By Milly O’Ryan
East Grinstead Rugby Club and the Metropolitan Police Service have united to unveil a special memorial silhouette of Matt Ratana, the Police Sergeant who tragically lost his life whilst on duty in Croydon last September 2020.
On Saturday, 3 July 2021, at East Grinstead Rugby Club, West Sussex, members, supporters and friends of the club came together with Matt’s work colleagues and friends to honour Matt’s life and achievements.
Officially unveiled by Su Bushby, Matt’s partner, Su bravely spoke of Matt’s passion for his “beloved game” and his “compassion for East Grinstead Rugby Club and the players”.
Su Bushby said: “I am filled with so much pride and honour to be here, but that also comes with a sense of mourning and deep sorrow that Matt is not with us today and that cannot be forgotten.
“However, we are here to celebrate Matt’s life and achievements and I am absolutely delighted to be part of this commemoration.“
“I want to talk about the man I knew and loved and what his beloved game meant to him. Since his death, I have been overwhelmed by the respect and kindness from his colleagues and players at all levels.
“The guy you loved to work with, a coach on the pitch but a best mate in the club house. A role model, a mentor and a friend…..my partner.”
“Matt’s true desire was to inspire people and develop rugby talent within the player. I didn’t just see a coach but someone who was knowledgeable, supportive, positive and respectful.”
Speakers at the emotional ceremony included Andy Poole, President, East Grinstead RFC, Assistant Commissioner Nick Ephgrave QPM, the Metropolitan Police Service, HH Jeff Blackett, President, RFU, Founder of the Matt Ratana Rugby Foundation, Sean Morgan, Connor Leggat, Matt’s Friend & Sculptor of the Matt Ratana Memorial Silhouette and Bruce Simpson, Ngati Ranana who performed a Maori Blessing.
HH Jeff Blackett, President, RFU said:
“As RFU President, it is an honour to be here today with our Chief Executive, Bill Sweeney.”
“We are privileged to be included in this gathering because Matt Ratana represented all that is best in rugby union and epitomised our core values of Teamwork, Respect, Enjoyment, Discipline and Sportsmanship. He was a true team player, generous with his time and an inspiration to others.”
“Men, boys, women, girls, all players mattered to Matt who broke down barriers and led in a way that motivated everyone he coached and encouraged.”
“When he was given the BBC Sports Personality 2020 Unsung Hero award, it was a tremendously appropriate recognition. That recognition of all he stood for and his importance to this club and our game continues with the unveiling of this statue today.”
“Matt made a real difference and left a huge legacy and I am delighted that his legacy will continue here at East Grinstead and in the wider rugby family.”
Andy Poole, President of East Grinstead RFC said:
“Matt Ratana was an inspiration to us all. His approach and passion to community rugby both on and off the pitch will resonate forever as a positive legacy – not just for East Grinstead RFC, but to every person that crossed his path.”
“The silhouette not only celebrates Matt’s importance as Head Coach to Su and all his friends at the club but is a fitting tribute which will enrich his memory and remind us all that he is always with us on our journey.“
The six-foot life-size steel artwork was commissioned by East Grinstead Rugby Club and positioned on top of the grass bank to the side of the first team pitch, a place where Matt would spend many hours coaching and observing the matches.
Beneath the figure lays a granite plaque engraved in silver and reads:
“Here stood our dear friend and Head Coach Matt Ratana who sadly passed away on 25th September 2020. Our Unsung Hero who will never be forgotten. Whánau. East Grinstead RFC.”
Sculptured and created by a close friend and East Grinstead rugby player coached by Matt, Connor Leggat, from Leggat Plant Ltd, Connor Leggat said:
“Inspired by an idea from my good friend and club member, Bertie Beanland, the initial thought behind this was to have a memorial for the players and friends of the club at the exit to the changing rooms. A reminder when we took to the field that we had a duty to fulfil and a memory to uphold. We had envisioned this to be a low-key affair, to protect the big man’s modesty.”
“This quickly changed with the realisation that Matt Ratana did not just belong to the East Grinstead rugby family and as affected as we were, what had happened was bigger than our club. So, for me, this turn-out shows the hero he really was and to the many lives he impacted on.”
East Grinstead RFC approached Gary Andrews, illustrator and friend of the club, asking for help to provide a true realistic outline of Matt for the silhouette to be designed from.
Gary Andrews, Illustrator said: “I was so honoured to be asked if I could design the image for the memorial. I had already drawn something for them to commemorate him as the story touched me deeply. The club sent me a selection of photos of Matt and although no one image worked on its own, by combining elements from several I was able to get a likeness that worked purely as a silhouette.”
Following the unveiling, members of the Junior and Touch Rugby teams showcased their rugby skills and three extremely emotive games were played in Matt’s honour between senior East Grinstead and the Metropolitan Police Service, senior women, vets and men’s teams.
One of England’s leading rugby officials, Matt Carley, a RFU Premiership referee, took control of the men’s game. Matt Carley said:
“I began refereeing aged 16 with the support of my grandfather John Carley, in Kent. Progressed through the Kent and Sussex Federation, (via Gloucester University) to Southeast Group and then National Panel and became a full time referee in 2013! Now with Tier 1 international experience, European Champions cup knockout games and most recently a premiership final to my name, I’m honoured to return back where my journey began in the South-East at East Grinstead for such a special day, not just for the club but for rugby!”
The club erupted as spectators cheered on the rugby players and the younger members of the club provided mascots and ball girls/boys, waving their flags with pride.
Two junior rugby skills sessions were run for the ‘stars of the future’ by club coaches and the Colts squad supported with car parking duties whilst club volunteers acted as Covid Marshalls and event helpers. A truly ‘together’ day involving all age groups within the close-knit community club.
Classical No1 Soprano Singer and performer of ‘World In Union 2020’, Joanna Forest and Joel Goodman, who musically arranged the rugby anthem for Matt, were amongst those who attended the event, meeting Su for the first time.
A spokesperson for East Grinstead Rugby Club added: “We would like to thank everyone who has supported Su and the Club and for their attendance on such a special day – there are simply too many names to acknowledge”.
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