HISTORY OF YOUTH AND JUNIOR RUGBY IN SIDMOUTH
On 17th April 1930, Sidmouth RFC held a Victory Dinner at the Winter Gardens (latterly Carinas) to celebrate the 3-0 defeat of Brixham to win the Devon Senior Cup. In his speech, the Sidmouth chairman and Devon RFU president Tommy Fitzgerald recalled that he had “started his football on the Three-Cornered Plot”. That would have been in the 1880s when, what we now know as the Triangle was a large grass area covering the bus terminal, roads and putting green used as a playground by the children of the town.
There is no record to show if this football was adult-supervised or boys playing their own games, but it shows that boys playing rugby goes back to very beginnings of Sidmouth Rugby Club.
In 1888, a proposal was made to form “a juvenile branch of the Club…..so that youths who might become members could have the use of the field and a ball for an hours practice one day a week…….the annual subscription to be one shilling.”
On Boxing Day that year Sidmouth fielded three teams with the 3rd Team playing Honiton Juniors. It can be safely assumed that the Sidmouth players were predominantly youths.
By 1991, there were reports of the formation of youth teams in the town. On Boxing Day 1891 a match was played on the Blackmore Field between two youth teams Fortfield Rovers v Land Wanderers. And in 1892 there were reports of Fortfield Rovers v Exeter Clarence and Sidmouth Boys v Ottery Boys. Other youth teams mentioned during the 1890s were Jubilee Rovers, Landpart Echoes, Cotford Rovers, Sidmouth White Stars, Sidmouth Blues and Sidmouth Echoes.
None of these teams were officially linked to the Sidmouth Club, but they would have been encouraged by the Club and provided a source of future adult players.
Following Sidmouth’s Golden Age in the mid-1890s, there was a marked slump at the turn of the century. Playing numbers dropped and the Club struggled financially. In an effort to rekindle interest among boys and boost future playing numbers, the Club’s founder and president Bingley Pullin presented a trophy to be played for by teams of 17 years and under.
The first Pullin Cup competition took place over the Christmas period in 1904. Three teams played a round robin won by a team called the Harlequins. The medals were presented by Bingley Pullin’s eldest daughter Olive and one of the recipients was his son Roy.
In 1907 the Pullin Cup was won by a team called the Mudlarks. In 1909 they formed their own club Sidmouth Albion playing their home games on the Recreation Field. One of the players was George Bolt, who was also their secretary. He would go on to serve as the Sidmouth RFC secretary for 35 years. By 1914 most of the players had joined the main club including two future captains.
In the 1910 Pullin Cup final Sidmouth Boys School defeated Woolbrook School. The first example of schools playing rugby.
After rugby had been resumed after the First World War, the Sidmouth Observer reported on 3rd November 1920 that a Sidmouth Juniors Football Club had been formed for youths 15 to 17 years. The first game against Honiton was lost 3-15. Following a proposal at the SRFC AGM in May 1921, it was decided to bring the Sidmouth Juniors into the Club. Sidmouth had its first Colts team. On the 1925 membership card, George Bolt is listed as Colts Secretary.
The Pullin Cup had been revived and the newly formed Supporters Club provided medals for the winners and a ball for the losers.
In 1926 it was reported that “the Headmaster of Sidmouth Parochial School has decided to foster the Rugby Code, and it is expected that the Blackmore Field will be utilised for practice on Friday afternoons.” School fixtures took place against Patrick Fitzgerald’s XV, Exmouth School, Exeter School and Allhallows School. In 1928 they won the Pullin Cup.
At the AGM in 1937, Master James O’Brien was presented with the Pullin Cup medals for his team. The Mudlarks had won it for the third consecutive year. This would be the last time the cup was played for until 1972. I still have my father’s medal.
Following the War, the Colts were reformed under the leadership of Frank Ellis and played their first match in November 1946 against Chard School, winning 6-0. At this time the Colts played on a field between Yarde Hill and Manstone Lane, adjacent to the Recreation Ground, when Blackmore was not available.
