The season marked the 25th anniversary of the move to Moorefields. It was to be another very difficult year, both on and off the pitch. The club continued to be dogged by financial problems and after the loss of £14,500 on the previous year, we were close to our overdraft limit and cash flow was very difficult. We did end up with a surplus of £3,500 and whilst this was a good turnaround, it was still insufficient to cover our ongoing borrowings and increased income was needed if we were to go forward. We were able to acquire a new main sponsor in Durr of Warwick, thanks to the support of former player Trevor Wood.
On the field, it was very much like the two previous seasons with the first XV struggling for form and flirting with relegation, only to recover after Christmas. The team which had achieved so much in gaining successive promotions to Midlands 1 and finishing in the top half of the table for three years was continuing to break up. However, we were able to welcome back ex-Colt Guy Pattinson after two seasons away and he began to fulfil the promise of his early years and was Player of the Year. Derek French took over as Rugby Chairman and Dicky Davies (right) became captain for the first time. John Williamson continued as coach, supported by John Rawlings, Dave Reeve and Bill Dalton. After a hot and dry August, pre-season arrangements were restricted by hard grounds and the opening game against Cinderford had to be cancelled. We began the next week with a friendly against Hinckley who, with a game under their belt, were a bit sharper and won with a late try. Andy Poole made a rare appearance at full-back and debutants included prop forward Charlie Ellison from Warwick University and flanker Rob Mourino from Stratford.
The first league game was at Hereford. They had just been relegated after five seasons in the national league and were looking for a quick return. Unfortunately their SAS contingent was available and they overpowered us by 26-5. Back at Moorefields for the second game, our forwards dominated as we defeated Syston. The next match was against potential strugglers Leighton Buzzard and in a game we should have won we trailed throughout. 14-8 down and with time running out we camped on the Buzzards' line and four successive scrums went down as the opposition wheeled and disrupted, but instead of giving a penalty try that would have won us the game, the referee blew for no-side. Our misfortune with referees continued against Wolverhampton who had an amazing start, scoring three quick tries, none of which should have been awarded. The first was a lineout throw which did not carry to the five-metre line, but the Wolves hooker took a return pass and hared off down the touchline to score with Leamington waiting for the whistle. For the second try, the ball popped out of the side of the scrum and the Wolves scrum-half threw an obviously forward pass to his winger who touched down. The third followed a knock-on over our line which was given as a scrum to Wolverhampton from which they scored again. There was no way back, although a dazzling late try by Kenny Johnson made the score line respectable at 8-18.
Camp Hill were our next visitors and demonstrated why they were top of the league with a 31-10 victory. A hard earned win at Whitchurch gave us some relief before the final pre-Christmas game against fellow strugglers Stafford. Here we again fell foul of the referee who, in the first half, awarded Stafford eleven penalties to our none and they kicked three of them. We fought back well with tries by David Brown and Dan Sparks to lead 10-9 going into injury time and were in no danger, when a kick to touch from midfield took a bad bounce to stay in play and from deep in his own 22 the Stafford full-back put in an enormous kick up field which landed in the Leamington 22 and bounced at right angles into touch. Stafford won the line-out and dropped a goal to steal a dramatic win they had never looked like achieving.
So, for the third season in row we reached the break in league fixtures with relegation a real prospect, but knowing that if we had had a reasonable run of the ball, two wins out of six could easily have been four and we were far from doomed. The interlude of friendly games gave us the opportunity to blood some up and coming young players and Rupert Smart, Luke Allsop, Matt Dale, Terry Curran and Andy Thompson all made their debuts, with Andy gaining a regular place in the side. We had some mixed results including a 52-22 loss to Worcester, but there were welcome victories in the derby matches against Stratford and Kenilworth. A hat-trick of derby wins was completed in January when we drew Old Leamingtonians in the Warwickshire Cup.This gave us the chance to avenge our defeat in the competition ten years earlier and this time we hit them hard from the start and silenced the home crowd with tries from Simon David (2) David Brown, Simon Blake, Dan Mourino and Dan Sparks, to win 34-17.
