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History

A HISTORY OF HARBURY RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB
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Harbury Rugby Club was founded in March 1962 by Glen Hales and was first known as Whitnash. They played at the Whitnash Sports and Social Club. However, after a difference of opinion with the Main Committee the Rugby Cub was given notice to find alternative accommodation. Chairman John Bromley took it upon himself to find an appropriate ground. Although, there was sympathy amongst Whitnash Parish Council they were unable to suggest an alternative location. However, John, who is Life President and in June 2006 celebrated his 90th year, managed to reach agreement with Harbury Parish Council to use the playing fields and changing rooms at South Parade. The Council wished to have the Harbury incorporated in the club name so in 1966 the Club moved to Harbury, and was initially known as Harbury and Whitnash but this was changed after one season and the club adopted its present name. That first season under the captaincy of Fred Ogilvie was a successful start with 27 wins out of 37 matches played..

Difficult Times.

Over the next few years Harbury struggled and for several seasons were only able to field one side. It should be noted that the 1960’s saw the emergence of a number of new rugby clubs across South Warwickshire, this was a part of the widening of the social base of rugby football. The predominant clubs in the southern half of the county were Stratford (1877), Kenilworth (1924), Leamington (1926), Old Warwickians (1930), Old Leamingtonians (1931) and Lockheed (1943). .

The new clubs Alcester (1960), Harbury (1962), Southam (1963), Claverdon (1964) and Shipston (1964) emerged as interest in the game increased and some of the movers and shakers of this new order came from the existing hierarchy. There was a pressure on numbers and the game moved forward through friendly matches, generally with the lower sides of local clubs. It must be remembered that there were no leagues and no competitions during the 1960’s, other than at International, Regional and County level. If a player was to proceed then he had to be seen playing for an established club. .

In this context Harbury suffered, though they very much represented ground roots rugby, or coarse rugby as it was known by the author Michael Green. Looking back through the records it is fascinating to note that in 1969/70 Harbury won only two matches! Moreover, the facilities were very basic – though Harbury had the luxury of two showers whilst some clubs relied on a cold tap – and headquarters were in local pubs instead of the now 'mandatory’ club house! .

Changing Fortunes .

The 1970’s brought with it a marked change in the playing fortunes of the club. The arrival of characters such as Charles Gath, Dylan Rogers, Graham Shurvinton, Tony North, Ted Mazurek and Ian Winchester, at the end of the 'swinging sixties’, led to the influx of a number of new players. The most influential of whom were John Shurvinton (ex England U19’s and Northampton) and Chris Miller (ex Broughton Park}. Although John’s tenure at Harbury was brief – just two seasons – he set a standard and ethos that attracted new and exciting players to Harbury. These included Mark Robinson, Ian Woods, Bernard Henry, and Chris Mercer amongst others. .

However, it was Chris Miller who really set the standards and who added so much to the club during his nine seasons from 1971 until 1980. An outstanding player who contributed a phenomenal number of points through tries, penalties and conversions. Indeed during his first season he scored 36 tries and kicked 53 conversions and penalties. It must be noted that, the season Chris arrived, Harbury’s no 8 Ian Winchester scored 27 tries, including a club record 6 in an 83-nil win over Evesham 2nd XV! That season saw 24 victories from 34 starts. .

The picking up of the playing fortunes and the emergence of four sides most weeks during the decade – and a one off fifth team with John Knowles the only person at Harbury to have skippered 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th teams helped improve the financial fortunes of the club. They still changed at the Village Hall and used the Crown PH as their headquarters. .

New Premises This changed in 1976 when following an agreement with the Village Hall Committee; the Club were in a position to apply to the Magistrates Court for a Club Licence. Following an initial rejection Harbury RFC were granted a provisional 12 month licence for the use of two small rooms at the village hall. All the spirits had to be moved from the premises on each occasion the facilities were used. It seems hard to believe that this was the case. .

In September 1979 the Club moved and purchased 6 acres of land, from a local farmer Ralph Gurden, off Middle Road on the edge of the village. This provided us with the area for two pitches and a clubhouse. On Sunday 2nd September 1979 this was celebrated with a Presidents XV match against Harbury and a Warwickshire XV v New Brighton. This conncection goes well back into the 1960’s when Harbury began a regular annual visit to play one of the New Brighton sides. .

