An annual rugby match between two Croydon rival schools, Whitgift School and The John Fisher School, has been called off to avoid a repeat of crowd disruption that happened in the games last year.
The fixture, which has been highly contested since the 1960s, was due to take place on Saturday October 7, but games between the senior teams were cancelled after last year’s tie was marred by spectators.
The game between the two first teams can attract up to 2,000 spectators, and with the schools two miles apart, this only adds to the tension.
A Facebook post on the John Fisher Sport page read: “Sadly the John Fisher vs Whitgift senior games are unable to take place on Saturday 7th October.
“Unfortunately, there was some disruption at the first XV game in 2016 resulting in Whitgift requesting a mid-week fixture. It has not been possible to agree a mutually convenient time this year.
“However, both schools will play at all other levels and both remain committed to restoring the senior fixtures for 2018.”
In a statement sent to The Croydon Advertiser, John Fisher said: “The senior rugby games did not take place on Saturday but 19 other games still went ahead as planned.
“There was some disruption at Whitgift School last year resulting in Whitgift not wanting the senior games to be played on a Saturday afternoon this year.
“Both schools have a historical rivalry and the high standard of rugby during the games can attract up to 2,000 supporters.
“John Fisher understood Whitgift’s concerns around safeguarding spectators, players and match officials and therefore offered to host the games on Saturday morning this year. Whitgift School declined this offer but are keen to restore the senior fixtures next year.”
Whitgift School’s headmaster, Chris Ramsey, told the Sunday Times the school attempted to reschedule the match to midweek to avoid a repeat of last year, but had been unsuccessful. He said: ““Whitgift is a school with an unrivalled sporting reputation, not just for high levels of success and breadth of opportunity, but for participation and a belief in the value of fair play.
“We are proud of having played some part in launching the careers of some very significant sportsmen, and we are passionate about the value of school fixtures in building teamwork, respect, discipline and good relationships between schools and sectors.
“It is therefore disappointing that the excellent sporting links and the way our pupils interact easily and respectfully with the local community have been distorted by the discussion of a local match.”
Mr Ramsey added: “There are rare times when an intense sporting rivalry risks overshadowing a game, and we were keen this year to defuse that possibility. We are a school, not a professional club, which would be able to manage mass support.
“At the end of the day, school sport is first and foremost for the pupils. If there is a lesson from this fixture, it is that all schools, and the parents, alumni and supporters at all schools should remember to put the players – the pupils – first.”
Whitgift and John Fisher are two of England’s top rugby playing secondary schools with John Fisher being named ‘National Rugby School of the Year’ in 2017.