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Tribute as popular rugby player, 25, dies during match

Josh Gilbert, back row fourth from left, who collapsed during a Thurston Rangers away match in Hadleigh on Saturday September 16
Josh Gilbert, back row fourth from left, who collapsed during a Thurston Rangers away match in Hadleigh on Saturday September 16

A Thurston rugby club is in mourning today after one of its most popular players suddenly collapsed and died during a match on Saturday.

Josh Gilbert, 25, was playing prop forward in a Thurston Rangers away game at Hadleigh when he fell to the ground about 20 minutes into the game.

Matt Ansell, Thurston RUFC chairman, was watching a home match at the time. He said: “Those who were there said it was pretty obvious that something serious was wrong. Two or three of the players who are first aid trained started CPR and mouth-to-mouth and they got a defibrillator while the ambulance and air ambulance were on their way, but nothing could be done for him unfortunately.”

It is not yet known why Mr Gilbert, who lived in Walsham-le-Willows, collapsed. He had played with Thurston Rangers for three years, being a second team regular, playing in the prop forward position.

“He was a very well-regarded bloke and player - he was regularly on the team sheet and was someone we could rely on,” said Mr Ansell.

“Obviously this has been a big shock to the club. There is quite a lot of numbness. Last night there was a gathering at Walsham-le-Willows Sports Club, as Josh was also a keen cricketer. That drew a lot of people from the three main interests in his life: rugby, cricket and Suffolk Young Farmers, as he was a former chairman. It really helped everyone who was there, as there is a huge feeling of shock and sadness.”

Mr Ansell said the club was now focussing on looking after Josh’s family and friends, but there were hopes to pay tribute to him and create some sort of lasting legacy in the club in his name.”

“Josh was a big, friendly giant. He was probably the most genuine and likeable guy that any of us knew. He threw himself into everything in life and was just a great bloke. The number of people who came to the gathering last night is testament to that,” added Mr Ansell.

Beth Duchesne, chairman of Suffolk Young Farmers and member of Bury St Edmunds Young Farmers, also paid tribute today.

She said: “Josh was a true young farmer. He was one of the most reliable, caring and - honestly - one of the nicest people I have ever met. Josh would do anything for anyone and was a huge character within young farmers. Josh was chairman of our club (Bury St Edmunds YFC) for the past two years, but has been the heart of our club ever since he joined.

“I had the pleasure of working alongside Josh over the past few years, last year as his club vice chair and this year as his county chair. I couldn’t have asked for a better chairman in Josh. He was dedicated, loyal and supportive to all our members, and he has left a huge hole in all of our hearts. Josh would be the first person to help you out if you got in trouble, the first one to get to meetings or events and the one to get the first round of Jagerbombs in! To josh it didn’t matter what club you were from, if you were a young farmer he was your friend.

“Outside of Young farmers, Josh has been one of my closest friends my whole life. He was one of those larger than life characters, never afraid to get stuck in and have a laugh in the process. If I ever needed to get something off my chest, I would give Josh a call and we would go to the pub in Walsham and have a chat, put the world to rights over a drink or two. To us, he was known as the Bear, our big loveable friendly bear who left his mark wherever he went.”

More than 120 tributes have already been paid on Thurston RUFC’s Facebook page.

Walsham Cricket Club tweeted: “The size of a bear, the strength of a gorilla, the heart made of gold. Rest in peace Joshy G.”

Tim Passmore, Suffolk Police and Crime commissioner, tweeted: “So desperately sorry to learn of the tragic death of #JoshGilbert on the #rugby pitch from #Thurston. Thoughts & prayers are with you.”

-For full story, see Friday’s Bury Free Press