We resumed our league programme against Barkers Butts who won with two very late tries after we had dominated the early play. Table topping Burton and then Westleigh pushed us even further into the mire but fortunately our relegation rivals were doing no better and we were at last able to halt the run of losses with a 12-12 draw at Broadstreet, in what was probably our best performance of the season. An injury to prop forward Richard Croft early in the second half required Dicky Davies to move across from hooker and with no front row replacement, winger Simon David was called on to prop against ex-Coventry player Andy Farringdon. Despite this disadvantage we were 12-7 ahead going into injury time with tries by Johnson and Brown but the Street scored from a pile-up following a five-metre scrum to gain a lucky draw. We went into the final match against fellow strugglers Mansfield needing to win to guarantee safety, but knowing that the leagues were to be restructured for the following season and as it was likely that Midlands 1 would be extended to 17 teams, there would probably be no relegation. In the event we had wrapped the game up by half-time with tries by David, Pattinson and Styles and we won easily by 31-10. We finished 11th of 13 sideswith only three wins and a draw, our worst performance in the top flight. Hereford won the league, showing their worth by beating fellow contenders Burton on the own ground to clinch the title on the final day.
First XV 1995-96 Stuart Mallinson, Richard Connolly, David Brown, Gavin Wright, David Gardner, Rob Mourino, Roger Crockford, Guy Pattinson, Danny Sparks, Ian Kyffin - Greg Melville, Andy Thompson, Simon David, Kenny Johnson, Dicky Davis, Doug Grant, Rob Rennel, Nobby Styles
With our league fate more or less settled after the Broadstreet game we were able to focus on the Warwickshire Cup. After beating Old Leamingtonians our next game was against Manor Park which was won by 32-19. GPT Coventry (formerly GEC) were our third round opponents and they were dispatched by 41-8 with Andy Thompson scoring a hat-trick of tries. A surprisingly comfortable victory was achieved over Newbold in the quarter-finals, with the back-row of Styles, Crockford and Mourino dominant and two tries by Johnson and one apiece from David and Sparks took us into the semi-finals. Here we came up against Cup favourites Broadstreet, who we had drawn against a few weeks earlier. In one of our best performances for years we avenged the previous season's Cup defeat, winning 19-10 at the Old Coventrians ground. Street scored first but after a penalty apiece and a try from Styles we were all square at 10-10 before we got on top and controlled the final quarter, pulling away with two penalties and a drop goal from Stuart Mallinson
In the lead-up to the final Gareth Eastham and Greg Melville made their debuts at prop-forward and Richie Richardson, another ex-colt, came in to replace the injured Dan Mourino. The warm-up couldn't have been better with a brilliant win at Henley against a side that had just finished third in national league five. Down by 5-22 at the break, we played the best 40 minutes of rugby for a long time to tear Henley apart and win 39-29.
In our first final since 1992, we were hot favourites against a young Sutton Coldfield side. We started well by demolishing the Sutton pack at the first scrum and gaining a penalty to go ahead. Although we dominated play, we found it hard to score until a try by Andy Thompson put us eight points clear. But it was not to last and within five minutes Sutton had kicked two penalties to close the gap. Soon afterwards a drop-goal put them ahead and they then took control through a virtuoso performance by their 18 year old fly-half Dan Lockley, who pinned us back time after time with long kicks to the corners. As we tried to run the ball out defence at every opportunity, mistakes led to a further penalty and a second drop-goal and Sutton took the Cupfor the first time by 15-8. Our team was - Andy Thompson, Simon David, Guy Stanton, David Brown, Rob Rennel, Stuart Mallinson, Kenny Johnson, Greg Melville, Dicky Davies, Gareth Eastham, Guy Pattinson, Peter Gray, Michael Styles, Roger Crockford and Richie Robinson.
The Extras and the Spartans were again the most successful sides with 20 and 9 wins respectively. Doug Grant led the Extras and Dave Barlow skippered the Spartans, who scored over 800 points, which included big wins over Westleigh, Shottery and Dudley-Kingswinford. The Stags played only 24 games, but won 15. Norman David resumed the captaincy of the Tigers who won 15 of 27 games and had yet another successful mini-tour, this time going all the way to Cheltenham, after a Friday night stop-over at Shipston.
