The father of a young rugby player says they have been blown away by the support his son has received after unkind comments were posted about him on social media.
Eleven-year-old Alfie Pugsley has had backing from the likes of Louis Rees-Zammit, Nigel Owens, Josh Adams, Jonathan Davies, Liam Williams and Joe Marler, while even the All Blacks and World Rugby have been in touch.
This followed his father Mark tweeting about how a Facebook “idiot” had said his son wasn’t healthy and was too big to play U12s rugby.
That post from dad went viral and has now received 219,000 likes and been re-tweeted 14,000 times.
It has also provoked messages of support from around the rugby world, including an offer from Nigel Owens to come and referee one of Alfie’s games, while the Dragons have invited him to be a mascot at a forthcoming match.
The saga began when Mark posted a picture on Facebook of his prop forward son playing for Oakdale RFC U12s.
“All of a sudden then, I had this one person saying ‘Your boy is unhealthy at that size’ and things like that,” he explains.
“He was saying it was unfair.
“So I decided to take the page down just in case family or friends saw the comments.
“I didn’t want the negativity to escalate.
“It was a shame when I saw the comment because Alfie is not very confident and he has only just started to believe in his ability this season and realize how important he is to the team.
“He had started to get a bit of confidence about him, mostly because of his scrummaging because they have started to push in the scrum now.
“I am a prop myself and I have always let him know it is one of the most important roles on the pitch.
“The person who made the comment would have had no idea how hard Alfie has been working on his fitness.
“He has been going to the kids’ classes at the gym I go to, he’s been walking places rather than getting lifts.
“He’s really working hard and the coaches are all saying how good he is in training, he doesn’t stop running.
“People speak a lot about body consciousness in young girls, but I think there is a lot of it with young boys too. It’s just not spoken about enough.”
Upset by the comments, Mark decided to put a post up on Twitter “to have a guy”.
Little could he imagine what the response would be.
“It’s been absolutely mental,” he said.
“Usually when I put something up on Twitter, I will be lucky if about three or four people like it.
“We’ve just been blown away by it all.
“The reaction has been overwhelmingly positive in terms of the comments.
“There have been a few horrid ones, but you just skim past those and don’t give them the time of day and just respond to all the nice ones.”
He continued: “Louis Rees-Zammit messaged offering us free tickets to go up and watch him play for Gloucester after the Six Nations.
“Nigel Owens has said he’ll come along to ref one of Alfie’s games and I have had Joe Marler message me, saying he is loving all the positivity.
“The Dragons have arranged for Alfie to be as a mascot for one of their matches and run out with the players and we will have Oakdale minis to be guard of honour.
“Andy Powell has said he’s going to come down and help take a training session and have a chat with the kids.
“Players from Leicester Tigers are saying they would like to send a jersey down.
“You have got people at the top of their trade taking time out of their day.
“I’ve even got the likes of Paddy McGuinness and Matt Lucas following me on Twitter now!
“It’s not just rugby players, but people from all different backgrounds getting on board, spreading the message that rugby is for everyone and don’t judge a book by its cover.
“It’s all good things to come out of it really from someone leaving a negative comment.”
So what has Islwyn High School pupil Alfie made of it all?
“He is loving having all the nice comments,” said Mark.
“We were going through them and he saw the official Twitter page of World Rugby had commented and he said ‘They own rugby don’t they? Wow, that’s cool.’
“A couple of chefs commented as well and Alfie wants to be a chef when he grows up. He really likes to help out in the kitchen and cook.
“So he was taken back by that.
“We’ve had people from the rugby club and school teachers posting messages.
“His mates have been brilliant, especially the rugby boys.
“There were all asking for his autograph at school!
“He is a very well liked member of the team.
“We are away to Caerphilly next weekend and their team manager has said they are going to make a banner to say ‘rugby is for everyone’.
“We have had that many people reach out to us.
“Some really good things have come out of it.
“This has really restored my faith in the rugby community.”
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