The Club's History
The inaugural meeting of DHSOBRFC took place on Tuesday, 17th September, 1929 at the Plymouth YMCA. C.F. (Tex) Austin had introduced Rugby at Devonport High School the year before and school leavers formed the nucleus of the Old Boys Rugger Club.
Mr. Austin presided over 12 enthusiasts, four of whom, however, could only play on Wednesdays. Despite this shortfall in numbers it was decided to press ahead with the formation of the Club. Officers elected were: President: Headmaster; Captain: H.G.H. (Bill) Warwick; Vice-Captain: H.P. John; Hon. Secretary: L.H.T. (Les) Warren; Hon. Treasurer: L.E. (Len) Rickard plus G. Rooke and G. Plucknett to complete the Committee. The Old Boys’ Association officially recognised the Rugby Club on July 10th 1930.
During the ten years preceding the Second World War, 82 Old Boys played for the Club, and Christmas and Easter games regularly catered for any “exiles”. Matches against the School also featured in a progressively stronger fixture list. Opponents included the Royal Marines, Royal Naval Engineering College, Prince of Wales Volunteer Regiment, Royal Naval Hospital, H.M.S. Drake, Salcombe, Kingsbridge and Bere Alston. In later years Old Suttonians, O.P.M.’s and St. Columba were added to the list. The Old Boys, almost invariably outweighted, nevertheless played attractive rugby and repeatedly won the R.N.E.C. Cup, contested on a league basis.
Finances in the early years were helped by Ewart Brimacombe whose Valletort Press printed the fixture cards (and for many years the school magazine) as well as draw books, club stationery, Christmas cards and tickets for the numerous dances which were held at the Britannia, Milehouse and the Mutley Assembly Rooms to raise much needed funds.
Bill Warwick and Les Warren remained in office until 1946 when Gilbert Polkinghorne and Pat Wingett, both loyal players of many years standing, took over as captain and secretary respectively. The Club resumed playing with a nucleus of pre-war players including Ed Whitaker, Charles Evans and Reg Lyon. These were joined by younger recruits such as Frank Squires, Jeff Lakeman, Maurice Brereton and Tony Curtice and the Club took its place again in junior rugby circles. Through its officers DHSOB were instrumental in the reformation of the Plymouth & District Rugby Combination so that the provision of pitches and referees and the organisation of cup competitions were administered effectively. Les Warren was the first post war secretary followed by Pat Wingett who combined it with his duties as Club secretary. Playing results were mixed but healthy recreation was provided for a great number of Old Boys. From time to time guest players appeared in the Club’s colours. One occasion was when the Royal Navy full back Tim Healey helped to defeat Kingsbridge, a result which led to rather too convivial a celebration dinner in a local hotel and a request for the team to leave early. Another associated with the Club was Eric Warn, Head of Maths and Senior Teacher at the school, who became President of Devon RFU and RFU Council Member for Devon. His colleague Gwyn Nicholas was a leading member and administrator for the Devon Rugby Referees Society.
An association with Plymouth Argaum, through their great stalwart Tom Hitchens, led to DHSOB sharing their pitches at Estover and later Roborough where the Old Boys assisted in the building of the changing rooms. A rather too keenly contested traditional Boxing Day match between the two Clubs brought this arrangement to an end in the late 1960’s when DHSOB reverted to using Council pitches. Dave Ferguson became Club secretary in 1964 after Maurice Brereton and John Southern had held the office. During the next 15 years he worked with three treasurers – Tony Curtice, Alan Fray and Tom Knowles. A number of highly talented schoolboys played for the Club during this era, including Nicky Vosper, a scrum-half who would surely have played for England had he played for a more fashionable club than Plymouth Albion to which he remained loyal during his distinguished playing career. Fixtures were developed by Dave Bennett who was regularly selected as hooker for the Plymouth Combination team.
