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History

A BRIEF HISTORY OF OTLEY RUFC

THE EARLY YEARS

Otley RUFC was founded in 1865, disbanded in the late 1890's when the players turned to the Northern Union game (the forerunner of Rugby League) and re-formed in 1907 with H W T Garnett, the former Bradford, Yorkshire and England forward and the Tenth President of the Rugby Football Union, as the president.
The original Otley rugby union club, the town's Northern Union club and the re-formed Otley RUFC all played on the famous old Wharfeside ground, which hosted five Yorkshire Challenge Cup finals. Rugby was suspended for the duration of the First World War but when hostilities ceased the Otley rugby club was revived and again leased the Wharfeside ground from the local council. Its headquarters were at the Queens Head, Otley on Kirkgate with the dressing rooms in disused stables at the back of the public house. The players, having changed, would go across the market place, down the Bay Horse passage, through the Licks and along North Parade to the ground. As the public also used the Wharfeside ground for recreational purposes the council faced an impossible task in maintaining the playing surface in good condition. Before long a bare patch ran the length of the field. The time had arrived for the club to acquire a ground that matched its playing ambitions.

CROSS GREEN

In 1921 the club bought the old showfield on Pool Road, which covered an area of just over six acres at a cost of £2100 and a further £250 was spent on moving stands from the Wharfeside ground and installing new pay-boxes. The purchase was financed by a subscription list, which raised £1100, and a loan of £1000 from the Rugby Football Union. The loan was repaid over the next ten years at £100 plus interest yearly. On Saturday 17th September 1921 Otley defeated Wakefield in the first match played at Cross Green and eleven days later the ground was officially opened with a club match against Ilkley.
Otley and visiting teams continued to change at the Queens Head and walk to the ground, just as they had done when playing on the old Wharfeside ground, until 1924 when dressing rooms and baths were open on the Cross Green ground. In 1933 an open stand, with a capacity of 700, was erected on the east side of the ground and in 1935 the stand on the west side of the ground, which had been moved from the old Wharfeside ground, was replaced by the present 1000-seater wooden stand acquired and transported from Preston. The official opening of the stand was performed by Lord Harewood. Materials salvaged from the old replaced stand were used to cover the south end of the ground (the scratching shed).
Subsequent ground improvements include the clubhouse erected in September 1954 and later extended with a cocktail bar in 1982 and the present kitchen, dining area and gallery bar in 1991, new changing rooms in September 1968, squash courts in September 1973 and latterly new showers in the changing room block.

REPRESENTATVE RUGBY AT CROSS GREEN

Cross Green staged an England Trial in 1950, the memorable match in which the North defeated the 1979 All Blacks, the North versus Australia fixture in 1988 and the 1991 Rugby World Cup match between Italy and the USA. Cross Green also has been the venue for the North’s Divisional fixtures, Schoolboy internationals, Yorkshire’s County Championship matches, and more than thirty Yorkshire Challenge Cup finals

OTLEY’ INTERNATIONAL PLAYERS

Centre Frank Malir and prop Alf Bateson were the first players to be capped by England direct from Otley when they appeared against Wales in 1930. Leslie Manfield represented Wales in 1938 and Arthur Gray played for England against Wales in 1947 in the first official international since 1939. But the best known product of the Cross Green club is Nigel Melville who progressed through Otley's junior ranks. He captained England on his debut, won 13 caps while playing for Wasps and was a replacement on the 1983 British Lions' tour of New Zealand. An injury-plagued playing career ended in 1995 after he had returned to his mother club. After a spell as Otley's director of rugby he enjoyed success in similar posts at the Premiership clubs London Wasps and Gloucester and towards the end of 2006 was appointed chief executive and president of rugby organisation for USA Rugby.

THE YORKSHIRE CHALLENGE CUP

Otley won the Yorkshire Challenge Cup for the first time in 1889 and twice again shortly after the club was re-formed. Losing finalists for four successive seasons from 1925, the club, in one of its most successful eras, won the Cup five times between 1929 and 1937. Fifty-six years elapsed before the club's ninth and latest success when Rotherham was defeated in the 1993 final.

LEAGUE RUGBY

Seeded in North Division One (Level 5 in the league structure) for the inaugural league season of 1987/88, Otley won three titles in four years (North One in 1989/90, National Division Four North in 1990/91 and National League Three in 1992/93) and gained promotion to the second tier of the English National Leagues for the 1993/94 season. Relegated at the end of that season Otley climbed back to level two for the 2000/01 campaign and remained at that level for seven seasons, with a best ever league position of fifth in both 2003/04 and 2004/05. Relegated at the end of 2006/07, the club bounced straight back as champions of the old National Division Two in 2007/08 but after finishing next to the bottom were one of five clubs relegated at the end of the 2008/09 season to accommodate the newly formed second-tier twelve-club Championship.
Otley had to completely re-build its 1st XV squad for 2009/10 after all but two regular members of the previous season’s squad departed but with the help of a batch of players from Leeds Carnegie’s Under-19 side just managed to retain their National Division One status after taking a maximum five points from four of their final five fixtures.

PETER THOMPSON

Where next?

History 2 Honours League Champions: National League Two 2007-8 Jewson National League One 1999-2000 Nationa

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