History of rugby in Jersey

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A rugby scrum, 1870s style

Rugby football was being played in Jersey as far back as the 1860s, mainly between schools. The principal team and the provider of the venue at which most games were played was Victoria College. The matches were played on the cricket ground — or 'in' the ground, as the contemporary newspaper reports have it.

The other schools involved were St James Collegiate, Adelaide House School, Oxenford House Academy, Beaumont Academy and St Aubin's School. They all fielded both first and second XVs and occasionally scratch teams.

The first signs of inter-club football appear 1870, with the following report from the British Press and Jersey Times dated Wednesday 26 December:

'A very interesting match was played yesterday on the grounds of the St James Collegiate School between the Fire Brigade, under the command of Mr J K Haire, and the ‘Indistinguishables’. Notwithstanding the unflagging energy and perseverance of the gallant brigade, their opponents kicked three goals in succession, thereby obtaining easy victory.'

Further evidence that individual teams were being formed can be seen from a report of 29 October 1873:

`A very interesting match was played in the Victoria Cricket Field between a Victoria College team and a Mr Symond's scratch XV. The game was very equally contested, excellent play being exhibited on both sides. The College obtained two touchdowns whilst their opponents scored a number of rouges. Mr Vanderbyl, the Captain of the College team, was indisposed.'

Football in those days was not quite the rugby game which we play today, as can be seen by the term rouge. It was not even called rugby, but carried the all-purpose title of 'football'. A touchdown was exactly what it signified, but a try was an attempt to kick a goal. A goal was a successfully kicked try. And as for a rouge? The paper doesn't say.

It does appear, however, also from a report in 1876, that the game as played in Jersey differed from the game played in the UK and that the French expression rouge was one of these differences. The report was of a match between the Island and the Royal Artillery, a lengthy account mentioning in passing that the way the Artillery played the game was very different from the way the Island played it.

More club sides appear during this period, particularly between 1873 and 1876. We have Mr Will's scratch team, Mr Braithewaite's XV, and other unnamed scratch teams. It is only in 1876 that the first concrete evidence of an Island side appears, and this is perhaps the true date of the start of our Jersey Rugby Football Club. It will make a good point of departure.

An 1880s team

1876

Six matches were played by the Island team in 1876, and the following reports are all from the British Press and Jersey Times.

"19 October 1876. Island versus Victoria College. This match was played in the College Field on Wednesday last. The weather was very fine, which added greatly to the pleasure. Play commenced at 3 pm and resulted in a victory for the Island by 1 goal to 2 rouges. The team was as follows: Jeafferson (Capt), Vance, Knocker, Blampied, de la Tasse, Johnny Le Brocq, Amber, Hagan, Price, Paton, Bell, Perrin, Beamer, Wellesly and Weston."
"25 October 1876. Island versus St James Collegiate School. This match was played in the above school ground and resulted in a victory for the school by one rouge. The weather was delightful, which attracted a few ladies. The Captain was again Jeafferson."

Not only had an Island side been formed, but it was attracting ladies to watch the matches — something never before mentioned in newspaper reports. As will be seen, it was a welcome innovation, and obviously gave the game a certain amount of respectability.

"1 November 1876. Island versus Victoria College. The day being fine, a great number of ladies were present, which always adds great pleasure to those playing. When "time" was called, the Umpire, Mr Inman, announced that the Island had won by two goals and one touchdown."

For the first time an umpire is not only mentioned but named. These matches were being taken seriously, and the next game, we believe, changed the rather idiosyncratic approach to the rules forever. Henceforth Jersey would follow the English tradition.

Transport to and from the Island in the 1870s was restricted to sea passages under steam packet. The number of passengers was so small that every arriving traveller was named in the daily paper. The only possible way, therefore, in which the new Island team could play opposition from outside the Island was to take on the local garrison team. This they did and, according to the following report, learned to play football the British way.

"Island versus The Royal Artillery, 22 November 1876. This match was played in the Victoria College Cricket Ground and finally resulted in a victory for the Island by a goal which was splendidly kicked by Mr Luckarift. The weather was all that could be wished for and attracted a great number of ladies. The rules being very different from those usually played, it was at first rather difficult for the Island team even to understand them."

Two more games were played that year by the Island side. On 30 November they lost to Victoria College by one goal and three touchdowns, and they went down to the Royal Artillery in the replay by one goal which was well kicked by Gunner Horsnall'.

