Newcastle Falcons’ great Paul Van-Zandvliet says he has been moved by the way in which rugby has rallied round as Kingston Park Stadium prepares to host his benefit game on Friday night.
Known as ‘Tank’ during a playing career which included winning the 1997-98 Premiership title with Newcastle, the homegrown prop-forward has recently received a diagnosis of inoperable brain cancer.
Former team-mates have rallied round to host a fund-raising game in aid of his nine-year-old daughter Hope-Elle and associated good causes, with ‘Tankie’s Battle’ seeing a Falcons Legends side taking on a North-East Select XV drawn from clubs across the region.
The 7.45pm kick-off sees Premiership winners Dean Ryan, Pat Lam, Gary Armstrong, Garath Archer, Jim Naylor and Stuart Legg among those playing for the Falcons side, joining fellow Newcastle greats including Micky Ward, Carlo del Fava, Jason Oakes, Michael Stephenson, Stuart Grimes, Phil Godman and many more.
Familiar faces including Rob Andrew, Jonny Wilkinson and Doddie Weir will be in attendance in a non-playing capacity, Van-Zandvliet saying: “I have been totally overwhelmed and overjoyed by the support I’ve received – firstly just from the Falcons in allowing this game to be staged at Kingston Park, and all the hard work they have put into helping organise it.
“It has been non-stop. I have never been busier in the last decade than I have this week, but it it’s all good because it has helped keep me positive. The former players have been instrumental in putting together the whole thing in a very short timeframe, and it’s incredible really what they have managed to achieve.”
With Rob Andrew returning to the club he steered to league and cup glory, Van-Zandvliet said: “There might be a few of the lads scared of a half-time rollocking from Rob if they don’t do the business. He probably sacked a few of them in his time as director of rugby, but it’s great that the likes of him and all the old guard are turning out in whatever way they can.
“It will be a party atmosphere on the night, and that’s what I was all about as a player. I came from the amateur era into the professional age, I always used to enjoy the game and I partied hard after a win. Not like these boys now sipping orange and soda, it was straight on the lash and down the Quayside with the lads!
“All joking aside though, because I have been so busy this last couple of weeks it hasn’t given me time to dwell on things. I like to be busy anyway but this has been a great positive outlet and something to really get stuck into. It has been an added extra because I was never expecting anything like this to happen, and it has meant so much to me to see the way people have got behind it.”
Tickets for Tankie’s Battle on Friday April 22 at Kingston Park Stadium are available priced £10 and £20 for adults and £5 for juniors, with hospitality packages also available. To book call 0871 226 6060 or visit the stadium ticket office on the night. Supporters are advised to allow extra time for what is expected to be a sizeable walk-up crowd.