ONCE A PUMA ALWAYS A PUMA
10 Year History of the GAU/ Pumas Rugby Club
Compiled by Peter Heydon and Peter Richard Bradley
October 2003 A small group of students including Mustafa Raiz contacted the Girne American University (GAU) Sports Co-ordinator with a request to start an American Football Club; a negative response was given in view of costs. Mustafa then persuaded the group to take on Rugby (he had played in UK) and this was given the go ahead by the management.
Training commenced on Saturday afternoons by Mustafa who was helped to begin with by Derek Dowey a lecturer at the University. Derek met Peter Heydon watching TV Rugby at the CitrusTree Gardens in Alsancak and established that Peter was a coach …. and the rest is history.
Soon the University agreed that an official GAU Rugby Club could be formed. Training sessions continued for the remainder of the season.
October 2004 The return of the original players plus many more required further approaches to the GAU Sports Co-ordınator. Because of the numbers, arrangements were made to move to the training area behind 20 Temmuz Stadium, Girne. Keith Lloyd had by now joined to help with the players. A decision to advertise for more help was sent out through the media. Numerous responses were received in personnel plus an offer of two playing kits and tracksuits from Northampton Grammar School in the UK. Presentation of the two strips was made at GAU by teachers from the UK school.
The first Committee meeting took place at the Citrus Tree Gardens. During this meeting Keith Lloyd was appointed Chairman, while Keith Alexander, Richard Bradley, Gilly Woolner, Peter Heydon, Sue and Grahame Singer made up the Committee. Les Griffiths, Peter Oliver and Eddie Smith joined to strengthen the coaching side.
May 2005 A Gala Day was held at the Stadium to promote the game of Rugby and the Club itself. Activities on the day included a cricket match between the GAU and Eastern Mediterranean University, followed by tug-of-war. The day finished with an in-house Rugby match. Also in May, a special end-of-season dinner was arranged to give a good send-off and thanks to Mustafa Raiz, the founder, as he was returning to UK to finish his law studies.
September 2005 The arrival of training shirts plus fleeces and water proofs courtesy of Alan and Eric Trim was very much appreciated.
October 2005 Training recommenced and by now the numbers had swelled to around 40. A decision to move again was made and Alsancak Stadium became the Club’s home ground. This proved to be just in time as, to the surprise of all, the UN in the form of 12 Regiment Royal Artillery offered to help with a training session, a possible fixture and after-match codes and activities.
November 2005 Saw the first 12 Regiment training session take place. At this time, the Club was approached by two spectators Peter Bayliss Captain of The Staggs RFC (Southside) and a representative of Sidcup RFU (Vets); they both offered to provide fixtures in the current season.
April 2006 The Staggs RFC came as promised, and in May Sidcup RFU Vets came on tour. Both games were again well-supported. Sidcup generously entertained the Club that evening.
Season’s end saw the first formal presentation evening; a trophy for the Player of Year was awarded.
Rugby was here to STAY.
October 2006 The new season started full of hope. Large numbers still attended training including students from the new university — METU in Kalkanlı.
December 2006 The Ottomans/Kadikoy team from Turkey arrived and we achieved our first win. With the numbers coming to training from METU Kalkanli, sessions had become difficult to manage so arrangements were made for training at their campus. Barry Lambert volunteered to head this up.
March. 2007 It was not long before the Club was challenged by METU. The match took place in Alsancak. Not surprisingly, the home side won. We had another UN match, this time against the Scorpions (Royal Logistics Corps).
April 2007 The full Ottomans team returned seeking revenge …… and gained it. Trophies were awarded for the second year performances.
June 2007 Akrotiri RFU approached the Club to host a match to mark the retirement of their Captain. Mixed teams involving The Scorpions, Akrotiri, Pumas and the RAF had an enjoyable day of Rugby.
Throughout the season activities were taking place behind the scenes; teams in Turkey were trying to persuade the Turkish Sports Minister to create a Rugby Federation and allow a league to be formed. This was successful, although to begin with Rugby was put into the Hand Ball and Soft Ball Federation.
September 2007 The Pumas joined the Turkish Sports Federation. In light of joining the new league, we made an early start to training. An induction night was introduced to accommodate new recruits from the student base at GAU. (One novice player Dinçhan Kılercıoğlu was to make history for the Club a few years on). An influx of experienced players also boosted the squad; a buzz of enthusiasm gripped the club. Fund raising and sponsorship had become a major behind-the-scenes activity, supporters and local businesses gave generously and a new playing kit arrived with three days to spare.
