In her series of articles, Angela Kelly talks to local sportsmen and women about their love and commitment to their chosen sport. This week, she chats to one of Bolton’s rugby stalwarts Mark Dorning
RUGBY league has been a family affair for Mark Dorning ever since he was a final year pupil at Red Lane Primary School in Breightmet.
Mark, now 38, admits he was not much good at football “but I loved running, even though I was nearly always last.”
However, when inspirational teacher Barry Leese from what was then Withins School, now St Catherine’s Academy, began interesting local primary school pupils in rugby league it fascinated the 11-year-old.
“He’d got two players from Wigan Warriors to come to show us the game, so I went along,” explains Mark. “I think I was hooked straight away.”
The result of that early initiative from rugby fan Mr Leese was the formation of Bolton Juniors. Young Mark was an early convert to the game, playing initially on the wing, first of all for the under-13s and progressing to the under-15s and then under-17s.
That club later folded, but Mark’s interest in the game didn’t diminish and, when he got together with some friends a few years on in 1995, they decided to “use the few quid left in the Juniors’ kitty” to start what was initially Breightmet Rugby League Club and became Bolton Mets.
Mark’s dad, Jack Dorning, played an active role in the club – as he still does and is now president – and his brother Steven also played. Later, his cousins Michael Horrobin and Paul Dorning joined to swell the family links.
Bolton Mets’ history did not, however, always run smoothly. “We lost players and some packed in as they grew older and we did have a bit of a slump,” states Mark. “We got down to just a handful of members at one point.
“I can remember turning up for training in winter once when there was six inches of snow on the ground and there were just five of us. All we could do was jog around the field.”
The Dornings, however, helped to keep the club going and the membership gradually grew. More recently, a new treasurer and secretary have used social media skills to get the Mets’ rugby league message across to a wider audience, with positive results for the club all round.
The club gained promotion twice in the North West Men’s League and attracted support from the ESSA Academy as well as from several other sponsors to make it one of the most sponsored clubs in the league.
After years of moving to different home grounds, they have now settled at Bolton Rugby Union Club at Avenue Street and some of that club’s members also play for the Mets in the summer league.
Mark himself is still playing, these days more likely to be loose forward or stand-off – “although I’ve played every position on the field by now!” he laughs.
He used to go regularly to the gym to train, but this became more difficult when he and his girlfriend Katie had twins Ava and Daniel, now aged two.
“But my job as a gas engineer involves digging up the road and laying gas mains so it’s like going to the gym every day,” states Mark.
He still loves the game “because it teaches you so much about teamwork and discipline” and he also enjoys the social side, getting together with the lads.
“You wear the same kit and you share the same passion,” he says.
Mark is a great believer in rugby as a game that anyone can start playing, and enjoying. “If my two wanted to play later on, that would be great,” he says.
“Having a sport is so important, and I’m really grateful to Mr Leese all those years ago for bringing it to me and so many others.”