April 25, a momentous date the significance of which words don't do justice for Australians, New Zealanders and Turks. In 2015 , this day marked the Centenary of the WW1 Gallipoli landing followed by 8 months of bloodshed on both sides.
The schedule for ANZAC Day in Houston was considerable with the AACC Dawn Service in downtown at 6am, the ANZAC Day Ruggles Cup Australian Football clash at 11am, then culminating with the Houston Lonestars hosted ANZAC Day Memorial Event at The Phoenix later in the afternoon. This day called for resilience and stamina…
For the Houston Lonestars football club the day’s significance was closer to home as this game has marked the remembrance of our own fallen hero, Craig Ruggles, a long-standing and respected player tragically and prematurely taken from us 18 months ago. We were fortunate to be graced with the presence of members of Craig’s family and so all paid tribute in his honor; players, supporters, family and friends. Ruggles Strong.
You could be forgiven for carrying around a box of Kleenex such was the sheer weight of the air and depth of reflection in the lead-up to the game. The Baton Rouge Tigers - 10 strong - made the 5 hour journey, though not the usual pilgrimage aboard the trusty yellow school bus. Torrential weather tried to slow their progress, but eventually the Tigers arrived at Bendwood Park (after a minor diversion via the original venue Cullen Park, changed at last minute to test their flexibility…). The early morning threat of a soggy day proved false, replaced by beaming sunshine and good conditions for football – in fact Bendwood park had rarely looked as good barring the odd puddle…
The pre-game prep started with the usual pleasantries and field set-up but once Benny Power cranked up the BBQ and the tantalizing waft of charred sausage permeated, we knew this was more than just a standard game of footy. This too was the first time our new team trainer and qualified therapist Samantha would provide much needed pre-game strapping and injury management support. Such was her popularity early on that the line-up for strapping was ten deep before long. We hope to get future support from Sam, she did such a great job.
Approaching game-time, the teams lined up in chevron formation and a brief tribute was paid to the fallen ANZACs accompanied by the Last Post eloquently trumpeted by Jason Browne, member of Houston Taps Bugler for Veterans. With the Ruggles family members present, a moving reflection followed by a minute silence dedicated to Craig. The tribute was a stark reminder of the occasion that brought us there and the underlying bond that existed between these 2 clubs and the ANZAC spirit.
With only 10 Baton Rouge players making the journey, the Tigers were bolstered with 5 pretty handy Lonestars enabling a 14-a-side game. By game-time the players' emotion climaxed as coaches Dan Holwerda and Neil Stebbing addressed their respective troops for the last time - it was time for some good, hard footy.
As the ball went up for the first ruck contest with the field bathed in bright sunshine, the first exchanges suggested that this game was not going to be a Sunday stroll. The opening minutes were highly physical if not particularly skillful as the Lonestars took the early honors at ground level and on the scoreboard. Tom Donnelly dominated in the Ruck with Perham, Benny Power, Blake and CDG moving around the park like gazelles across the Serengeti. Nick Maas was also energetic displaying greatly improved foot skills. A couple of recent LSU recruits showed some spark for the Tigers and veteran Josh Cartmill showed he meant business. The Lonestars took a few bruises and a comfortable lead into the quarter time huddle.
The second quarter followed suit with the Tigers continuing their highly physical approach. Houston continued to extend their lead absorbing the barrage from Baton Rouge and giving a bit back as Perham got up close and personal with his midfield counterpart and not showing any signs of backing down. Ben Power, Blake and CDG ably supported by Mash, Justin and Tommy again dominated the midfield giving forwards every chance. Coach Dan, Mueller and Rick were the main targets up front though returned mixed results due to indifferent goalkicking. The Lonestars took a strong lead into the main break.
The third term saw a new look Baton Rouge Tigers having received a new batch of very skillful Lonestars taking the field in the navy and gold jersey. Perham provided the Tigers far more presence in midfield as did CDG who also made the switch. The football remained physical however the play more evenly balanced. Benny Power and Blake continued to provide drive for the Lonestars but the Tigers started getting more flow and benefitted from better ball use, exemplified by a 3-bounce run down the wing by CDG resulting in goal of the day for the Tigers. Sean Smyth continued to provided sturdy defense this time for the Tigers being called upon frequently to provide defensive drive. The Tigers ended up winning the quarter in a far more even contest.
The intensity didn't let up in the final quarter and with multiple high and sling-tackle free-kicks paid throughout the day, why should it!? CDG, Ben Power and Blake turned in solid 4 quarter efforts controlling the ball through the midfield, irrespective of the team they were playing for. Josh Cartmill maintained his intensity displaying his characteristic white-line fever and Robbie Montanaro, Fielder and Robbie kept pushing for the Tigers throughout. The final term was an arm-wrestle with the Lonestars maintaining their healthy lead and prevailing by 12 goals.
With temperatures creeping well into the 80’s, the final siren was welcomed as the intense game had taken its toll. Players were rewarded with plenty of cold water and crisp beer and a signature Phil Harford sausage from the barbie.
Final Score: Houston Lonestars 18.15.123 vs Baton Rouge Tigers 7.5.47
Best Players: CDG, Ben Power, Blake Hodson, Sean Smyth, Art Livingston, Adam Ruggles, Josh Morgan
Goals: Rick, Dan, Blake and Paul shared most of them. CDG kicked some for both sides. Singles to several others…
Houston best player: CDG (played a half for both teams)
Baton Rouge best player: Josh Cartmill
Craig Ruggles Most Courageous award: Ben Power
ANZAC Day Memorial Event
After some much needed rehydration and slightly burnt sausages, players and supporters made their way to the traditional ANZAC Day Memorial event, this year held at the Phoenix on Westheimer pub and sponsored by our good friends Karbach Brewery. The day of tribute to the fallen soldiers involved activities including traditional two-up, screening of the ANZAC AFL clash, Aussie goodies and meat tray raffles, handball, and the popular jumping castle for the kids. The Last Post trumpeted for the third time that day by Jason as some other formalities of rememberance were held before the footy went back on and the beer flowed in honor of our brave past and preset soldiers.
A huge thank you to several people who helped coordinate the day and help make it a true reflection of the ANZAC spirit, particularly and in no order; Sonni, CDG, Scotty, Samantha for keeping the boys on the park, Ruan & Max goal umpiring, Zac and missus for scoring, Benny Power for the BBQ and Phil for cooking and liquidating everyone at the game. To Jason Browne, a big thank-you for playing The Last Post at each of the events on the day and making the day extra special and truly reflective. Additional thanks to Vu and The Phoenix and the team at Karbach for their ongoing support for the club and this event. Finally thanks to BR for making the journey across and we'll see you again in September for the famous LSU Tailagte weekend.
For the ANZACS and Craig Ruggles, lest we forget.