And so the Island side was born. However, there seemed to be some uncertainty as to their exact identity, for the following year the team, virtually identical to that of 1876, took to the field under two different names. We know this from the following reports which label the team as both The Wanderers and The Island.

Sowing the pitch at Beaumont

1877

The year started with a match between the Garrison and the Island, and for the first time the idea that the game was here to stay is suggested by the mention of a 'rugby season' early on in the report, of 6 October 1877. The Island versus Royal Artillery.

"This is the first match of the season of any consequence."

The Gunners won by one goal. The return match was won by the Island by two goals to one. The season continued with a mach against Victoria College which the Island team lost by one touchdown. The College won the return game by one touchdown to nil.

A third game was played between the two teams and it seems that this was not without incident, for although the College won, they did so by a disputed touchdown.

On 6 November we find the first mention of the Jersey Wanderers, who went out against the College and produced 'what was the finest match of the season'. The Wanderers won by three goals and three touchdowns. and some idea of how rugby football was being played at the time can be gleaned from the final part of the report.

"A maul in goal which lasted at least a quarter of an hour was finally decided in favour of the Wanderers, and the excellent way in which Messrs G Le Quesne and Inglews tore away the ball from their opponents who were four in number was wonderful to behold.'

The return match on the 14th was another victory for the Wanderers by one goal 'which was secured in a most neat manner by Mr F S Picot'.

1878

The football season began on 20 October with a match between the College and the Island XV, and according to the news report of the time, it ended in a success for the latter by four goals and a try to nothing. The only other match recorded in the paper was of a game between the combined College and St James Collegiate and Mr Strickland's scratch team, which resulted in an easy win for Mr Strickland's Wanderers by four tries and two goals to nil.

Mowing the pitch at Beaumont

1879

THE season began with a game between Jersey Wanderers and Victoria College, which had the advantage of weather which was 'all that could be desired'. The report tells us that the Wanderers had it all their own way, gaining victory by four goals, three touchdowns and one try to nil.

After such a drubbing the College side obviously decided to supplement their team in the return leg by co-opting players from Dr Thompson's School. It was a forlorn gesture, for the Wanderers won that game by two goals and two tries to a try.

For the first time the opening match of the season was published in the public notices column of the British Press and Jersey Times, a pointer to the growing popularity of rugby as a spectator sport.

Encouraged by using players from more than one school team, the schools selection committee decided to select a United Schools team to take on the Island XV. This meant that on 19 November it was a team of good, strong, all-Island schoolboys who defeated their seniors by one try to nothing. Jeafferson, we are told, was still captaining both Island and Wanderers teams with virtually the same players.

A fascinating item appeared in the paper on 22 December. While it does not relate directly to football, it does forecast rather prophetically problems which were to plague the JRFC exactly 80 years later.


1904 marked a watershed in Island rugby. There were no match reports and no matches. It was to be another 30 long years before the game returned to these shores.

Although there may have been friendly games involving visiting army sides, based in Jersey — there was no regular side and no opposition.

Despite extensive research the writers have been unable to unearth any rugby information for the 30-year period from 1904. So unless at some future date further evidence comes to light, we must, for the purpose of this history, assume that no club or local organisation continued the rugby tradition begun more than 40 years previously when the game was first played in the Island.

1934-35

A leather-bound minute book records that the Jersey Rugby Football Club was about to be reborn.

One of the first entries in the book reads as follows: "First annual meeting of the above club was held in the Beresford Café on 9 July 1934".

There follows a list of officials and a description of the club's playing strip — red shirts, black shorts and red stockings with white tops.

The second meeting is minuted but not dated and we know that much more than rugby was mentioned at this meeting, for members agreed to arrange a rugby club dance.

They also seemed rather too keen on the colour black; and at a second meeting we first find mention of the "Black Shirt Team" which used the blackshirted look of the Nazi party to play rugby in.

In retrospect we know that no one, least of all an Islander who later had to endure the Occupation, would deliberately have chosen to follow the fascist creed. This was some time before the world learnt the true nature of Hitler's ambition; and it seems almost certain that there was an element of mischievous humour in the club's choice of strip.

The next meeting was held on 8 October 1934, and the minute book indicates that the club was now playing at the FB Fields and waiting to hear about a new pitch at Millbrook. (Editor's note: A report published in 1939 indicates that, although the club was hoping to play at the FB Fields in 1934, it would be another five years before that ambition was realised)

A match was also proposed at St Ouen, and Mrs Burbridge, of the Gloucester Hotel, agreed to put up visiting teams at 7s 6d.

