Mud, sweat and 100 years
Nowadays, the Guernsey Rugby Club use state-of-the-art facilities and the first XV ply their trade in the National Leagues, but it is all a far cry from their humble beginnings.
It’s a fact – the older the Guernsey Rugby Club becomes, the bigger and better it gets. But reaching 100 has not been easy – far from it in fact – and today’s grand surroundings at Footes Lane and first XV plying their trade as high as National Three is quite remarkable. Rugby was being played in the island well before organised football, in the late 19th century, but it was not until 1913 that the Guernsey Rugby Club was formed and, in truth, even then little happened within the club until after the Occupation.
The Guernsey Rugby Club was founded one February evening in 1913. In the beginning they just had one ball and if you wanted to use it for practice, best pop into town and borrow it from a committee member’s shop. He had the key. There were times when the sport barely survived. For a start, no sooner had it been founded than the Great War came along and rugby struggled its way through the 1920’s and 30’s before, of course another war came along. In fact, had it not been for a very keen and effervescent, popular man by the name of Freddie Nash, it might not have survived at all. In the Thirties it was he who revived the club and even when it unknowingly reached its 50th birthday, the Guernsey Press report of the annual meeting highlights a club still struggling and even coming in for criticism from its own members.
Taking a brief look at how it all started in the Chamber of Commerce rooms on a bleak February day in 1913 – Under the headline ‘RUGGER – enthusiasts form a new Club’, the Guernsey Press reported that while it was a new club, the sport already had history on the island.
Mr G C Guilbert, the founding secretary reminded everyone present that rugby was here in the island before football and in setting up the Guernsey Rugby Club there was no intention to clash with the already established Guernsey Football Association. In his opinion there was room for both games. He wanted a purely amateur club and his vision was that English teams might come across for games. Straight away the club colours were agreed upon, ones that we are familiar with a century on; green and white.
First though, the new generation of Guernsey rugby players had to learn the game. It was apparent from one of the first practice games between the Colours and Whites – referring to kit – that there was a lot to learn for the locals, particularly in the ‘scrimmage’. That the first game resulted in the Colours running in seven tries and winning 31-12.
The Siam Cup is the annual rugby match played between the Channel Islands clubs of Jersey RFC and Guernsey RFC which was first contested in 1920, making it one of the oldest rugby honours contested after the Calcutta Cup.
The competition was talked about from virtually day one of the club being formed but with the advent of the First World War and the struggle to recover from that human disaster, the inter-island competition did not actually get off the ground until 1929 when the Queen’s battalion, the 2nd Royal Wests from Kent lifted the famous trophy.
By the start of the Occupation, Guernsey and Jersey had chalked up three wins apiece and on the competition resuming Jersey chalked up victory after victory with only the rare Guernsey success.
But you cannot simply determine the success of the club on its Siam record. Guernsey rugby has proudly entertained the visiting Barbarians and the mighty Welsh club side Lianelli, and now its centenary year can, in Luke Jones, boast its first genuinely home-raised fully-time player standing. He is unlikely to the the last given the growing excellence of the local academy.