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#54 - 2011

Friday Night Lights is now a firm fixture in the Shiplake sporting calendar and is often described by those who take part as one of the highlights of their time here. The event was the idea of Head of Rugby, Sam Beckett and the first ever match took place on 18 November 2011. Read the review below, taken from the 2012 FNL Programme.

“On Friday the 18th of November the Shiplake 1st XV marked the last home game of the school rugby season, and for many of the players the last home game of their schoolboy career, in spectacular style. 'Friday Night Lights', the brainchild of the school's Head of Rugby, Mr Sam Beckett, saw the team and indeed most of the staff and students, move camp from the boys' normal playing field at Shiplake College to Henley Rugby Club, where they would take on, under flood lights, the Merchant Taylor's 1st XV, a school of 870 boys in London. The atmosphere on the bus was tense. There was none of the usual pre-match bravado; there wasn't even much small talk between the boys. Clearly the time for words had passed and all were thinking about how they would be defined, both individually and collectively, by their actions in the coming hours and minutes. The boys arrived at Henley Rugby Club with plenty of time to get sorted before the 7:30pm kick off. The weather was cool and crisp, dry and clear, the boys could not have asked for better. As they walked onto the field, everyone present realised that they were all embarking on something special. Everything appeared to be clicking during the warm up. Jack Cowmeadow was slotting drop goals and conversion kicks through the uprights, the back line looked slick and switched on and as the forwards ran through their line-outs, Ian Brown showcased a pin point accuracy that would have made Phil Taylor proud. Never out of sight though, the boys from Merchant Taylor's were also getting their game faces on. They too looked like they meant business. At 7:30pm the whistle blew for kick off, 200 students and staff cheering in support, sat and stood side by side with parents, governors and Old Vikings of the college. Shiplake pushed their ascendancy early on and in the opening ten minutes of the game controlled the pace and tempo. Ian Brown, a talisman in the forward pack and the side's Captain scored a fantastically well worked and hard fought try under the posts, which was comfortably converted by Jack Cowmeadow. It was the fairytale start but Merchant Taylor's were not intending to go down without a fight. Suddenly things started to go wrong for Shiplake; the line-out, that had looked so perfect during the warm up, was gifting easy ball. A lack of supremacy at the breakdown allowed Merchant Taylor's turnover after turnover. Wave after wave of sustained pressure began to show chinks in the Shiplake backline defence, and poor decisions resulted in penalties, which the Merchant Taylor's outside half was only too happy to take advantage of. In the last minutes of the first half the Scoreboard read 10-6 in favour of Shiplake but in the dying seconds the defence faltered once again and Merchant Taylor's crossed the line. 10 points to 11. The half time atmosphere was one of nervous anticipation for all watching the game. It was felt by most, that the result was hanging in the balance and would be decided by the attitude and dynamism in which the teams began the second half. Heartbreakingly for the Shiplake supporters, the boys from Merchant Taylor's were the dominant force. Two converted tries in quick succession that burst through the battered Shiplake defensive line took the score to 10-25, in favour of the visitors and looked to signal the beginning of the end for the home side. But in true Shiplake spirit, no heads went down and all battled to the finish. Despite a run of injuries and an unfortunate accidental high tackle that resulted in a red card the Shiplake team refused to roll over. Although they were not able to claw back a victory, Tom Howe, had the last word when he made a fifty-metre break and sent Nick Pearce over the opposition try line. Final Score Shiplake 17, Merchant Taylor's 25. Though the result was not what they had hoped for, the evening was everything and more and huge thanks from all staff and students at Shiplake must go to Sam Beckett for his tireless effort and enthusiasm to get this fixture up and running. It was a fantastic night and a real privilege for the boys who I'm sure will not forget it.”

The Headmaster had a lovely article, entitled ‘Let the Ballroom Dancing Take the Credit’ published in the Community Focus section of the Shiplake Villages Magazine:


One of the fascinations of the TV talent shows is the number of contestants who are suddenly discovered. Britain's Got Talent launched Susan Boyle's global singing career while The X-Factor took Mary Byrne from Tesco checkout to fame and bright lights.

Watching Shiplake College's House Singing competition where every single pupil in the school, above Year 8, takes to the stage and performs, as part of their House group, there is a temptation to see the College as providing a chance for everyone to find their God­-given gifts and to shine. When U14 rowers take second place at the Hampton Head of the River, barely months after having sat in a boat for the first time, it is a tempting viewpoint. The fact that some of our alumni -Tom Bennett, Freddie Greaves and Ed Pinker - who had barely trod the boards before arriving at Shiplake, are now making their way in London's theatre world, seems to add grist to the mill.

Yet for the vast majority of pupils it is the opportunity to try something new, and to discover that they are not world-beaters, that is the most precious gift of all. It would be very nice indeed if Year 7 Science Lessons could produce a Nobel Prize winner or if we nurtured the next British Real Tennis Champion or a Year 11 essayist who went on to pick-up an Oscar for screenplay writing. If you push me, I harbour hopes for an international rugby player or two and perhaps, a little more down-to-earth, a clutch of pupils who have developed the independent learning skills to go on and grab firsts at their chosen university.

For most of our lives it is not the success that matters, it is what we learn from attempting to master a new skill. Last year the College provided exceptional academic value for those pupils fortunate to receive GCSE and A Level results but we all know that academic results are no longer enough when there are hundreds of applicants for every position.

We have just received a letter from a very grateful mother whose son beat over 800 applicants to an internship. His examination results were good but not exceptional. He is an outstanding sportsman but I would like to believe that it was the confidence he gained from some red-faced ballroom dancing lessons that gave him the confidence to come out of an extensive selection process as the chosen candidate.

Can you spot yourself in any of these House photographs from 2011?

Lower School

Burr House

Everett House

Skipwith House

Welsh House

Orchard House

Gilson House

College House

Also in 2011:

- There are record numbers in the school with the academic year starting with 386 pupils.

- 1st XV rugby followed up a winning South African Tour with an away win over Teddies.

- J16s won gold at the National Schools' Regatta and 1st VIII came 4th in the Queen Mother's Cup.

- A huge audience watched Shiplake's drama students perform in the Oxford Botanical Gardens, following on from a superb Nativity play in the Parish Church.