Paul Van-Zandvliet has been quick to thank supporters and players alike for supporting Friday’s benefit match as his Newcastle Falcons Legends side and a North-East Select XV played out a 58-58 draw at Kingston Park.
The match, named ‘Tankie’s Battle’ in honour of Paul’s nickname, was organised by former team-mates after the 1997-98 Premiership title-winning prop was diagnosed with inoperable brain cancer.
A who’s who of North-East rugby turned out on the night, with funds raised going towards a trust fund for Paul’s nine-year-old daughter, Hope Elle, and associated good causes.
Paul, or ‘Tank’ as he is known throughout the rugby community, said: “It has been a fantastic turn-out, the game was played in great spirit and both teams enjoyed themselves. I have met up with a lot of old friends, it has been an emotional night and one I will never forget. I am just so thankful to every single one of the many people who have helped out in any way.”
Despite the Falcons outscoring their opponents 10 tries to four an imaginative scoring system was brought into action, Tank saying of his Legends team: “These lads don’t lose it, even if there are a few more grey hairs knocking about!
“The support they have shown to me is unbelievable, and although the whole experience of my situation has been devastating for me and my family, it has been humbling to see the way in which everyone shown their love and support. People have turned out and I am just bowled over by the whole thing.
“There were plenty of moments which stood out, but to see my son Leon out there playing with the Falcons was truly special. He is pretty handy, as he showed, but it was a brilliant night and I am so grateful to everyone who came down to watch as well as all the lads who played in and supported the event.”
Garath Archer, the former England lock and one of Van-Zandvliet’s title-winning team-mates, said: “It was a great occasion and everyone went out there with the right spirit. It is so heartwarming to see how the guys have come together from far and wide – they have made a big effort to be here and when one of the rugby community is in need we all chip in to help.
“The 20-point tries for the opposition made it interesting, but when the North-East Select scored that last 20-pointer the Legends’ fitness was less than legendary!”
Jason Oakes, the former Falcons’ second-row, said: “It was an amazing buzz to be back out there at Kingston Park, and fantastic to see the way all the lads have rallied round for Tank.
“He came into the changing rooms and said a few words to the lads before the game. As you can imagine that was a very emotional moment for Paul and the players, he had some positive and uplifting words for us all and it was brilliant to see the way the crowd came out and supported the fixture.
“You look at Paul and how he is dealing with his news - you wonder how a guy can be so upbeat in that situation but the bloke is an absolute inspiration to be around.”
Martin Corry, the former England captain who was a Newcastle Gosforth team-mate of Van-Zandvliet’s, said: “I came up here as a young kid straight out of school, and playing with Tank was an eye-opener with his background and everything.
“But what’s great about rugby is the fact worlds collide. I would never have met a guy like Tank were it not for rugby, but I am proud to call him my friend and to come and to be invited to his game.
“The great thing with Tank is that he hasn’t changed one bit, and nor should he. I don’t come up here that often and I haven’t seen Tank for ages. He is precisely the same guy I knew all those years ago, and it is amazing how you just switch back.”
NEWCASTLE FALCONS LEGENDS: Stuart Grimes, Garath Archer, Micky Ward, Dave Walder, Steve O'Neill, Mike Wood, Gary Armstong, Dean Ryan, Jim Naylor, Stuart Legg, Jason Oakes, Michael Stephenson, James Cartmell, Phil Godman, Andy Perry, Ian Chandler, Carlo Antonio del Fava, Steve Douglas, Neil Frankland, Shaun Richardson, Martin Wilson, Joel Branagan, George Robson, Danny Brown, Pat Lam, John Fowler, Simon Mason, Ross Beattie, Billy Balshen, Martin Corry, Leon Van-Zandvliet.
Attending but not playing: George Graham, Mark Beattie, Ross Wilkinson, Hall Charlton, Jonny Wilkinson, Richard Metcalfe, Mark Wilkinson, Rob Andrew, Doddie Weir.
NORTH-EAST SELECT: Richard Lydiatt (Houghton), Ian Chandler, Graeme Clarkson, Fergus Mitchell, Steve Douglas, Matt Long (all ex-Gosforth), Noel Mather, Craig Tomlinson, Leon Smart, Neil Mather, Ross Bailey (all Whitley Bay Rockliff), Peter Carter (Sunderland), Shaun Cassidy (Middlesbrough), Lyndon Tweddle, Garry Hodgson, Greg Hayes (all Medicals), David Whitehead, Deano Laws (all Northern), Glen Teeley (Combined Police), Graeme Turnbull, Paul Richardson (all Ponteland), Paul Spowart, Mark Jackson, Greg Dixon (all Percy Park), David Carson (Hartlepool), Jo Coffey, Alan Rogers, Graham Crozier (all Gosforth), Paul Jackson, Paul Mooney, Dave Reed (all Morpeth), Andrew Wilkinson (Army), Craig Wrightson (Wallsend), Andrew Tucker (Guisborough), Mickey Wright (Newcastle Ravens), Neil Young (Redcar), Gareth Kerr (ex-Falcons academy), David Mackenzie, Dan McKay (all South Shields), Jack Liddle (Prudhoe and Stocksfield), Duncan Henderson (Ashington), Richard Elliot (Alnwick), Mike Hay.