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Tributes flood in for rugby coach Darren ‘Mitch’ Mitchell

Much loved rugby coach, businessman and family man passes away

TRIBUTES are being paid after the sudden loss of Darren ‘Mitch’ Mitchell, a former paratrooper and well-known figure in Northamptonshire rugby.

He had been on a motorbike tour in the USA, taking injured ex-servicemen on the trip of a lifetime as part of a charity he supported, when he died on May 18, 2019.

Father-of-two Mitch was married to Mandy, and ran CamHam Business Furniture and Supplies after a career in the military.

He  was coach of the Under 15s at Northampton Casuals RFC, where he was known for his booming voice, bright pink sports gear and infectious humour.

Darren David Mitchell was born on November 24, 1971 in London, the eldest child of Neil and Carol. The family was soon completed with the arrival of Mitch’s sister, Fiona.

His father was a high ranking officer in the RAF and as their parents moved around the world with his job, the children were sent to boarding school, with Mitch attending Bedford Modern.

After school, Mitch went to Sandhurst as an officer and joined the Parachute Regiment, and served, among other places, in Northern Ireland.  

Mandy said: “Mitch was always going to join the forces, he was very proud of his father and wanted to follow in his foot steps. He was a very proud Para.’”

After leaving the forces, Mitch met Mandy they courted for two years before marrying in 1999. Soon they were blessed to have their first son Cameron, followed by Hamish in 2004.

Mitch joined the Casuals rugby club in around 1996 and when his playing career ended, (because he got too old, according to Mandy) he took on the training of the next generation of lads, including the now-under 15s when they were just six years old.

Mitch was clearly a huge figure at the club and spent many happy times down at the Rushmills-based rugby ground.

Tributes from the club have been shared across social media for Mitch expressing the shock and sadness about his death.

As well as being an avid motorcyclist, Mitch also spent many happy holidays on his boat down at Hayling Island.

Norman Barker, former NSB rugby coach who worked with Mitch in recent years at Casuals, said: “Mitch used to bellow at them, probably from all his years in the military, but he was a very kind man and the boys understood him. I admired him greatly for how he supported both the boys, and the army through his charity work, and I’m gobsmacked that he should go so soon.”

Neil Haskins, Casuals team-mate and friend said: “Mitch tipified the ‘Club-man’, not only as a player but being at the heart of the rugby family too. We are planning to honour his memory in the new season. in a number of ways.”

A funeral service will be held at Nene Valley Crematorium on Friday June 28 at 3pm with a celebration of his life at Casuals Rugby Club afterwards.

The family has requested no flowers. Cash donations should go to BT4TW.co.uk

Memories of Mitch will see the team through

Hearing that Mitch had died was a proper sucker punch, swinging in from nowhere and landing with reality-jolting force, writes Steve Scoles.

The phone call that delivered the news was brief and in that moment I contributed little more than my own foul-mouthed sense of shock.

The message wasn’t even really for me, but Mitch was one of those people who were a much bigger deal in your life than you realised. The message was for my son, Billy because Mitch was the coach of the Casuals Rugby Club U15s.

He had coached them from their first day in a Casuals shirt, when Billy was just six. In those days they ran around like a spilled bag of kittens snatching tags off Velcro belts and throwing the ball in any direction they could get it to go.

Mitch, an ex-para, must have seemed enormous to them as he bluntly boomed out his coaching instructions, not sparing anyone’s feelings if he thought they could do better.

You didn’t ever have to wonder if Mitch was disappointed in you. He would let you know, whether you were a player, parent or official.

I got a dressing down for bringing Billy late once. To be fair I deserved it more than once but I pulled my socks up.

What makes me smile about it now is that in reality, the situation didn’t represent the balance of power at all. Coaches need the parents onside: paying subscription fees, choosing their club over another club. Calling them out for showing up late might seem the obvious thing to do but in the precarious world of mini-rugby team management it was a typically ballsy move from Mitch.

All the other parents thought me getting told off was funny too – little suck-ups.

The truth was Mitch showed incredible commitment to his team which he was developing in the Casuals way – if you turn up you take part, no matter your experience or ability. Week in, week out, Mitch drilled in the skills whether he had five players or 15 to work with.

In the winter months he would arrive in what might best be described as morale-boosting shorts, often pink, sometimes with leopard print stripes down the side.

In this way, no matter how cold the wind or how dismal the defeat, Mitch would ensure you always had something else to think about.

With the Casuals’ inclusive ethos at the heart of the team, especially through the younger years, there were indeed some dismal defeats at the hands of bigger, faster players from more selective teams.

Mitch’s larger than life persona allowed the boys to treat triumph and defeat as the twin impostors they are. Getting told you were the Casuals man-of-the-match at the end of a big pasting still meant you had a spring in your step, because it was hard-to-please Mitch who was handing out the honour.

Ten years on, that team, including Mitch’s excellent son Hamish, are getting bigger and the odds are starting to even out. In the season just finished they have beaten teams they used to lose to, they move the ball through their hands with confidence and trust their teammates to make their tackles.

I once experienced coaching of a sort from Mitch in a completely different environment. It was at a business breakfast and Mitch had been nominated to provide a brief session for the delegates on health and safety.

I wondered how Mitch’s no nonsense approach would translate, and was slightly dazzled to see him produce an inflatable doll (as seen at stag and hen dos) to serve at his crash test dummy through a range of health and safety scenarios. There is no other single piece of health and safety training that has embedded itself in my mind so effectively.

It also made me realise how seriously he took training the boys.

If one part of the mosaic of tragedies that comes with Mitch’s passing is that he will not see his team realise their full potential (and it is his team, albeit superbly advised and supported by the legendary Norman Barker). It is worth remembering that he would be the least surprised of all of us by any success they have.

“They remembered to make their tackles” or “they remembered to pass it” was always his explanation for a victory with a beaming smile hanging from ear to ear.

I’m not really a religious person at all and I tend towards the sceptical about an afterlife, but I do feel with absolute confidence that if there is a way he could be watching the team next season then he will be. Thankyou so much Mitch. You did an excellent job.

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