A Brief History of Thurston Rugby Club
(From the perspective of an ancient, Scottish ex-player and VP)
My first sight of Thurston Rugby Club was when I was playing at Sudbury in 1974 and between scrums saw them take a good 3rd XV apart – they were wearing distinctive navy blue shirts and played a fast, hard, open game, which they continued energetically in the bar afterwards. A really sociable bunch of guys.
A couple of years later I moved to the Thurston area and despite having retired from rugby for the third time was invited by Kevin O’Hare to join the club, which I duly did, explaining that I would only be able to play the occasional game due to family commitments. However the club proved to be such an attraction on and off the field that the whole family became involved, culminating in my wife Sandra Shaw becoming the first lady President of a rugby club in Eastern Counties in 1994.
I quickly learned that the club had been started in 1973 by teachers and parents at the newly opened Thurston Upper School, which had an enormous rural catchment area, including RAF Honington. The club initially used the school pitches and the local pubs and grew quickly, with a second XV added in 1976, a Colts side in 1978 and a 3rd XV in 1987.
The first captain of the club was Dave Ainge, a parent at the school and an RAF officer at Honington, followed by John Cook, Head of PE at the school and an ex Diss player. By 1978 it was realised that the growing club would need to be put on a more formal footing and the committee (led by Graeme Jones, local banker and secretary and role model for “The Beccles” trophy, now sadly in South Africa) created a constitution, which has been the solid basis for the club’s development over the last forty years. The 3rd XV became a special, uproarious team and was known as the “Dangerous XIV” from their then skipper Arthur “Dangerous” Johnston (ex RAF, Bury Police and Entrepreneur extraordinaire) and the fact that they nearly always played with 14 men, including local legends such as “Matt Braddock” and those with exotic nicknames, such as Rat, Dog, Earwig, Hoof and the Honking Monk.
Players came from the Upper School, from Culford School, from the RAF, from other clubs (including Bury) and from players moving into the area. In the modern era many young players have joined from the West Suffolk College Rugby Academy. Undoubtedly the standard of rugby has improved over the years and players are probably fitter and certainly larger than forty years ago. One thing has not changed and that is the warmth and the closeness of the camaraderie within the club, which extends beyond the players to families, supporters, sponsors and friends. The social life remains extraordinarily active and successful. The annual club dinners became legendary - from the early days in the Grange Hotel, replete with water pistols and three man lifts, to the Athenaeum and the Corn Exchange and eventually, to accommodate the ever increasing demand, to Ickworth House.
When local businessman and RFU and Eastern Counties stalwart, David Robinson became Club President in the 1980s, he and I as chairman bought land in Church Road Pakenham, which the club used for a horse show and the start of the 1989 season. The new owner of Nether Hall approached us to buy the land, which had originally been part of the estate and we agreed a sale on the condition that he would buy a larger piece of land in Thurston and donate a chunk of money to the club to start building the clubhouse. In the event we acquired a sizeable piece of land near the school and started fund raising to build the clubhouse. This included weight lifting marathons, hiring out club labour, treasure hunts, caravan club Camps on the land and an annual horse show that ran for twelve years contributing about £1000 per annum to the building fund. The land was levelled (up to a point) and farming members contributed time and effort to seeding, planting trees and erecting posts. When the club opened for business in 1990, it was one of the few (if any) clubs in East Anglia that owned its own land.
In 1980 the club achieved its first major honour by winning the Suffolk Plate, at Sudbury, beating a strong Ipswich YMCA side that included several county players. Thurston also had many players who had represented the county at Colts and a few at senior level, plus one Steve Bird, an RAF colt who made today’s giants seem small. Since then the club has won the Suffolk Plate on another three occasions.
The new clubhouse was formally opened in 1990 by Sandy Sanders, the RFU President with two representative games and an enjoyable day and evening of celebrations. The clubhouse has since been extended to provide better changing facilities and the bar rivals any club in the area.
By 1990 the club had started youth rugby in conjunction with the School and until 1995 the club produced successful teams from under 13s to Colts level. However in common with many clubs, the number of players tended to fluctuate in the late 1990s and the following decade. The club joined the league system at its inception and now runs two senior sides and a Vets side. The 1st XV reached the play-offs for London 3 North in 2007 but then dropped down a league and now a rejuvenated side is in prime position for promotion to Eastern Counties 1 having lost only one game with four to go. The second XV have also come back strongly this season and lie second in the Suffolk Merit Table.
The future is bright for Thurston RUFC with the playing side revitalised and the social side as strong as ever including annual tours to far flung places, frequent VP lunches and the very popular annual dinner; there is also tremendous support from the many sponsors involved with the club.
I can say, without fear of contradiction, that of the many clubs I have played for in England, Scotland and further afield, Thurston Rugby Club is the one that has captured my heart.
(Former Captain, Chairman and President)