In the pre-season there were 40 potential players for an under-21 side and it was intended to run a regular mid- week team, but this foundered due to lack of players when the university students went away. However they did manage to play eleven games including fixtures against the Agricultural College of Nimes in France and Meija University from Tokyo. The Colts had a similar problem with availability and had a sticky patch when they found it hard to field a side, due mainly to the loss of players to other clubs that were trying to runs Colts sides. James Hadfield took over as captain from Rob Shuttleworth and Terry Wheildon became Colts chairman in November and started to get things going again. The team came back well and took some good scalps towards the end of the campaign. Shuttleworth played in the trials for the National Colleges and Tom Back was selected for Midlands Colts. Below Colts level the Under-15 and Under-16 sides were showing great promise and toured to Holland before Easter. The under-16s, who had lost just once all season, took on the full Holland side losing 17-0 and Holland East, who they beat 40-0. The under-15s crushed Harlem and East Holland by 80-0
|Ist XV - Midlands 1||12||3||1||8|
When writing his history of the first 50 years of the club in 1976, the late Cliff Harrison referred to John "Plum" Richardson's appointment as the Warwickshire representative on the Rugby Football Union. He speculated that John "may yet become President of Warwickshire and, who knows, could be Leamington's first President of the RFU". John (pictured below) duly became President of Warwickshire in 1981 and Cliff's prophesy was fulfilled in 1996/97 when he was elected as President of the RFU. To celebrate his appointment a number of events were organised, including a trip to Twickenham in September where 105 club members (past and present) and guests, were given a guided tour of the redeveloped stadium and museum, followed by a special dinner in the Rose Room restaurant. In November, a Sportsman's Dinner was held at the Hilton Hotel in John's honour. At the end of the season, John gave to the club the international touch judge flags that were presented to him after the international matches. These are displayed in the clubhouse.
John's year of office couldn't have come at a more difficult time with the transition to open rugbyand the start of a long-running power battle between the RFU and the professional clubs over the control of players. Having considered the implications of open rugby the RFU concluded that there was no future in trying to create any new division between professional and amateur players and clubs were therefore given the freedom to progress according to their ability, ambitions and resources. The term "amateur" was dropped from the game's vocabulary. Although it was expected that full-time professional rugby would only become a reality for the top clubs, the opportunity to pay salaries, match fees, expenses or whatever, provided the opportunity for those junior clubs that could afford it to lure players away from other clubs in a way they had never been able to before. This was not good news for Leamington in our relatively weak financial position and we were hit particularly hard as our club coach John Williamson, plus Kenny Johnson, Dan Sparks and later, Guy Stanton and Nobby Styles, transferred their services to Banbury and Dan Mourino moved to Moseley. In an attempt to try and stem the flow we introduced a modest win bonus scheme but, as it turned out, there was not much call on it as our fortunes on the field slumped. Clubs were very cagey about what they were doing and there was much misinformation, but it was thought that several clubs in Midlands 1 were making payments and things were changing much quicker than anticipated by the RFU.
The season also saw the extension of the leagues from 13 to 17 clubs and the RFU introduced a set of new national knock-out competitions below the Pilkington Cup. We were placed in the Intermediate Cup, sponsored by National Provincial Insurance. To make room for this, the Warwickshire Cup was reorganised to reduce the number of games and a new qualifying competition (the Warwickshire Shield) was introduced for the smaller clubs, with the big boys coming in later on. All this meant a major increase in competitive rugby with little room for friendlies.
Apart from the defections to Banbury, we were also hit by a loss of other key players including: Rob Rennel, John Swannell and Simon Blake, and the non-availability of others through injury and illness. Our new skipper David Brown (right) clearly had a job on his hands and it didn't get any easier for him when Keir Macdonald, who had agreed to take over as coach, had to resign early on due to health difficulties. The new Rugby Chairman, John Rawlings, doubled up as coach for the early part of the season, helped by Dave Barlow and Tony Cowley.