Also, in 1946 Glyn Evans, a teacher at St Nicholas Primary School “with an eye to the future, each Saturday morning on the Blackmore Field instructs any schoolboy who cares to attend in the game of Rugby Football”.
Unfortunately, in 1949 Glyn Evans left the area and the first introduction of junior rugby was not continued.
1960 saw the demise of the Colts with serious consequences for the Club.
The Club playing record declined along with the number of players during the 1960s with the Chiefs recording their worst ever record of six wins from 36 games in 1965-66. The reintroduction of the Colts the previous season thanks to the efforts of Stan Baker would act as the catalyst for a remarkable revival in the 1970s.
Another important factor in the revival was the arrival in 1967 of Keith Roberts as a PE teacher at the then Sidmouth Secondary Modern School. He reintroduced rugby to the curriculum after many years. This boosted the recruitment to the Colts. The numbers and quality were such that they could field a competitive team, while their more talented players reinforced the 1st and 2nd Teams. They would win the prestigious Tiverton Colts Sevens in 1967,1968 and 1971.
In 1969 the Club were awarded the tenancy of the field at Sidford, which would benefit the Colts, enable the introduction of a 3rd Team and eventually provide the space for the growth of a junior section.
On Monday 15th September 1971 Sidmouth became the fourth club in England and the first in Devon to start a junior section. A group of current and ex-players joined me to greet about 40 boys aged 9 to 13 for the first coaching session at the Blackmore Field. When light declined in October sessions moved to the now traditional Sundays.
No fixtures were played in that first season because there was no opposition. However, the Pullin Cup was revived, and four ten-a-side teams contested for the trophy in April. In the final the Allsorts beat South Town 22-11.
The first fixtures were played the following season when Under 12 and Under 14 teams played against Exmouth during the Christmas holidays. In April 1974, Sidmouth hosted the first junior tournament in Devon. Teams from Sidmouth, Exmouth, Tiverton, Crediton and Bideford played in Under 12 mini rugby and Under 13 Sevens.
In the same season, the first junior tour took place when the Under 11s travelled to play Wheatley Primary School in Oxfordshire at the invitation of the Headmaster Glyn Evans, who was delighted that his idea in 1946 had been revived.
In 1978 the Colts reached the final of the Devon Colts Cup, losing 15-20 to Plymouth Albion. They would be runners up again in 2003 before eventually winning it in 2013, albeit shared in a draw with Okehampton.
An Under 16 team had been formed in1974 by David Keast. In 1982, coached by Geoff Retter, they won the Martecia Cup for East and North Devon beating Exeter 22-12.
The juniors went into decline during the 1980s with only a few age groups continuing. Fortunately, one age group provided the inspiration for an eventual revival and the template for future growth. Coaches Bernard Holland and Stuart Hayman were supported by Annette Trim, who provided the off-field parental support, which is the hallmark of junior rugby today. The team dominated their age group in the county for six seasons, winning the annual festivals and culminating in the Devon Under 16 Cup in April 1995, beating Torquay 8-0.
Following the same template during the 1990s, with the addition of a junior chair to oversee the organisation, Peter O’Brien was followed by Malcolm Barratt and by the 2000-2001 season, the Club was running with all age groups from Under 8 to Under 16.
In 2004, the new junior chair Chris Dunford set up the Club’s first website, initially to improve communications for the junior but it soon expanded to cover the whole Club.
The section continued to develop, and by 2010 the impressive number of supporting officials required by the RFU today were in place.
In 2006, the Council built changing rooms at the Sidford ground and the Club installed floodlights to enable midweek training for both seniors and juniors. In recent years a pavilion has been added to the facilities and the pitches have been levelled with drainage installed to provide an outstanding facility.
In 2012, girls’ rugby was introduced for 12-year olds and upwards, who could no longer play in mixed teams, with Cara Monaghan and Saul Vicary in charge. The number of girls has grown rapidly, and the Club now has teams at Under 13, Under 15 and Under 18 playing regular fixtures.
Colts Tiverton 7s winner 1971