Geoff Simpson began his association with the Club in 1972 when he returned to the school as a teacher of French & Spanish. A year later when Dave Bennett moved to Helston, he took over as Fixtures Secretary and has remained in some form of office ever since (currently Vice-Chair). He became involved with the Plymouth Combination as Secretary and Chairman, Devon RFU as Secretary and President, South West Division as Secretary and Match Secretary and the Rugby Football Union as Devon representative from 2004. The Club appeared in four Lockie Cup finals between 1969 and 1980, unfortunately losing them all. Stalwarts during this period were Roger Parry, Dave Morgan, Mike Walsh, John Mann, Bernard McGrath, Paul Venn and John Ellis. Among the younger players who returned to or joined the Club were Peter Ireland, Phil Drew, Mark Dewdney, Paul Vaggers, Mike Elford, Paul Bishop and Brian Sherrell. Brian took over from Dave Ferguson (then still playing!) as Club secretary and served for many years.
Players at this time included Andy and Richard Price, Andy Cunningham, Dave Butcher, Paul Harris, Steve Allum, Ben Bowden, Graham Lean, Glyn Macbeth, Ian Hayward, Lee Flood and Steve Sargent. Club tours became a legendary part of the Club’s heritage but cannot be reported here as “What goes on tour stays on tour!” Suffice it to say that Leon Paine, Chris Hill, Mark Scannell, John Martin and John Hawkins were regular participants in these culturally educative journeys. All the Six Nations have benefitted from a “talking bus, tube or train” in their time.
For much of the late Fifties, Sixties and Seventies the Club’s training was undertaken in the school gym under the guidance of Ken Ferguson, Dave’s father. This improved cardiovascular efficiency and was a major step forward from what Bill Warwick recounted at the Club’s 50th Anniversary Dinner. He revealed that the fitness regime in the early days was “beer and fags”. The arrival of Mike Freeman saw training transfer outdoors and become much more rugby focused. When Brian Sherrell moved to Exeter, the late Ian Robertson took over as Club secretary, Darren Rosevear became increasingly involved with more than fixtures and the Club moved into the modern era. Mike Freeman’s stewardship of the team preparation and selection saw a period of sustained success, after a difficult period of rebuilding, and the Club became established in Devon One. The high spot was probably when all three adult teams, Firsts, Wizards and Warlocks, all won on the same day. As well as gaining promotions from Devon 3 and Devon 2, considerable silverware was won in Ellis Trophy and Lockie Cup competitions, including winning both in 2005. The Old Boys were also frequent finalists in this era, including the Plymouth Combination Merit Table. The contraction of rugby in Plymouth sadly had its casualties and the demise of Old Suttonians and Plymouth YMCA directly benefitted DHSOB. Joining from the former had been Roger Dean and Kevin Penny whilst the later disbandment brought, amongst others, Adrian Howe and Jim Moss, which turned out to be instrumental in achieving the success in 2005.
Jim’s ability to get things moving saw the first moves in the formation of Stonehouse Sharks, the junior section which coincided with the recent success of the senior sides. This brought a whole new wave of dedicated volunteers to the Club and the efforts of David Parry, Sue Grant, Keith and Andrea Buckley and Louise Stokes were complemented by the likes of Justin Bishop and Dicky Duffield which has led to the remarkable ten years during which the reputation of the Sharks has grown and grown. Devon Plate & Devon 7 Festival wins for the oldest junior side, followed by a Devon Cup final and closer links with the school have been two recent highlights. Many parents, and friends, have supported the Club with time and money. The sad loss of Keith Buckley hit the Club very hard and it is to Andrea’s eternal credit that she continued with her outstanding commitment in such difficult circumstances. Their son, Alex, was also a stalwart on the playing side at this time. In the seniors of this period were Warren Dunkley, Simon Kalas, Lee Pundsack, Matt Stimpson, Jeff Ince, “Topsy” Turner, Gavin Williams, Lee Gaffney and Darren Rosevear still turning out wherever required. Paul Vaggers took on the Chairmanship for a number of years and was succeeded by Ernie Edgcumbe, Ian Nicol and Steve Poole the incumbent.
The Club faces significant challenges in the future but also has tremendous opportunities thanks to the tireless efforts of so many volunteers. It is to be hoped that the vision of a centenary in just less than fifteen year’s time will spur everyone to help the Club flourish.