The omens for the season did not look good when we took on Kenilworth in a pre-season trial game and were played off the park. Ironically, the opening game was a friendly against Banbury, who were playing in Midlands 2. Having recruited a new side during the summer, including the players from Leamington, they gave us a harsh demonstration of what would be needed in the open era, winning 56-10. The first league game was the following week at Stafford and we were 22-0 down by half time. Despite a strong recovery in the second half with tries from Simon David and Roger Crockford, it was too little too late. The lesson was repeated at Stockwood Park the next week when again we conceded 20 points in the first half and lost 22-20. Away from home for a third time, we led Syston, with tries by David Brown and Nobby Styles, before a three-try burst after half-time put the hosts in front, but it could still have gone our way if the usually reliable Brown not had a kicking nightmare.
We achieved a welcome first win against Westleigh by 22-15, but this was followed by a difficult journey up the M6 to Whitchurch and we were almost late for kick-off. Straight off the coach and on to the pitch we had another bad start and went down 20-37. Our next game against fellow strugglers Wolverhampton was extraordinary, with our visitors scoring a try within 20 seconds and two more in quick succession to build up a 17-3 lead. We battled back and gradually took control of the game, scoring five tries without reply to go 32-17 ahead with ten minutes left. But the Wolves were not finished and in another three-try burst they turned the game around again and snatched an unlikely win by 36-32. Bottom side Barkers Butts were our next opponents and in another see-saw game, we outscored them by four tries to three but lost 32-30 as a misplaced pass denied us a late winning try. In the final game before Christmas there was another tight finish against Belgrave, who had lost only one game, but we made it two with a late try by Greg Melville giving us a 29-27 victory.
In the first round of the new Intermediate Cup we drew Stoke Old Boys and they led from the first minute until the last, before a try from hooker Rob Varney, on his debut, stole the match for us in injury time. Comfortable wins followed in the next two rounds against Bedworth and Edwardians before we came up against Whitchurch again, who rattled up 36 points in the opening half hour and dumped us out of the competition by 53-12.
By Christmas, two thirds of our Warwickshire Cup Final team from the previous season had disappeared. At the half way stage of the league programme we had only 4 points from 16 and were 15th of 17 teams. Although most of our games had been close and could have gone either way, relegation was looking a distinct possibility, although we did not know how many sides would be going down. In the previous two years we had been able to turn things around in the second half of the season, but the worry this time was that we still had most of the top sides to play, morale was low and we were desperately short of players. Tony Cowley who had been helping John Rawlings stepped up to become first team coach in January and whilst this was well received by the players he had a difficult job on his hands. During the mid-season break we managed to gain some revenge for our Cup Final defeat with a 27-24 victory over Sutton Coldfield, although we were 22-6 up at half-time and nearly blew it. We also managed to beat Old Leamingtonians thanks to a late try from Nobby Styles, but we then took a 46-3 hammering at Kenilworth, who cut loose with a second half scoring spree after an even first half.
After three weeks off, due to bad weather, our next league game was against Broadstreet, who hammered us 59-0 in our worst ever league result. Further heavy losses against Camp Hill, and fellow strugglers Derby and Burton put the writing on the wall and this was underlined by champions-elect Hinckley who inflicted another record defeat, by 76-15. Our fate was sealed with two games to go with a 13-30 reverse at home to Leighton Buzzard and we lost our remaining two games to Mansfield and Scunthorpe by similar scores to complete a dismal second half of the season, which yielded no points and an average score against of 42-8. The team conceded an all-time record of 958 points!And so, our six years in Midlands 1 came to an end and we finished 16th of 17 teams. As it turned out, four teams were relegated, due to four West Midlands clubs coming down from the national league and avoiding relegation would have been difficult, even if some of our earlier defeats had gone the other way. It was particularly galling that Kenilworth and Banbury (with several of our players) were promoted to replace us in the top flight.