November 2007 The first match at home was against Ottomans. A crowd in excess of 500 came to support the Club. The historic game was a close encounter, both sides giving their all to be the first team to win in the new league. The closing minutes saw the Club hold out for the win, thanks in part to the crowd for their whole-hearted support. At the final whistle the ground erupted both on and off the field. More good news followed on the pitch when Tim Francis, founder of Rhino Sports, was introduced to the Committee. Pledges of support were forthcoming and introduction to the Partners was arranged. Donations of training equipment arrived later in the season.
December 2007 The team travelled to Istanbul for its first ever away fixture; Kadiköy was the opposition. Although this was to take place in Turkey it was the first experience of touring for the majority of the squad. Fittingly, touring rules applied: American-style college jackets were supplied, black with a large white club logo on the back plus Father Christmas hats to be worn at all times, match exempt.
Our attempt to go airside to Turkey was to turn out to be a comedy that the Two Ronnies would have found hard to beat. First up, a second-row man had forgotten his student letter to confirm his status in TRNC. After much persuading he was waved through but informed he would risk arrest if he returned. Then a second-row substitute had no papers whatsoever. He ran out of time trying to collect them from the Police in Girne after having been stopped for a driving offence; he was going nowhere that day. He flew in next morning. (Who said that second rowers had no sense? they were right.) Then there was the seventeen year-old Turkish Cypriot with a letter from his parents giving permission to leave the country and confirming he was not running away. Good try, except for a couple of errors – the letter was written on lined paper torn out of a notebook, and was written in pencil. It almost made it but the sheet looked remarkably like the continent of South America and that lost it for him. The rest of the party went through without any further hitches but the squad was now down to 20.
On the morning of the match the team were surprised and delighted to find a group of our supporters waiting at the ground for us. A shock was in store when the referee came onto the pitch: he informed us that he had never refereed before and knew little about the laws. To add to the farce he was dressed in full tracksuit, pink body warmer, baseball cap and sun glasses ….. no further comment required. Nonetheless, we had another good win. On return at Ercan, our second-rower was given until noon on the Monday to supply papers to immigration.
Support was again forthcoming from the UN (Royal Logistic Corps). Two games filled the gap left by the Turkish sides that failed to meet their commitments to the league.
March 2008 The Black Sea beckoned: An 8 hour bus journey from Ankara to Samsun arriving early evening. The team was put under orders to be back at the hotel by a generous 11.30. There was an uneasy feeling in the air; this became clear when we were given a Police escort to the ground. With numerous Police on duty, the atmosphere could be cut with a knife. A very hostile game took place. However, the Pumas held their discipline ….. another win under the belt. The squad tidied up for the after-match reception; the coaching team’s long-held suspicions were confirmed when two players arrived in full length evening dresses! For the most part this was a dry city but tour veterans were not to be denied. Eight hours travel through the night for a morning flight allowed for some sore heads to recover.
April 2008 Away again to Istanbul for two games over the weekend, Ottomans and Bakirköy. As the team warmed up for the first game the League Chairman arrived with the news that the second game had to take place straight after the first as the ground was not available for the remainder of the weekend. A team meeting was quickly arranged. The decision to go ahead was made because failure to play the second game would cost us the points. One loss, one win. The team was totally exhausted but there was one last hurdle after the post-match get together ….. four flights of stairs to overcome but it was well worth the pain thanks to our hosts’ hospitality. The league committee meeting at the end of the season reversed our earlier win against Bakırköy on the grounds that the unqualified Referee (he in the pink body warmer) believed he should not have awarded the last try in the Bakırköy game; this decision was to cost the Pumas the title.
May 2008 Worcester Warriors The UK’s largest amateur club arrived on a week’s tour. First up for them was the new UN regiment; this game was a prelude to our home game against Samsun, the last match in the League. The win for the Club was believed to have brought the title home to TRNC, disappointment was still to come. Four clubs celebrating in true Rugby fashion. The training session by Warriors took place on the Monday followed on Wednesday by the Club’s last game of the season. Warriors stayed for a further few days to take in the Island’s sights; it was a great club. The end-of-season presentation evening was not dulled by the League’s decision regarding the disallowed try. The Deniz Kizi Hotel was our fine venue and over 150 people enjoyed themselves and gave great support to the awards ceremony rounding off an outstanding season.