The growth of mini rugby at the club, shrewdly developed by Dave Andrews, meant that more land was needed. In 1984 a further 4 acres was purchased and this allowed for two further pitches to be added. The Clubhouse was extended in 1988/89 to two storeys which gave additional clubroom facilities and six changing rooms. .

The 1990’s to the Present.

The 1980’s saw rugby becoming more popular and the interest in mini rugby especially blossomed. The senior side took the offer of the move to league rugby in 1987 and this extended very quickly across the country. Initially there was a novelty value but it has now become far more serious with the fortunes of many clubs very dependent upon the placing within the league and future promotion and relegation. These were the years that built upon foreign tours to France and Czechoslovakia. It was a step ahead from tours to Wells, Avonmouth, Welshpool and Richmond in the 1970’s. .

The mini and junior sections went on tour to Yorkshire, the West Country and various points across England and Wales and promoted the name of the club to a much wider audience. Connections were made with Harbury’s twin village in France and the junior colts toured there. .

Club President Ian Holroyd has done much to promote the club and his role and effectiveness continues to this day. He helped Harbury face up to some real difficulties during the late 1990’s when a shortage of players led to the need to appoint a player coach. This certainly helped the club over a very difficult time and indeed promotion was gained but this was built on sand. The struggles of last few years of the decade did nonetheless bring together a nucleus of young players who helped the club through to more promising and successful times. .

The millennium has brought with it an influx of talented players. Many of whom have played for the club’s junior and mini teams. Of especial significance have been Matt Knight, Mark Finch, Rob Shuttleworth and Jeff Foster. Much credit should go to Club Coach Tony Cowley who has been a driving force behind the club’s successes since 2001. .

Harbury have experienced mixed fortunes in league rugby but the last few years have shown considerable progress: .

1997/98 Warwickshire League Champions 2001/02 Warwickshire 2 League Champions 2003/04 Warwickshire 2 League Champions 2004/05 Warwickshire 1 League Champions .

This success saw Harbury promoted to Midlands 4 West (South). Although a challenging league Harbury showed that with a full squad they were more than a match for any of the other teams. Crucially, a couple of narrow losses led to them being relegated to the new Midlands 5 West (South) on points difference. However, Harbury knew that they had the ability to survive. It is hoped that this spirit will enable them to bounce back for the 2006/07 season. .

The end of the season saw a senior tour to Tallin, in Estonia. The Under 17’s went to Barcelona and the Under 16’s to Dublin, the Under 15’s to the West Country. All of which were rated a great success by all those involved. .

Harbury ran their first ever Colts XV on Saturday afternoon during the 2006/07 season. The highly successful mini and junior section have two junior teams at Under 17 and 16 together with a well established mini rugby set up. These players have now reached an age where they can be incorporated into the Senior XV's and they have added both quality and ability to the teams they have played for. Our current 1st XV regularly fields between six and seven former colts..

Harbury stalled during the next two seasons and began to stabilise towards the end of the 2007/08 season. The Club entered a team in the Don Robbins Double Tops Competition during the seaon and were pleased to win the Shield beating Stratford 12-10 in the Final'.

The 2008/09 season has seen the Club reaching the Quarter Finals of the National EDF Junior Vase (with the Final played at Twickenham) which is an excellent achievement for such a small club..

At the end of April 2009 the Club was promoted to Midlands 3 West (South)following a restructuring of the leagues nationally..

Looking Ahead.

Much work has been undertaken in the close season, with a significant emphasis on improving the infrastructure for playing rugby. This has included investment in training equipment, improvements to the changing facilities and a general upgrading of the clubhouse. .

Further improvements are linked to funding but include better vehicle access, further pitch renovation and necessary improvements to clubroom heating. All this in linked to creating available surpluses to plan the work ahead. However, it is important to thank the generosity of our sponsors and vice presidents in helping us to achieve much of what has already been achieved. Prudent management has meant Harbury RFC and its members now own the Clubhouse and grounds. A business plan has been developed and this will provide the basis for future decision making..

Our key priorities for the next two seasons are to:.

provide good drainage for all the pitches and training areas
improve the vehicular access and car parking
This will not be cheap and the Club is in discussions with the RFU to put together a suitable package to achieve these aims. To help this the club are working with the RFU in attaining a 'Whole Club Seal of Approval'. This will take time but when achieved it will enable the Club to formally seek funding from the RFU and other community based organisations..

Jerry Birkbeck

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