First XV 1996-97 Gavin Wright, Nobby Styles, Roger Crockford, Richard Connolly, Justin French, Dave Barlow (coach) -Andy Perry, Guy Stanton, Guy Pattinson, Andy Herbert (Durr) Mark Lane, Pete Elliott, Andy Thompson, Simon David,John Rawlings (Rugby Chairman) - Chris Allin, Rob Shuttleworth, Colin Aston, Peter Griffiths,Dave Brown (capt) Doug Grant, Greg Melville
In its new format, the Warwickshire Cup provided some limited respite after Christmas. Victories over Coventry Welsh and Keresley took us through to a semi-final at Keresley, where we met up again with Broadstreet, who had hammered us in the league two months previously. Changes were made to the side and this time we lost by a more respectable 23-3, although our chances more or less went when Dicky Davies was sent off after 20 minutes with the scores level. One of the bright spots was an excellent debut for newcomer Alex Carroll at scrum half, who formed a promising half-back partnership with Steve Foster, who had been hiding his considerable talents down the club.
Dave Ward captained the Extras for the first time and they had an even record, winning 15 of 30. Their worst day was at Henley in November when they lost by 83-10. Dave Barlow's Spartans had a similar even record with 13 wins from 26 games and they had a number of big scores, passing the 65 point mark on three occasions, plus a 92-3 win over Westleigh. They didn't find it so easy when they went to Worcester and lost by 76-12. Over the previous two or three seasons, a number of players had become disenchanted with the level of rugby they could play at Leamington and some had gone to other local clubs where they could play in the first team and thereby league rugby. This seriously affected our ability to fill the gaps in the first team and our strength in depth. In particular it hit the Stags and Tigers. Only three years on from when we were fielding a regular six sides we were now down to four and we played 30% less games than the season before. Norman David captained both the Stags and Tigers which effectively had a combined fixture list, as on the five occasions the Tigers played the Stags did not have a game. It was not fully appreciated at the time that the problems we were having were the similar everywhere. It was becoming increasingly difficult to get fixtures for the lower sides even when we could raise a team and the days of clubs being able to field five regular sides were coming to an end. The Tigers would not to play again and the Stags' days were numbered.
The Colts were also having problems and only seven games were played. We had a talented under-17 team that was winning games easily, but there were insufficient players for both sides. Differences of opinion between the respective coaches resulted in the unhappy consequence that some of the players who wanted the challenge of Colts rugby were held back as under-17s and voted with their feet, moving to Barkers Butts and other clubs. Consequently both sides more or less wound up their activity by November. Nevertheless we still had some good young players coming through - James Hadfield and Nick Maxwell played for Warwickshire Colts and Tom Back played for Warwickshire under-17s and made the England under-18 training squad. At mini and junior level we had a much more successful time with a number of players gaining representative honours. Dean Sanderson, Richard Dalton, Hugh Jones, Chris Maisey, Nicky Oliver, Scott Walker and Peter White all played for Warwickshire at under-16 level with Dean going through to play for the Midlands and in the England trials.
The under-14s toured in the northeast at Easter and played against Newcastle Falcons in the curtain raiser to their game against Moseley. After taking an early lead through a Luke Brewin try they found the opposition rather formidable as they went down 105-7. The team pictured below was - Robert White, Sam Horswill, Eddie Parkes, Steve Allinson, Luke Brewin, Luke Alsop, Andrew Cuffley, Tom Parkinson, Chris Timms, John Raby,Tom Burnell, Mark Elliott, Dean Taffe, Pete Mudd, Tom Jewitt, Pete Davies
A plan for merger with Old Leamingtonians was produced in September 1996 and there was serious discussion between the clubs about this, but as on other occasions in the past Old Leamingtonians ultimately pulled out and we continued to go our own ways. Although the rugby wasn't going too well the netball section was going from strength to strength and our first team reached the quarter-final of the national clubs knock-out competition. They were beginning to outgrow their facilities and looking to replace the existing court with two new ones.
|1st XV - Midlands 1||16||2||0||14|
If anyone thought that relegation to Midlands 2 would provide us with a more comfortable playing level they were to be disappointed. We were clearly on the slippery slope and the club struggled badly again and came very close to being relegated for a second year in succession. We started with a home game against Old Yardleians in the NPI Cup and against opponents playing two leagues below us; we conceded a 20 point lead in the first half. Despite a late rally we couldn't recover and went out of the competition by 25-19. To add to our problems, skipper Roger Crockford (left) was injured in the game and was unable to play again all season. Gavin Wright (right) took over as captain.
