Stade Toulousain rugby coach Jerome Kaino has joined a host of stars in supporting a young Welsh rugby player who was mocked for his weight online.
It began when a father, Mark Pugsley, posted a photo of his son Alfie playing rugby on Twitter on January 23
He wrote: “Had to remove a post from Facebook as an idiot commented saying my boy is too "big" to play under 12s and isn't healthy.
“If only people knew how hard he works to get fitter and how low his confidence has been. Don't worry Alfie, I'll always be your biggest fan.”
Had to remove a post from Facebook as an idiot commented saying my boy is to "big" to play under 12s and isn't healthy. If only people knew how hard he works to get fitter and how low his confidence has been. Don't worry Alfie I'll always be your biggest fan. pic.twitter.com/cDkA9BQOG8— Mark Pugsley (@Puggster) January 23, 2022
The post hit a chord, and has now been “Liked” more than 216,000 times, and shared almost 10,000 times. Thousands of people, including many major rugby names, jumped in to support Alfie.
Mr Kaino, originally from Samoa, is a former All Black player and Stade Toulousain flanker who currently lives in Toulouse (Haute-Garonne, Occitanie). He joined the rugby stars to send a message of support to the boy.
He wrote: “Hey Alfie, you keep having loads of fun & working hard mate, our beautiful game is for ALL genders, people from ALL walks of life & also ALL shapes & sizes, keep that smile on your face brother & keep up the awesome work.”
Hey Alfie, you keep having loads of fun & working hard mate, our beautiful game is for ALL genders, people from ALL walks of life & also ALL shapes & sizes, keep that smile on your face brother & keep up the awesome work. ❤️— Jerome Kaino (@jeromekaino) January 23, 2022
Alfie has also received support from other rugby stars, including Nigel Owens MBE, a well-known Welsh international rugby union referee; Welsh rugby player and former Saracens star Liam Williams, and Argentine rugby union professional and London Irish player Agustin Creevy.
Mr Owens MBE is also patron of the anti-bullying charity Bullies Out, and a diversity and mental health ambassador for wellbeing company Hasta World. He wrote:
Alfie mate, you keep enjoying the rugby. Always try your best, but always enjoy it. Your doing well keep going. I'll come along to ref one of your games one day and will look forward to it. Keep smiling my friend— Nigel Owens MBE (@Nigelrefowens) January 23, 2022
Alfie’s father Mark has replied to many of the positive tweets, frequently posting simply: “I’m star-struck. Cheers mate”.
Not only that, Alfie has now received (and accepted) an invitation to attend the Final of Premiership Rugby on June 18, 2022, and the official Twitter account posted: “Keep going Alfie! We hope to see you playing in the Premiership one day.”
We are delighted that Alfie has accepted our invitation to come to the Final!!— Premiership Rugby (@premrugby) January 24, 2022
Keep going, Alfie! We hope to see you playing in the Premiership one day https://t.co/fP4fUif6l7
The official England Rugby account also posted a message.
Keep doing what you're doing Alfie, rugby is for everyone!— England Rugby (@EnglandRugby) January 24, 2022
Alfie has also had messages of support from football stars, including from football manager and former Liverpool and Manchester City player Robbie Fowler.
There was also a cheeky tweet from Edinburgh Giants FC (a baseball team in Scotland), who wrote: “Please let Alfie know he’s not too big…if he ever fancies switching to a proper sport, Edinburgh Giants will send him down one of ours [shirts]”.
Hi Mark,— Edinburgh Giants F.C. (@edigiantsfc) January 23, 2022
Please let Alfie know he's not too big. Nobody is too big for a game with their pals. If he ever fancies switching to a proper sport, Edinburgh Giants will send him down one of ours. Alfie will be a top class prop forward in no time. #BeKind pic.twitter.com/7srj2Zwr3A
Mental health support
The tweet also struck a chord with advocates of anti-bullying and mental health support groups, including Tom Home, author and mental health speaker and founder of blOKes, a mental health service for young men aged 16 and over.
There was also support from people outside of sports, including French Michelin-star chef and TV presenter Michel Roux Jr, and Michelin-starred UK pub chef Tom Kerridge, who has himself spoken openly about his weight.
Mr Roux Jr wrote: “I’d have you in my team Alfie,” while Mr Kerridge simply wrote: “Yes Alfie! #TeamChefRugby”, prompting Mr Pugsley to reply: “Alfie actually wants to be a chef when he grows up.”
Alfie actually wants to be a chef when he grows up— Mark Pugsley (@Puggster) January 23, 2022
Mr Pugsley later posted a group photo of the young team, stating: “Not exactly miles bigger than his teammates…”
Not exactly miles bigger than his team mates.. pic.twitter.com/wpy3j6Ez1v— Mark Pugsley (@Puggster) January 23, 2022
A Twitter account run by someone associated with Alfie’s rugby team also assured people of their support. It said: “Alfie is a well respected and key member of our team and above all a lovely young man…please know Alfie has the support of us all…”
Alfie is a well respected and key member of our team and above all a lovely young man. On behalf of the Oakdale U12's coaches and myself please know Alfie has the support of us all, he'll always be on the right side of our big red wall. Much love Alfie boy❤️xx— Dana Johnson (@DanaJoh49661281) January 23, 2022