Rugby’s good side shown in Gough aid
Taylor Gough was not a star player at Leicester Tigers when sustaining spinal injuries in a car accident last month which, according to his family, mean he is unlikely to walk again.
The 20-year-old academy product had made just one senior outing, in a Premiership
Cup match against Northampton in 2019. By all accounts, he was an incredibly popular figure at the club, but chances are that few within the rugby community would have heard of him.
And yet, within the first 48 hours of an appeal being launched by Leicester and the Matt Hampson Foundation, a Just Giving appeal had raised just short of £30,000. Donations came not just from Tigers supporters, but from across the spectrum to provide Gough with a degree of financial security.
Leicester, a club who had been engaged in a bitter stand-off with players over contract negotiations, have promised to do whatever they can. Geordan Murphy, the club’s director of rugby, has phoned Gough’s mother every day since the accident. Sale Sharks, who had snapped up one of those contract rebels in Manu Tuilagi, have donated £1,000.
It has been a tough few months for rugby. Every sport has faced the same challenge of wiped-out revenue streams and ripped-up calendars. Rugby has stood out due to the scale and bitterness of its infighting. Rows have ranged from Premiership clubs threatening to defund the Rugby Players’ Association support programmes, to French clubs promising to sue World Rugby should it encroach upon their season.
Hence, the manner in which Leicester have rallied around Gough has been an important reminder of what rugby should stand for. “We have been blown away by the response,” Tommy Cawston, the chief executive of the Matt Hampson Foundation, said. “Rugby always supports its own. The rugby family looked after Matt and it will look after Taylor. Rugby has taken a battering, but it remains an amazing sport full of amazing people.”
Few are more amazing than Hampson himself, another Leicester youngster who was paralysed from the neck down after a scrum collapsed 15 years ago. Handed the most devastating blow life could deal, Hampson threw himself into raising hundreds of thousands of pounds and last year opened the Get Busy Living Centre, a pioneering rehabilitation centre for those with significant spinal injuries. Then there is Telegraph columnist Doddie Weir, who received an equally shattering blow when diagnosed with motor neurone disease. I speak to Doddie regularly and he has never once betrayed a hint of self-pity or negativity. Instead, he has been consumed by single-handedly driving the efforts to find a cure for MND, raising a scarcely believable £5 million in the process.
Dozens more players have launched their own charities or foundations, from Lawrence Dallaglio’s RugbyWorks, that helps young people who have fallen outside mainstream education, to Jonny Wilkinson’s work on mental health. The amazing Wooden Spoon charity has invested close to £28 million supporting more than 1,000 projects helping disabled or disadvantage children in the United Kingdom and Ireland.
A few years ago, Jason Leonard set up the Atlas Foundation, which has raised £3 million to help more than 50,000 deprived children across 16 countries. It boasts many case studies of bringing long-term transformations in some of the world’s poorest communities.
It has become easy to be cynical about rugby’s values. After all, there has been precious little “respect” and “solidarity” between warring factions. It has brought me no joy as a reporter to document those disputes. There are lots of good people involved in many of these organisations who have fallen prey to myopic self-interest.
Yet as the above examples show, rugby has a capacity for good like no other sport, particularly when it comes to helping those who have fallen prey to the most horrific circumstances. The sadness is that it takes a tragedy such as Gough’s to remind us of that.
Rallying round: Taylor Gough, a popular academy product at Leicester Tigers, sustained spinal injuries in a car accident last month