A Hard Time in Midlands 2In the first league game, at Dudley-Kingswinford, we succumbed to a massive 69-0 defeat. This was followed by a 44-15 loss at home to Stafford. A much improved performance at Bromsgrove nearly brought a first win, but victory was snatched away from us with a late try and we went down again, by 13-9. The improvement was sustained at Kettering the next week and tries by Simon Lane and Peter Griffiths helped us to an excellent 16-6 victory, but our joy was short-lived as we found out we were to be deducted the two points for fielding an ineligible player at Dudley in the opening game. This was a simple error following an injury prior to the match which required a replacement to be brought in from the Spartans, who were playing on the neighbouring pitch. The replacement had been registered for several years, but it was overlooked that he had been taken off our list due to a league requirement to limit the number of registered players. Although the league administrators accepted that we had neither sought nor gained any advantage, the rules were the rules and we were back to nil points.
Defeat then followed defeat throughout the autumn. Against Newport, we were cruising to victory with tries by Tony Philpott and Matt Dale establishing a 15-5 lead going into the final quarter, but the visitors pulled back a try and then scored again in the final minute and snatched the game with the conversion. Further losses against Luctonians and Old Laurentians (with the latter overwhelming us 54-3) took us into Christmas and still with no points. Further losses followed in January, in tight games against fellow strugglers Sutton Coldfield, Towcestrians and Ampthill and leaders Bedford Athletic gave us a 60-15 hammering. Our problems on the field were compounded when Gavin Wright stood down as acting captain due to a disagreement over a substitution decision and Dicky Davies took over on a match by match basis.
Urgent efforts were made to acquire a new coach to help us turn things around. Steve Weeks, a former player with Keresley, who had been coaching Balsall & Berkswell, agreed to take on the job and he was supported Paul Sandford, who was recruited from Stoke Old Boys to coach the forwards. There was no immediate improvement and for a while things got even worse. After yet another league defeat at Stockwood Park, we took on Old Coventrians in the Warwickshire Cup and tries by Simon David and Derren Nisbet were not enough as we were dumped out of the competition at the first hurdle by 25-15. We hit rock bottom in a friendly at Southam the next week when, on a freezing cold day, we were abysmal and totally outplayed, going down by 25-0, with the home side scoring four tries. We had last played Southam 20 years earlier, when we knocked them out of the Warwickshire Cup by 61-6 - how times had changed!
Fortunately, things did begin to pick up from this low-point. Match number thirteen proved lucky for us, when we posted our first two league points at the beginning of March, beating Huntingdon 29-24. We raced into a 24-0 lead with tries from James Pearl, Chris Allin, Matt Hodgetts and Ian Pollock, but our confidence was fragile and the visitors hit back with a 19 point burst to leave us hanging on at the end, before a try from Alex Carroll settled the nerves. The next match, against fifth-placed Longton, was lost 17-25 but we played well, dominating possession without turning it into points. Although we were in dire straits, with two games to go, there was still an outside chance of survival as Paviors and Towcestrians were doing equally badly and could be caught, but it would not be known until the end of the season whether two or three sides would go down.
The Easter floods of 1998 wiped out the holiday programme and the only game to escape the deluge was the annual Richard Caldicott memorial game which was played the day before the rain started. An outstanding Warwickshire College side (which won all its games that season) beat a scratch Leamington under-21 team by 17-5. The college side had a number of current and future Leamington players including Jai Purewal, Paul Archer, Chris Valentini, Gareth Renowden, James Hadfield and Tom Back. They also fielded winger Marco Stanojevic, who went on to play for Italy in the 2007 Six Nations tournament.
The penultimate league game was away against Paviors. The Nottingham side were two points ahead of us and had a better "goal difference" but it was their final match and we could move ahead of them if we won both of ours. The game was dour but two kicks from David Brown clinched a 6-3 win. The final game was against Moderns, another side from Nottingham. This had been postponed from early April due to their county cup final commitments and the League determined that it should be played on May 2 - the next available date. Moderns informed us two days before the game that they were unable to field fifteen registered players (with some away on tour) and they could not fulfil the fixture. At first we were told by the league administrator that the game would be awarded to us, but this was later rescinded on advice from the RFU as the relegation implications impacted on other clubs. As it turned out, the circumstances undeniably helped us. Although Moderns turned up physically the following week, they had nothing to play for and were mentally switched off. Our forwards dominated the game and tries by Simon David (2) Ian Pollock (2) and Chris Allin and 18 points from David Brown's boot gave us our best win of the season, by 43-12. It took us off the bottom of the table for the first time all season, ahead of both Paviors and Towcestrians. As it turned out only one side was relegated and we survived.