Inaugural League Title to the Ottomans, Pumas end the season runners-up.
2008-2009 Leading up to the start of the new season, the Club was approached to assist in the ‘Awareness of Testicular Cancer’ campaign. A saucy calendar (like the one produced by the Womens’ Institute UK) was suggested and the photo-shoot took place at The Malpas Hotel. Copies of the calendar were sold in the UK as well as the TRNC.
October 2008 Disappointment over last season’s title hopes were put aside and preparations for the new season commenced. A Mini Academy was also formed. The aim was not only to help with the Pumas’ long-term future but also to help with the awareness of the game in the local community.
A new format was put in place relating to league fixtures: still five teams, but each club would play each other only once. Ottomans and Kadikoy were replaced by Kartaltepe Istanbul and METU Ankara. Pumas were left with just one home game.
November 2008 The campaign began with Kartaltepe. For promotional reasons, the Federation arranged for the game to take place in Edirne on the North West border with Greece. We made a winning start. The return journey to the airport was a saga of close calls relating to potential missed flights. Numerous phone calls from the transport (totally inappropriate for the journey) to CTA at Sabiha Gökcen delayed the flight to Ercan until the Pumas were all safe on board.
December 2008 Bakikoy arrived early in December for our only home fixture — a win. Away to Samsun in the same month saw a farce of a game. The referee had to abandon the game after only 22 minutes owing to the ill-discipline of the home side. Pumas 6-0 at the time, so the League awarded the game to the Club. Delays at Samsun airport required calls from the pilot to CTA in Istanbul to hold the flight to Ercan for a second time.
May 2009 The UN again supplied opposition; this time it was 23 Pioneer Regiment. And then to the last League game in Ankara against METU. It would decide the title’s destination. The home side was well supported and the game was by far the best one over the two seasons. The Pumas were not to be denied for a second time ….. Champions at last!
Also in May, a Tens Tournament was arranged at Alsancak. 23 Regiment fielded 2 sides with the Pumas and a Barbarians side making up a foursome. At season’s end the Club suitably celebrated with its supporters at the Pia Bella hotel: trophies aplenty for players and the Title to TRNC!
August Joseph Omer Club’s youngest player was invited to the under 19’s national training camp in Paphos.
September 2009 Thanks to the generosity of two supporters and a special discount from Rhino Sports, the Club took delivery of a scrummage machine. The MD of Rhino informed us it was a reconditioned one that had been used by the England youth squad.
Preparations for the defence of the Title began. Unfortunately this season was to become the last the Club would be able to participate in owing to financial constraints. The lack of League home games over the previous two seasons had not helped in raising funds through sponsorship. Ironically this was to be the best season for home games against sides from Turkey.
December 2009 The Campaign started with a visit by old rivals the Ottomans resulting in a good win for us. Then a trip to Bakikoy Istanbul with the return fixture in February; two very one-sided games resulting in wins for us.
March 2009 The trip away to Ottomans saw the winning run come to an end. Unfortunately for us, it was marred by an injury to Steve Knight who sustained a broken ankle; his last words were “If anybody sees me about to put on a pair of rugby boots ever again you can !!!!!!!!!” A fixture in the same month was against the Northampton Casuals. This was their first visit to the island and the tourists ran out winners.
May 2009 Two home games to finish the season off. First up METU from Ankara in a league fixture, and then a visit from another touring side Bracknell. The Club went down in both games. Disappointing end to the defence of the Title; this was reflected in the season’s-end activities.
September 2010 The Club looked forward to contests against new opposition. First up was Limassol RFU from the South’s league. Was this to be the beginning of closer ties? The game took place at Esentepe owing to the Club’s home ground being unavailable. The teams were well-supported vocally, particularly the visitors. Limassol being a league side had commenced their preparation for the season much earlier than the Pumas, and the closing stages showed this: a win for the visitors.
October 2010 Next up was a three match series for the Abraham Cup, sponsored by Star Newspaper Group, against The Star Warriors from Guzelyurt/Lefke, a club into only their second season. Two games took place at Alsancak, with the last game in December away in Guzelyurt. The Club won all three games and therefore the CUP.
