over 2,000 volunteers were nominated across a number of categories, including Unsung Hero, Game for All, Connecting the Community and Game Changer.

Soon, interest in Mulholland’s rugby club had exceeded the capacity of the school grounds, leading the teacher to contact his own former club East London RFC.

East London welcomed the girls with open arms, providing them with a now established pathway into East London Vixens ladies’ side.

With the girls now training and integrated at a proper facility, Mulholland’s efforts have more than paid dividends, watching the players thrive in a sport that they had not been aware of just a few months previously.

“They just couldn’t believe that they were getting this opportunity to play a game that they were good at, that they could pick up easily,” he added.

“I don’t even know if girls thrive in that rugby environment more than boys do, especially at age grade.

“I think girls get a lot out of it because they’re also really interested in the technical aspects of playing the game.

“They love wanting to understand how to get better. They want to be creative, and therefore they thrive within a rugby environment where being technically good and having the willingness to be creative is just massive.”

Above anything, Mulholland is hopeful that the spotlight being shone on him by the RFU will encourage others to follow his suit, promoting rugby to girls at age grade.

He said: “I hope that what comes out of this is that it raises the profile of what the whole group of us have done – the support team and the girls who were willing to just go ‘alright, I’ll give that a go’.

“That’s what it means and hopefully that’s what we’ll get out of it. There’s plenty of publicity about the whole program and everyone involved and it encourages others to do it.”

Featured Image Credit: Rob Furber

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