POCKLINGTON RUFC prop forward John-Paul Kelly has announced his retirement from the sport after playing over 400 first-team matches across 20 seasons.

Nicknamed ‘The Judge’, Kelly has been a mainstay of the Pocklington forward pack since making his debut as a teenager back in 1999.

Kelly recalled some of the highs from his two decades at the club, which began and ended in similar circumstances.

“After benching a few times the previous season, my debut was away to Cleckheaton, who had British Lion John Bentley in their team, back in 1998-99 and we won,” Kelly told Pocklington RUFC website.

“My last game was in March, again at Cleckheaton and again finishing with a win.

“There’s been so many highlights; being part of the squad voted Rugby World Magazine’s British Team of the Year after doing a league and Yorkshire Shield double.

“Being part of the side that won the Pock 7s in 1998 - yes, me playing sevens - four more promotions as we went up the divisions, and being able to play for Pock in the National Leagues.”

Kelly has also claimed personal awards during his time, winning the 1995 Junior Player of the Year and 2016/17 first-XV Player of the Year.

Though it was his promotion to captaincy that ranks as his proudest accomplishment.

“My proudest moment was being made captain in 2008”, he added.

“It’s been and honour and a privilege to have played for so long with some amazing players, and meet some amazing people from all over the country not just (from) Pocklington.

“I’m very proud of what I have achieved and done at Pocklington RUFC. I’ll look back with fond memories and I’ve made so many lifelong friends!

“The past decade has seen the club grow and put foundations in for another decade of top rugby for the first-team.

“To be part of that due to the success of the teams I’ve played in is a great feeling.

“Three promotions, two back-to-back, and then 2017 North East 1 champions - it’s been a hell of a last 10 years.

“Pock has seen many players come and go, but I like to think we are a big family, and happy to welcome anyone into that family, I’ve certainly tried to do that.

He admits that it was a difficult call to hang up his boots, particularly when ending his career with the season not fully finishing due to the coronavirus pandemic.

He continued: “It’s a shame last season was cut short for me and so not to have the grand finale, but it will never take away the memories, including the legendary Pock bus trips and clubhouse singalongs, home and away.

“It’s been a tough decision to call it a day, but the next generation are coming through strong.

“Looking forward, the new chapter has yet to be decided, maybe coaching, referee or supporter?

“I’d like to thank the physios that have kept me going all these years, it’s tough work at the coal face.

“And thank you to all those that have helped me along the way, coaching, bar, teas, committees and friends, too many to mention; and especially thank you to my family for supporting me and allowing me to play 20 plus years!”

Kelly’ has also been named in the club’s ‘Team of the Decade’ which was revealed by the club this week.

Through a series of online polls on the club’s Instagram account, the best 15 players were named.

The final selection was: 15 Jack Fletcher, 14 Tim Nixon, 13 Joe Holbrough, 12 Billy Hardy, 11 Charlie Allen, 10 Josh Britland, 9 Ben Rees, 1 Chris Morton, 2 Dave Birch, 3 John-Paul Kelly, 4 Tom Peters, 5 Kym Russell, 6 Karl Durkin, 7 Johnny Wood, 8 Jack Holbrough.

l Elsewhere at Pocklington, over 150 people joined the club’s call to ‘Raise a Glass’ for club legend Tim Slater who died earlier this month.

Slater, who played for the club as a winger during the early 1970s and served as a club president, passed away at the age of 72.

Due to the lockdown restrictions in place due to the coronavirus pandemic, his funeral - which took place on May 11 - was restricted to his immediate family.

A memorial service will also follow in due course.

In a mark of support from the club to Tim’s family, they called on its fans to photograph themselves raising a glass to Tim.

“We are devastated that we cannot be there to show our support, however, the club wants his friends to be with the family in spirit on the day,” said Pocklington.

Since then, over 150 people have sent photos into the club.

They include former team and clubmates from the 1960s to the present day from all over Britain, and some from across the globe.

These include ex-Pock players Pete and Charlie Wilson from Australia, Gary Barboro in America and Frenchman Rudy Louriac from Beziers.

The photos are being collated into an album that will be available to view at the club when the lockdown ends.

Supporters can send their photos to the following email address: raiseaglass2tim@icloud.com.