December 2010 brought a visit from our good friends the Ottomans for a two match feast of Rugby. Esentepe was the venue again. Thirty plus players arrived from Istanbul and The Warriors came up from Lefke. First up was The Warriors v Ottomans B followed by Pumas v Ottomans A. The visitors were too strong in both games and ran out easy winners.
March 2011 saw a further visit from UNicorns.
July 2011 The two TRNC sides combined to take on UNicorns at the Kucuk Kaymakli (Sht Huseyın Ruso) stadium in Lefkoşa; good wins for the home sides.
September 2011 The players came together again; unfortunately no fixtures were in the pipeline. The UN were unable to help as in the past owing to operational commitments.
November 2011 Thankfully, old rivals Ottomans asked to come over and the game took place at the 19 Temmuz School ground in Girne. A tight game as always with Pumas coming out on top. A number of senior players decided to hang their boots up at this stage. Then there was a long wait until the next fixture.
April 2012 We played Kadikoy. The League in Turkey had become very competitive by now with Kadikoy as one of the top sides. They played well but, by their Captain’s own admission, their preparation for the game had been wrong. Ottomans had informed them that the Pumas’ strength was still within the pack so they had specially prepared for this. However, we had an influx of African students and were able to play a more expansive game. A very entertaining game and a win for the home side. Rebuilding continued for the remainder of the season.
The Pumas family was shocked at news preceding our first fixture of the season: two former members Ilkay Demırtaş and Keith Alexander had died. Ilkay after a traffic accident in Turkey and Keith had succumbed to cancer in the UK. Both epitomized the ethos that surrounds Rugby: Give all you can in a sporting fashion, and enjoy it.
September 2012 News from Turkey filtered through that ex Puma Dinçhan Kilercioğlu, now with ODTUSK, had been selected for the first Turkish National side at tight-head. He helped them to three wins out of three games against Eastern European opposition.
Training was slow to start as new recruits were being absorbed. A further influx of African students with good skills swelled the team numbers.
October 2012 A three match test series between the UN Nomads took place starting in October at Alsancak. The first game was a cracker with first class skills being exhibited by both sets of players; a good win for the Club to start the season. The two further games took place in November 2012 and February 2013; unfortunately for the Club we lost both of them and the series 2 to 1.
May 2013 We again hosted Northampton followed by a fourth fixture against the Nomads. Results did not go Pumas way. A disappointing end to ten seasons but the club was still in a rebuilding program.
In Rugby all teams are put on the back foot at sometime. It’s how you react in the next phase that determines the future.
Dr. R French vice Chancellor GAU
Yeşilova Football Club Alsancak
Rhino Sports UK
Naci Hoşcan, now Turkish Rugby Federation,
Claire Morley, Incilay Fell, Simon Kiddle and Sam Butcher.
Head Coaches Malcolm Lightowler,Keith Ellor,George Armstrong
Fitness Coaches Gary Abbott and Kim Tyler
Special thanks to the many other members who gave up freely of their time to create and keep the Club and Rugby alive in TRNC.
Introduction of Rugby to TRNC – Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus
One of the Clubs instrumental in forming the Turkish Federation and League
Champions of Turkey in 2008-9
Up to 100 players from numerous nationalities participating in the sport for the first time. One player played in the Turkish International squad 2012-2013.
Support continues to be given to Turkish clubs in advice and training schedules.
Involvement in numerous local charity events. List of Honour please click here and to see an important letter of support from Tim Francis the co-founder of Rhino Sports click here To view the Pumas Club web site please click here
Once a Puma always a Puma
Editors Note: This history of the GAU/Pumas Rugby Club has been published at the request of Peter Heydon and Peter Richard Bradley and we invite current and future members and supporters of the Pumas to add fresh news to this very important historical narrative which is part of the sport heritage of the TURKISH REPUBLIC OF NORTHERN CYPRUS.
Below we show and a list of article published on cyprusscene.com with many pictures and videos of the team in action:
TRNC Pumas – Once a Puma always a Puma – November 2012 click here
TRNC Pumas Return Match with the Unique Nomads – November 2012 click here
UNique Nomads Crunch with the Pumas RFC – February 2013 click here
Pumas RFC head to head With the UNique Nomads – February 2013 click here
The Unique Nomads are back to face the North Cyprus Pumas – May 2013 click here
10 year Anniversary of the Pumas Rugby Club – North Cyprus – October 2013 click here