Hartlepool Rovers Football Club 1879
Hartlepool Rovers Football Club was formed in 1879 as Hartlepool Albion with a name change in 1881 to Hartlepool Juniors before the world famous name of Hartlepool Rovers was ultimately adopted in 1883. That year also saw Rovers amalgamate with Hartlepool Town and with it a move to the Friarage, the club having previously played on the Old Boys Field on the Central Estate and then on a site on which Galleys Field School would be built.
Rovers’ first international was Frank Pease in 1886/87 and two following internationals, William ‘Pusher’ Yiend and Fred Alderson, who also captained England, but never Rovers, would be at the forefront of rugby’s technical development. Yiend brought methodology to forward play with Alderson instrumental in developing the ‘four’ three quarters formation.
The Friarage was host to the first ever match played by the Barbarians on 27th December 1890 when they defeated Rovers by three goals to a goal and a try, Rovers going on to play the Baa Baas nine times up to 1902; again on 2nd October 1965 to celebrate the invitation side’s 75th anniversary before the Barbarians honoured Rovers by visiting town again on 3rd October 1979 for the Rovers’ Centenary Game.
The Friaragemen made the headlines in season 1911/12 when Rovers racked up an amazing 860 points in 37 games to break the New Zealand All Blacks’ world record points for a season of 830 set in 1905/06. This record, built on scoring 209 tries, would stand until 1953/54 when it was broken by St. Luke’s College, Exeter.
The 1930’s and 1940’s would see the emergence of more local heroes in the form of Cliffy Harrison and Albert Agar both of whom would be capped by England.
After the Second World War, a move to their fourth and final permanent ground (Grayfields and the Greyhound Stadium being temporarily used after the Second World War) beckoned and on 15th September 1948 Rovers entertained and beat Hartlepool Old Boys 17-6 in the first fixture to be held on the New Friarage.
Just as the ‘Old’ Friarage had hosted Durham County and club matches against international touring sides, the New Friarage was to become a county stronghold as well as hosting an England Trial, junior internationals and two County Championship Finals.
Rovers’ contribution to Durham County rugby should never be understated, the club have provided the most representatives who have also registered the record aggregate appearances; in John Dee the most appearances of 90, 39 consecutively; and in the Durham Senior Cup, there is the small matter of 45 wins in 70 finals, records unlikely ever to be broken.
The most recent full England internationals were Dee, capped against Scotland in 1962 and NewZealand in1963, and Tony Peart against France and Scotland in 1964. Dee also played for the British Lions and both he and Peart represented the Barbarians.
The all conquering Rovers’ side of the 1960’s and early 1970’s saw the club remain at the forefront of northern rugby but the side was ageing as Merit Table rugby emerged in the late 1970’s and Rovers’ fortunes were mixed.
Controversially initially excluded from the Northern Merit Table inaugurated in 1977/78 Rovers were to join the Table the following season. But the format of the competition was flawed with single fixtures rather than home and away matches and an imbalance of these was to badly affect Rovers.
This decade saw the introduction of the National Knockout Cup, later to become sponsored of course, and whilst Rovers never enjoyed many home fixtures in this competition, forever seemingly drawn away, their epic matches at the likes of Bedford, Wasps, Leicester and Saracens still hold legendary status among older supporters.
The onset of league rugby also did Rovers no favours with their shock inclusion in only North One whilst old adversaries Durham City were a league higher in National Four North and deadly rivals West Hartlepool in National Three. Player defections and professionalism impacted on Rovers and frequent relegations, not helped by two drops caused by the dreaded and much maligned ‘knock on effect’, followed and Rovers eventually found themselves in North East Three.
Yet another league restructuring saw Rovers placed in Durham Northumberland One for season 2000/01 and the start of a rebuilding process that culminated in a promotion play off defeat to York in 2002/03 before the league championship was won in style in 2003/04 under coach Brian Robinson, Rovers’ first ever promotion.
Four seasons in North Two East came to an end in April 2008 with defeat to West Hartlepool in their final fixture condemning the Whites to relegation back into Durham Northumberland One. The 2007/08 season did, however, see Rovers reach the final of the Durham Intermediate Cup, narrowly losing to Billingham in a very close game at Brinkburn.
The return to the newly named North One East was immediate with another Durham Northumberland One title under Jonathan Wrigley and Craig Lee in season 2008/09 including a record-breaking 89-0 win over Wallsend on the New Friarage.
Season 2009/10 saw Rovers re-establish themselves in the higher division with the side finishing the league programme in fourth place in the table but season 2010/11 was one to forget. Rovers had hoped to build on the previous campaign’s consolidation but, instead, suffered relegation once again to the regional leagues.
The 2011/12 season onward has seen the club consolidate its place back in what, season by season, has become an increasingly competitive Durham Northumberland One.
Other than one season, 2016/17, when, for a while, they were too close to the drop zone for comfort, Rovers have more than held their own but lacked the consistency to challenge for promotion.
Rovers, despite their proud cup-winning history, have also flattered to deceive recently in losing four consecutive Durham Intermediate Cup finals to Consett twice, Durham City and Gateshead.