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Stowmarket former teacher named England’s biggest rugby fan at O2 event as team show up to celebrate

A former teacher from Stowmarket has been crowned ‘England’s biggest rugby fan’ at a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Paul Appleby, 50, fought off competition from more than 30 other hopefuls to be named ‘The Unstoppable Fan’ at The O2 last Wednesday.

The event was attended by the entire England squad, who will soon be shipped off the the World Cup in France next month – and who joined Mr Appleby in his celebration.

Paul Appleby has been named as England's biggest rugby fan. Picture: O2
Paul Appleby has been named as England's biggest rugby fan. Picture: O2

Mr Appleby was quizzed for a number of challenges before he competed in a rugby-themed obstacle course.

After his victory, he was presented with a signed shirt, and given free tickets to all games in Twickenham until 2025.

Mr Appleby revealed he couldn’t believe what had happened.

He said: “It is unbelievable. You only ever come to see concerts at The O2, you don’t expect to be passing to England rugby players and kicking conversions to win a prize.

“I said to the kids bringing them down this is a money can’t buy experience and that’s exactly what it was.

“I wasn’t expecting to do well at all. I am just thankful that, about five years ago, I did a rugby referees course. I didn’t really know what to expect but it has been great.”

Mr Appleby said his passion for the sport began when he was a schoolboy and reignited when he coached teams as a teacher.

He was one of 33 fans to take part in the competition.

England lock Maro Itoje said the players enjoyed the day as much as the fans.

He said: “O2’s Wear the Rose Live event is a fantastic and hugely inspirational initiative ahead of travelling to France next month that brings together the players and fans like never before.

“Seeing so many passionate England Rugby supporters competing alongside us players to become the ‘Unstoppable Fan’ just shows the support and dedication for the squad and how much the sport, and what we do out on the pitch, means to people.”

Scrum-half Ben Youngs said: “It’s a brilliant initiative from O2 and we’ve all loved taking part. It’s been inspiring to see such amazing support behind the team just before we leave for France.

“Congratulations to all who were involved, your support means the world to me and all the team.”

Marcus Smith said the entire event was a great experience for all involved.

In particular, meeting and greeting with some of the team’s passionate fans was brilliant, he said, and it was great to see them put their knowledge to the test.

Fans were selected due to their dedication to the team.

Each wrote in and gave their reasons why they should make the team.

Gareth Griffiths, the director of partnerships at Virgin Media O2, said the firm was thrilled to be able to offer hardcore fans ‘such an exclusive experience’.

He said: “To be able to give our customers such a fun and intimate experience with the England squad as they compete together to unveil the ‘Unstoppable Fan’ ahead of next month’s tournament has been great.

“Not only does it allow us to demonstrate our unwavering support to the team, but also shows the once-in-a-lifetime opportunities available to Virgin Media and O2 customers.

“Congratulations to everyone that took part today and to our Unstoppable Fan who will get to enjoy attending every England game at Twickenham until 2025 courtesy of O2.

“We can’t wait to Wear the Rose and get behind the team as they take on the World’s best in France next month.”