1934 Siam Cup team

1948

1948 saw one of the most important events in the club's history when it decided to apply to the Rugby Football Union for full membership. Guernsey supported the applicationo, and on 1 September the Jersey Rugby Football Club was officially welcomed into the RFU.

This meant that the club could now apply to the Hampshire RFU for games. In the meantime, the RFU proved their kindly intent by sending 102 clothing coupons for new match shirts — a welcome gift in the austere post-war years.

Clothing, however, was not the only commodity in short supply. In an effort to save petrol and to ensure that all players turned up for a game on time, all club members with vehicles were instructed, before each game, to meet at the Cenotaph in the Parade at 10.30 sharp to collect other players.

Arthur Kent was invited to write match reports for the Evening Post and Don Nicolle volunteered to deal with the purchase of the much-needed new strips.

1952-53

After several years growth the club experienced a major setback at the start of the 1952/53 season when, despite several requests by the committee, the Samares pitch was denied to them. Without a pitch, the club could not survive, and already one or two of the more senior club members had hinted during seasons past that a ground of their own would, at some stage, be of primary importance.

Not for 1952/53, however. And with no pitch to call their own, where could the JRFC go? Luck seemed to be on the club's side when the field opposite the old one became available, despite the misgivings of the tenant, Mr Innes, who nevertheless stated that he would not stand in the club's way provided Mrs Blacker-Douglas, the owner, gave her permission. The optimism created by her subsequent approval was short-lived, however, for in December foot-and-mouth disease broke out in the Island and the club was without a pitch again.

A helping hand, however, was waved in their direction by Mr Holmes at the Education Department. He found not one pitch but several; placing at the club's disposal the pitches of De La Salle College, Victoria College at Five Oaks and the FB Fields. This meant that during the season the club were able to welcome more than 200 visiting players.

Potential disaster had been turned into a kind of mini-triumph, although this sudden outbreak of games led to investigations, through the RFU, into the question of serious injury insurance. This was to be resolved before the start of the 1953/54 season; but one resolution which could be passed and acted upon immediately was the purchase of a machine to mark out all the pitches the club now had on loan.

1954-55

The Jersey Rugby Club's association with Samares ended halfway through the season when the pitch was handed hack for the exclusive use of the cows, whose generous contributions in the past had led to many a player being refused entry into the changing facilities unless he stripped in the garden and left his gear outside. This despite the fact that J Vinrace had been officially delegated by the committee to purchase shovels for the removal of cow-pats from the field of play. Henceforward matches were played on a pitch at La Hougue Bie.

Doug Shales received a serious leg fracture while playing, and despite previous insurance discussions he was not eligible for compensation. In view of this the committee made up his wages to £5 with a grant of £2 lOs, and a dreadful melodrama under the title 'Foiled And Counterfoiled' was performed at the Opera House to raise money for an injury fund.

1938 Siam Cup team

1955-56

THis was a year described by Harold Willis as a 'turning point in the club's history' - and it began with the first concrete moves towards the acquisition of a permanent pitch. albeit on leasehold only. Beaumont Marsh was offered to the club, and although the name was to loom large in the future, often followed by a variety of expletives, at the time no one was keen to complain. At long last the club had a playing field they could call their own — one where matches wouldn't be suddenly cancelled because of cows, owners, managers or foot-and-mouth disease. Similarly there would he no problems about where to play on Sundays (it was only in the late 1980s that Education allowed Sunday morning fixtures to he played on their pitches), and by actually leasing the land the club felt in a strong enough position to buy a decent-sized hut to change in.

An ad hoc committee was formed to negotiate with the owners. And then, as it became increasingly obvious that something much more formal was required if they were ever to buy a piece of land of their own, the committee agreed to form a limited company whose only terms of reference were to find an appropriate piece of land; to find the money to buy it; to create a rugby pitch; and to build a clubhouse. As negotiations continued, a ground at Croix Catelain, Grouville, was loaned by the Earl of Jersey.

At Beaumont Marsh there was work to be done. The field had to be levelled, so a bulldozer was hired at £2 per hour. Estimates for new posts were obtained as follows: Normans, £51; Huelins, £35 10s.

The playing season got under way with an appeal in the Evening Post for new playing members — and, it seems, with some success, for on Saturday 17 September the Island's first visitors, Bournemouth, were beaten by the home side 11-0.

