Rugby stomping grounds to get recognition

PLAQUES commissioned by the Australian Rugby League to mark the historical significance of Bellingen Park and Kempsey's Verge Street Stadium will be unveiled in coming weeks as part of Centenary celebrations.

While a date for the ceremony on the Macleay is still to be allocated by Kempsey Shire Council, Bellingen club spokesperson and Group 2 executive Jim Anderson said a function at 'the graveyard' would be part of a gala day on Sunday, August 3.

"It will be the last home game of the season against Macksville and we're extending an open invitation to all former players, supporters and sponsors to come back to Bello to celebrate our many achievements in football," he said.

"We'll promote the day as a mini-reunion as a lot of the old timers only get out of the house when the sun is shining and this could be a chance to catch up one last time.

"Representatives from Country Rugby League will be in attendance and, already, some of our great names from the past have indicated they want to be involved."

Early negotiations involving Mayor Mark Troy have suggested the plaque will be placed at the rear of the grandstand, next to the one marking the original opening of the building.

"We've discovered football was played in the area as far back as 1895 but Bellingen Park has only been used since 1946," he said.

Early matches were played beside the showground at North Bellingen on a field known as Kimber's (later McNally's) paddock, with other games held on specially-cleared grounds in the smaller rural communities.

But with the coming of peace at the end of the Second World War, a universal venue was finally agreed upon.

"Bellingen Park has hosted many big games, exciting grand finals and has been graced by some of the greatest players of all time," Anderson said.

"Even as late as two years ago when we had that Interstate Schoolboys clash at the ground, look at all the fantastic players who've kicked on from there."

That game on July 6, 2006, will go down as the day names like Israel Folua, Shannon Walker, Chase Stanley, David Taylor, Luke Capewell, Chris Sandow and Daniel Ezekiel first came to public attention - with Folau going on to become the youngest-ever Kangaroo and State Of Origin representative.

Anderson said it was appropriate to keep acknowledging the Centenary as from the time the first crowds started entering BCU International Stadium for festivities last week, the 'feelings have been enormous'.

"I was talking to local legends like Rip Taylor, Ronnie Braithwaite and Ken Johnson and they talk about strengthening friendships and how it's just like going back to their young days," he said.

"Then I ran into Ian Schubert and he told me things about playing on the North Coast before heading to Easts and playing for Australia.

"All these blokes can't wait to get back home to involve themselves in footy again and it's been fantastic."

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