So, in the end we achieved the Great Escapein what was a very hard season. Our new Rugby Chairman Alan Reeve had inherited a poisoned chalice, with essentially a new and inexperienced first team and no head coach in place to support him for much of the season, although Tony Sparks provided some help early on and Steve Weeks came in towards the end of the campaign. Two changes of captaincy during the season did not help and the loss of Roger Crockford and Gavin Wright added to a serious shortage of experienced players. Nobby Styles, an outstanding young wing forward, had departed to join the exodus to Banbury and others to leave, hang up their boots or become irregulars included Peter Gray, Guy Pattinson, Phil McGaffin, Simon David and Stuart Mallinson, the backbone of our Midlands 1 side. In the two years since we played in the Warwickshire cup final only Dicky Davis remained from that team. New players included Simon Parsons, Derren Nisbet and Rob Jenkins. Matt Dale, Danny Birks, and Peter Griffiths came through from the Colts. Long serving Tony Philpott (the younger) pinned down the full back spot and played so well he was elected player of the year. Flanker Bill Unsworth was chosen as the most improved player.
Doug Grant resigned as Extras captain at the start of season and captaincy of the Extras and the Spartans was undertaken on a match by match basis. The Extras' opening game was in the Warwickshire 2nd XV Cup against Keresley which was lost by 19-25, to a late disputed try. The team took a while to settle down and suffered a 10-90 hammering at Stafford in their next game and won only four matches before Christmas. They held their own in the second half of the season and finished with 11 wins from 30 games.
After losing their opening three games the Spartans hit a good run of form with a side that was able to call on a lot of players with first team experience including Simon David, Richard Miller, Paul Ackerman and Gareth Eastham, along with regulars such as Mike Fairbotham and Tony Bobath. There were some big scores, including a 67-6 win against Stratford and an 83-0 win over Old Coventrians. Overall they came out on top in two-thirds of their matches. Norman David captained the Stags and as always did everything to ensure that games were played, although there were not sufficient players available to get underway until November. They won half of their games and continued the tradition of "Tigers" tours, playing at Erdington and Shrewsbury.
Tony Timms and Bill Dalton managed the Colts side and as fixtures were played on Saturdays instead of Sundays, this seriously restricted the number of players available to us, with school and job commitments competing for the players' time. Like the other sides, results were disappointing in the early part of the season when we were badly handicapped by injuries and defections to Coventry and Barkers Butts and we had some very tough fixtures. But there was a big improvement towards the end of the season when we won three games in March, with what was a very young side.
Geoff Paginton took over from Tony Timms as Chairman of the Mini and Junior Section, which had a very successful year with an overall increase in membership. Highlights included the selection of a group of under- 12s to represent Warwickshire in a warm up game before the England v South Africa match in November; and a very successful 25th anniversary festival in May, when England prop-forward Victor Ubogu presented the awards. We had excellent squads from under-12 to 14 levels which were expected to provide a strong feed for the senior club, but it was proving difficult to field an under-15 side and with the age limit for colts coming down from 19 to 18, the U17's had to be merged into the Colts side
|1st XV - Midlands 2||16||4||0||12|
The legal status of the club was changed during the season when on the advice of the RFU, we became incorporated as an Industrial and Provident Society.The purpose of this change was to remove the risk to those members acting as Trustees of the club, who ultimately were responsible for any debts and liabilities we might have. Whilst most of these risks were covered by the club's insurance, the potential was there for a compensation claim to exceed our assets. The change enabled us to limit our liability and enable the trustees to stand down. For the record they were - Dick Ashley, David Glasborrow, Pip Moore, Peter Payne, John Richardson and Tim Shaw. Operationally the impact was that all members became single-share holders of the club and to demonstrate good governance, the club was required to be more accountable in its arrangements and could no longer run its affairs informally.
