A brief history of Eastbourne Rugby Football Club.
The Club played its first ever game against Brighton at The Saffrons in December 1892. The idea for a rugby football club had come from the Reverend C.E. Roberts, an Oxford graduate, who was an assistant master at Eastbourne College. Many of the first players were private school-teachers who had been to Oxford and Cambridge. The Club sometimes played on Saffrons No. 1 pitch on Wednesdays, sharing the ground with the Eastbourne Association Football Club ( later Eastbourne Town F.C.). Other matches were played on Larkin’s Field nearby. An attempt was made to merge the rugby and football clubs but this came to nothing. By December 1892 the Club had 65 members and sported a dark blue shirt with a narrow yellow stripe. Amongst its first opponents, in addition to Brighton- founded in 1868, and, therefore the first club in Sussex- were teams from Worthing, the Middlesex Hospital and Ealing.
The following season a county match Sussex versus Surrey was played at Larkin’s Field and the host side contained 7 Eastbourne players. Surrey won 13-0. That same season Eastbourne played a Harlequins XV and lost 28-0. In the 1894/1895 season Eastbourne R.F.C. used the New Inn (now Bibendum) as it HQ and changing rooms. With the departure of the Reverend C.E. Roberts, who had also founded the Eastbourne Music Society, the club sank without trace. Although an occasional Eastbourne XV appeared in the district, rugby had not taken off outside the private schools.
In 1911 the formation of a new rugby club was announced. Victor, the 9th Duke of Devonshire, became its Honorary President. It was called the Devonshire Park (Eastbourne) Rugby Football Club and played its first match at Devonshire Park. The club continued until 1914 when the outbreak of the First World War severely curtailed sporting activities. The club was not revived formally until 1928, when games were played at The Saffrons again and the Club’s first annual dance was held at The Grand Hotel. By 1930 the club had 150 members. It had also paid off the old club’s debts. The following season an “A” XV was formed. The fixture list included matches against prestigious London clubs, such as Wasps, Harlequins and also hospital sides and military units. The “A” XV became known as the Saturday XV, playing on the Links and at St Christopher’s School in Meads. In 1934 the Saturday XV played in Hampden Park for the first time. When Charles (later Sir Charles) Taylor became Conservative M.P. he brought a select XV of players to open Eastbourne’s season. On one occasion this included 5 internationals. In 1938 a stand was built for spectators on Martin’s Field as Eastbourne hosted a Sussex trial. In September 1939 war interrupted organized sport once again and the rugby pitch was turned into a potato field.Seven years later rugby returned to Eastbourne but the club had to play on a well-used patch of land behind Roseberry Avenue until Martin’s Field was restored to its former use. In 1947 the Australian touring side made Eastbourne their first stop before embarking on their tour of Britain and Ireland. From now on a variety of tourists would visit Eastbourne: The All Blacks, The Springboks and the British Lions. The last visitors were the 1971 Lions on their way to triumph in New Zealand. A further new stand worth £2000 was erected in the mid-fifties, followed by a clubhouse built by the members with their own hands. Various members of the club were selected for Sussex, including schoolmaster Brian Luard who was capped 23 times for the county. Also for the first time local schoolboys were encouraged to play for the “A” XV. Eventually a Colts team was formed. In 1953 the club began to field 3 teams. Two years later the “A” XV becomes “The Nomads.” At the Worthing 7’s in 1956 the Club won the Burt trophy awarded to the Sussex side to go furthest in the tournament. The 1959/60 season saw the club expanding to four sides. Annual dinners were held at the Queen’s Hotel with illustrious guest speakers such as Dickie Jeeps, English international and British Lion. At this point the need for a new clubhouse was being considered and more space for sports pitches was also on the agenda. Easter festivals were now a new feature of the club’s fixture list, involving visitors from London, Wales and the West Country. The appeal for a new clubhouse was launched in 1966– led by Town Clerk and Club President Frank Busby. Grants from local government, the Department of Education and other sporting bodies boosted the money raised by the club members to provide a new £16,500 pavilion in Hampden Park opened by Frank Busby in April 1970. Present also was John Novak, a local grammar-school boy who had just gained 3 caps for England.
The Sussex Knock–out Cup Competition started in 1970, Eastbourne beating Hastings and Bexhill 31-3 in the first round.Three years later Eastbourne was able to field 5 teams and in September 1977 rugby for minis was introduced. In the first season of the Sussex Merit Tables - 1980 / 1981 - Eastbourne achieved 3rd place. By the late 90’s professionalism had been introduced and Eastbourne had entered the London leagues, moving between London South East 3 and 4. Bizarrely, in 2009 they found themselves in London South East Two where they struggled to survive and were then back in London South East Three again. In 2010/2011 they were 7th with 9 wins, 1 draw and 10 losses. Last season was very difficult with only one win against Crawley who then withdrew from the league. The club is now in Sussex One and so far have won 8 out of 9 league games. To add to this excellent start on the field of play there have been great improvements to the premises, the social life is good and the atmosphere remains positive.
We have recently put on some great rugby events for Sussex and the commitment to Senior, Junior and Mini rugby is a tribute to the hard work and commitment of the unpaid stalwarts who do so much.
We also now have a Ladies Rugby Team. In addition, we have an active Patrons’ section of older, non-playing members and the current archivist, John Feakins, is writing the history of the club due for publication in early 2013, one hundred and twenty years after the club’s foundation.