Youngster wins viral support after being ‘body-shamed’
Iconic Welsh rugby referee Nigel Owens has told a youngster he would officiate one of his games in future after his father recounted on Twitter that he had been forced to remove a picture of his son, Alfie, playing rugby from Facebook after trolls wrote that he was "too big" and "unhealthy" to play the sport.
Alfie's dad, Mark Pugsley, detailed on social media that the anonymous keyboard warriors had no idea how hard his son has been working to get fit – and how much criticism like this affects him, prompting Owens – who has a reputation as one of the most straight-talking referees in rugby history, to offer a word of encouragement.
"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," Pugsley wrote on Twitter on Sunday.
"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
This message, which has now received more than 5,000 'likes' on the social media platform, was noticed by Owens who made a promise to Alfie.
"Alfie mate, you keep enjoying the rugby," he wrote. "Always try your best, but always enjoy it. You're 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."
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
Not exactly miles bigger than his team mates.. pic.twitter.com/wpy3j6Ez1v— Mark Pugsley (@Puggster) January 23, 2022
Owens, 50, remains a beloved figure within the sport following his retirement in 2020 and is all too aware of the negative impact that trolls such as these can have on a person.
He has spoken in interviews of considering ending his own life in his mid-20s as he struggled with his sexuality before finally coming out as gay in 2007.
"It's such a big taboo to be gay in my line of work, I had to think very hard about it because I didn't want to jeopardie my career," he said to WalesOnline.
"Coming out was very difficult and I tried to live with who I really was for years. I knew I was 'different' from my late teens, but I was just living a lie."
Owens' kind words were matched by several other legendary names from within the Welsh rugby fraternity.
"Hi Alfie, ignore the idiots. They told me I was too small to play. Enjoy every game and training, you’ll make friends for life," wrote former Welsh international Jonathan Davies.
Hi Alfie, ignore the idiots. They told me I was to small to play. Enjoy every game and training, you’ll make friends for life.— Jonathan Davies OBE (@JiffyRugby) January 24, 2022
"Alfie don’t worry what other people say pal as long as your enjoying playing with your friends that’s all that matters keep it up pal," added Josh Adams, a regular in the current Welsh side.
While Scott Quinnell, one of the most well-known players of his generation, wrote: "Alfie keep going my friend.The only people you need to listen to are family friends and coaches. Enjoy the game and play with a smile on your face. Stay strong."