Six weeks later, on 5 November, the following paragraph appeared in the Evening Post:

"A sporting milestone of unusual character for Jersey will be reached next Thursday afternoon when two of our leading schools, St Helier and Hautlieu, match their ability and agility in the first ever rugby football game between the two. The game will be played at the Jersey Rugby Club's ground at Croix Catelain. Another Island school, St Michael's, took up rugger a couple of seasons ago, so these other two schools can now look out for challenges."

The annual visitors match (Exiles) took place as usual on Boxing Day at the FB Fields, with the club winning 6-3 in gale-force winds and on a treacherous pitch. Visitors during the season included RAF Staff College Bracknell, Gosforth Nomads, RAF Benson, Emmanuel College (Cambridge), University College (Oxford), RAF Reading, RAF Manby, St John's College (Oxford), Cygnets, Tonbridge and Cardiff District. The club toured again this year — to Bournemouth in February.

The Siam Cup was played at the FB Fields on Thursday 22 March, when the Constable of St Clement kicked off a game which saw the home side gain their best victory for several years. They won 14-3, with a second-half rally. The match was again refereed by Rex Crook, of the Hampshire RFU, and the cup was presented by Constable Crill.

1956-57

Despite the club's under standable eagerness to start playing on the new pitch at Beaumont, the committee showed considerable restraint, and it was agreed that play would not begin there until 1 January 1957, and that the official opening would not take place until Easter when Admiral Osborne, the president of the RFU, would be invited to attend. Still desperate for pitches, as every year continued without a true home of their own, the club made approaches to use a field at La Blinerie.

Carney Samson, as Jersey captain, received the Siam Cup and created a new record of rugby-playing longevity — it had been 20 years since he first played in the Cup. Jersey won the match 11-3.

Unwelcome visitors to the Beaumont pitch resulted in a committee proposal that a mole-catcher be called in, and the true meaning of the word 'Marsh' in Beaumont Marsh became apparent as Ron Gelsthorpe and George Tapping were delegated to organise the opening and closing of sluice gates during high tides. George was also authorised to order a prefabricated building at a cost of around £100. This was not to be bought and erected without incident, for the Natural Beauties Committee refused to accept it on the grounds that it would be an eyesore. Thankfully, the president of the committee was a reasonable man, and he agreed to support the application for the new changing-rooms on two conditions:

  • That the hut be painted a suitable colour
  • That the club would not dispose of it later within the Island

Both points agreed, the building work continued. The club now had a pitch, and privacy in which to change.

As the players looked forward to a ground of their own, the committee looked at ways of improving the pitch.

Plaque commemorating first match

1958-59

A special general meeting was held on 29 June in order to try to sort out the Beaumont pitch problems, and afterwards the Sports Turf Research Institute were contacted to see if they could advise on both the Beaumont pitch and also a possible new pitch at Trinity.

At the same meeting members also voted in a new ground appeal committee, whose task was to find a field which could not only be bought and turned into a proper rugby pitch, but also one which could accommodate a clubhouse alongside. Leasing a rugby pitch it was impossible to play on was bad enough. but another bitter blow came towards the end of the season - a blow this time to the club's pride. For the first time since the Occupation they lost the Siam Cup match. And it was scarce consolation that included in the Jersey team was Adrian Wadham, the first schoolboy ever to represent the Island.

The last few weeks of the summer had been long and hot, and to those who only knew Beaumont as a spongy bog, this must have been good to hear. Surely the pitch would now dry out and he ready to play on - at least during the early part of the season before the had weather set in. But no, Beaumont was a fickle animal, and if the sun came out and dried the marsh, it would over-dry the pitch to such an extent that it was as hard as concrete and completely unplayable.

Perhaps a little bit of rain would soften it up again? The elements conspired against the club. In a game between the JRFC and Sandhurst in December the pitch was flooded to such an extent that committee minutes later record: 'There were several occasions when it looked as if we should have to send for the lifeboat, although immediately afterwards a poll count showed 30 players and a referee still alive.

Sandhurst at the time had quite a strong team, including one Colonel Leyland, who had previously been capped for England. What he made of the pitch after games played at the highest level and on immaculate, finely cropped grass we don't know, but we do know that on one occasion during the year the club had good reason to be worried. One poor RAF lad found at the bottom of a ruck was found to he drowning, and he needed artificial respiration before the game could continue. The search for a club ground quickened.

Despite all these problems, the season had the heaviest fixture list in the club's history, and a proposition was put that the number of games for future seasons should be reduced. Meanwhile, France beckoned, and the club made its first visit to Velo Sportais Nantes, an association which has continued ever since.

