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Ex-Leicester player Nigel Gillingham is looking forward to taking over as President of the Rugby Football Union in 2021

Courtesy of Roger Jackson, The Local Answer

 

As rugby résumés go, Nigel Gillingham’s is pretty impressive.

The one-time Leicester second row – he played for the Tigers when they were the undisputed kings of the jungle back in the 1970s – these days is playing as big a role on the administrative side of the game as he did all those years ago as a player.

So much so that in less than two years’ time he will take over as President of the Rugby Football Union, a position that is currently held by England and British Lions great Peter Wheeler.

It’s primarily an ambassadorial role, but as one of the faces of the RFU it’s clearly a very important position and one for which Gillingham, a former Royal Air Force man, is obviously very well suited.

Gillingham, who lives in Stroud, is currently the RFU’s junior vice-President and will become senior vice-President next year before taking on the top job on 1st August 2021.

He’s also a hardworking member of Gloucestershire’s RFU – currently its RFU Council Representative – and on Saturday afternoons is a regular spectator at games up and down the county.

“I go anywhere from Norton to Cinderford, Barton Hill to Frampton Cottrell, and from Cheltenham Saracens to Spartans,” said the 66-year-old, who is also a social member at Stroud.

“Yes it is,” he admitted. “What players want today is not the same as what they wanted years ago.

“Back then they were happy to play week in, week out – it wasn’t as physical in those days – and your social life revolved around the rugby club.

“But work patterns have changed and people want different things and when you’re organising a team that’s when things become more difficult.

“The female game is expanding quite rapidly,” added Gillingham, “and the age grade game has always been healthy.”

Born in Guildford in Surrey, he learned his rugby at RGS Guildford and was selected for England Schools. 

He spent a year playing for Richmond before attending Loughborough College where he captained the team in his third year, leading their last side to win the Middlesex Sevens in 1976.

While at Loughborough, Gillingham, who could also play in the back row, played for England Students before joining Leicester.  There he played with Peter Wheeler, Garry Adey, Robin Cowling, Nick Youngs, the Dad of England’s Ben, Les Cusworth, Paul Dodge, Clive Woodward and Dusty Hare.

Gillingham played in the 1980 John Player Cup final winning side which defeated London Irish 24-9 at Twickenham. And while that was an obvious highlight, he has many other great memories of his time at Welford Road and is still a Leicester supporter today.

Gillingham, captained the RAF and the Combined Services against Graham Mourie’s touring All Blacks in 1978 and played for the Midland Counties against various touring sides. 

He was also capped by England at under-23 level but never won a full cap in an era when Bill Beaumont, Nigel Horton and Maurice Colclough were among the top second rows and the likes of Andy Ripley, Roger Uttley, Peter Dixon and Tony Neary played in the back row.

“I think I was pretty close in 1980,” he said, “I think I would have made the England trial.”

Sadly that never happened. A serious knee injury sustained against Wasps before the trial meant he was never able to play to the same level again and he retired in 1983.

“It was a double tackle and I snapped my cruciate ligament,” said Gillingham.

He says he now has “a very arthritic left knee” but although the injury cost him three or four years at the top he insists he had “a great run”.

He went on to coach in the RAF before getting involved in the administrative side of the game, a journey that has taken him right to the top of the sport.

And he says that when he does take over as President of the RFU he will be a very proud man.

“It’s a fantastic honour to represent the RFU,” he said. “When I was playing I didn’t know anything about the RFU!”

Gillingham, who was awarded an OBE for services to RAF charities and RAF rugby in 2001, moved to Stroud in 2000.

It wasn’t until nine years after his move to this part of the world, that he got involved with the Gloucestershire RFU.  It will come as no surprise to anyone involved with rugby around the county that it was Russ Hillier, the ever-popular President of Stroud Rugby Club, who brought him into the fold.

“I’d known Russ since before I’d left the RAF,” said Gillingham. “He invited me to a county championship game and the next thing I know I’m on the Gloucestershire RFU!”

Gillingham was elected as Gloucestershire’s RFU Council Representative in 2012, becoming only the second person to take on the role for two different Constituent Bodies after serving in a similar position for the RAF.

He is hugely grateful for the support he has received from the Gloucestershire RFU.

“I’m not a Gloucestershire lad but they’ve accepted me and I’m equally proud to have represented them,” he said.

Gillingham’s first job in the top role – he’ll be President for a year before serving as Immediate Past President for a further year – will see him heading to New Zealand for the Women’s World Cup in the English summer of 2021.

As jobs go that sounds pretty good, but rest assured the RFU could not have a better man representing them than Nigel Gillingham.

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