Meanwhile, another simple entry in the minutes, which seemed no different from many in the past, was to prove in hindsight of dramatic importance. The item in question begins innocently enough. 'The turf representative.' it says, has visited the Island twice and the club is making use of his advice." But it then goes on to say that although yet another field has fallen through, in their quest for a permanent site, 'negotiations are in hand for a field at Mont des Vignes, St Peter'. The ground appeal fund had by now reached a healthy £491 6s 6d.

As if to prove that the club in particular and rugby in general were gaining more and more friends and converts, a match was played at the FB Fields against a team from the United States Navy. Tourism granted £20 towards their entertainment and the Defence Committee provided transport to and from the Airport and to the match.

Negotiations for the pitch at St Peter continued. Stan Woodward and Bill Grime measured up the field and decided that it had possibilities, and on 12 August 1960, well out of season, a special general meeting was held to agree ways of paying for it if the purchase ever went ahead.

The clubhouse and pitch today

1960-61

The season began badly, for a visiting side's offensive behaviour at the British Hotel and Hotel de L'Europe made front-page news. At a rapidly assembled committee meeting it was revealed that Jersey was getting a reputation as a 'lively, gay resort where any kind of wild behaviour was normal and acceptable'.

On the playing side, a few more Jersey players were gaining experience on a wider stage. Alan Trapnell, for example. was selected during the season for a Hampshire trial: and even as he was adjusting to the mainland game, the Hampshire RFU were considering the plans they had recently received for the pitch near the Airport. Mercifully, the Natural Beauties Committee had already given their permission `in principle' for the field to become a rugby pitch, and draft articles of association. approved by committee, were now to be presented to the RFU and the States of Jersey. It all seemed to be going swimmingly — perhaps too well, according to some members who for so long had enjoyed high hopes which always seemed to be dashed at the last moment — and the Housing Committee gave their consent to the purchase of the land.

Those more pessimistic members, presumably, would have been the first to recognise the signs of possible disaster when a letter from the National Playing Fields Association turned down the club's request for financial aid to buy the field 'Jersey, the club were told, is outside the administration of their association'. But all was not lost. On 3 February the board of directors of Jersey Rugby Club Ltd met for the first time and cleared the way for the Royal Court to agree to the nominated guarantors, which they did a fortnight later. The legal formalities virtually over, on 13 March 1961 the club acquired its first permanent 'home' at St Peter. They also acquired a little bonus in the form of seigneurial rights, granted with due legal reverence on 4 July by the Antient Domain of Jersey.

While all this was going on, and as the older club members could be seen walking with a new spring in their step, having seen all their rugby dreams for the Island coming true, the club was still playing rugby. Its members were also becoming ambitious in their tours away, and they played a rather rough Aircent side at the Stades Colombes. This was a game in which George Tapping stopped both sides dead in their tracks with the Franglais admonition to the Frenchmen to jouez le bloody jeu.

On more familiar home territory, there was bad news towards the end of the season as Guernsey won, for the second time in a row, the Siam Cup.

But the club at least had the facility to expand, and expand it did, with the committee unafraid to invest in the club's briitht new future. They wanted more than changing-rooms at their St Peter ground, and a match fee of 2s 6d was levied on each player after each game, the money to go towards the Ground Appeal Fund. They wanted a clubhouse, preferably sooner rather than later.

November saw the formation of a new, breakaway club caused by the expulsion of some members from the club, one for 'deplorable behaviour on the pitch' and the others for refusing to turn out against Coventry. The new club decided on the name International Wanderers. Perhaps to explain themselves as the black sheep of Island rugby they chos to play in black jerseys, while beginning to look for a ground of their own.

1961-62

The new ground at St Peter had now been levelled and sown and was showing a good covering of grass, although a fiddly and lengthy chore still remained. The committee asked all members to help remove the small stones which had been brought to the surface.

Beaumont Marsh, on the other hand, had been neither grazed nor rested, and although it continued to be used intermittently, whenever possible the club preferred to play at the FB Fields.

The opening of the new ground on 30 March was attended by an impressive list of VIPs headed by the Lieut-Governor of Jersey, General Sir George Erskine. The match between a Jersey 'A' team and 'N' Division Metropolitan Police was won by Jersey 8-5, and was followed by a dinner at the Grouville Bav Hotel.

Club player Butch Paling was chosen for the Hampshire under-20s, and the club agreed to try to cover the remaining fixtures of the Jersey International Wanderers. which appeared to be on the point of folding.

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