Sadly, during the season two recent club chairmen, Gareth Lewis and Noel McCluskey, and two distinguished recent players, Vic Barber and Guy Nicholls died, all well before their time. Vic held the club record for the highest number of tries in a season and Guy, who played in the first team at 17, was a star performer at full-back and even during his days with Harlequins he was always happy to turn out for the Tigers when he had a Saturday off.
After the previous year's narrow escape from relegation, a lot of hard work was done during the pre-season to put things right and be able to compete successfully again. There was a good influx of new players, including John Gibson, Chris Kelly, Richard Labbatt, Gary Ross, Mark Lane, Derek Jones and Alistair Speight. Wing-forward Simon Parsons (left) took over the first XV captaincy (and the reinstated role of club captain) but, like his predecessor, he was injured early on and missed most of the season. John Hibben became President of the Club and doubled up as Chairman of the Committee.
Impressive form in the two warm up games against Southam and Nuneaton suggested we might start well but once matches got underway results were poor from the start, with a series of heavy defeats. The opening game was a friendly against Keresley and with seven new faces in our line-up it took some time to gel and we lost by 20-27. This did not bode well for the league programme which started the following week at Bromsgrove and after 20 minutes play we were out of the game as the home side ran up 24 points, with their well organised forwards dominating the loose play. 37-0 was the final score and things didn't get much better in the following games as we crashed 31-10 to Newbold, 35-8 to Stafford and 37-6 to Kettering. Bottom of the table, with no points after four games, was looking rather familiar. Changes needed to be made and Alan Reeve stood down as Rugby Chairman, with Rob Hickman taking over. It was decided to dispense with the services of Steve Weeks as coach, as it was felt that the poor results did not justify the cost of employing him. Paul Sandford took over pending the recruitment of a more long-term replacement, with Tony Sparks again helping with the backs.
The defeats kept on coming however and slow starts to games and ill-discipline were costing us dear. At Newport, the Staffordshire club went ahead with three penalties within ten minutes and six more during the game to give them all of their twenty-seven points, with Leamington scoring the only try of the afternoon through Chris Allin. A close defeat by 22-18 against fellow strugglers Luctonians was followed by a heavy loss at Old Laurentians, who finished with a late flourish after Peter Gray was sent-off with the game still in the balance. An improved performance against Sutton Coldfield still failed to produce a positive result, but the gloom was eventually lifted in the last match before Christmas with a win against Towcestrians. Fly-half Gary Ross put us ahead with three penalties and tries by Dicky Davies, Stuart Pearl and Alex Carroll clinched the game by 28-10.
First XV - 1998-99 Peter Gray, Danny Birks, Stuart Pearl, Nick Maxwell, Dewi Bassett, Terry Curran, James Pearl, Marcus Pask, Greg Melville - Simon David, Alex Carroll , Simon White, Dicky Davies, Peter Griffiths, Derren Nisbet,Gareth Eastham, Simon Holmes
The NPI Intermediate Cup provided some relief from our league woes, firstly with a 19-10 win at Stratford, where the game was effectively won playing into the wind in the first half when we led by tries from Alex Carroll and Marcus Pask. Despite a sending-off for Gary Ross in the second period we held on to win 19-10 and scored a third try through Peter Griffiths. In the next round, against Aston Old Edwardians, Peter Gray inspired the pack to a great performance and with plenty of possession the backs had a field day with Allin getting a hat-trick and Simon David, Brown, and new full-back Simon Holmes also scoring. Finally we went down 27-12 to a very strong Ilkeston side, due to another poor start, with three early tries conceded.
The New Year didn't start any better, with a heavy 31-6 defeat against Old Leamingtonians in a friendly fixture, but help was on the way as Tony Smith took over as coach in January. Tony had extensive coaching experience with Earlsdon, Nuneaton, Old Leamingtonians, Barkers Butts and Coventry and also with Warwickshire under-21s. He was looking for a club with potential and ambition and was committed to getting us back into Midlands 1. New players included Dewi Bassett, an outstanding No-8 forward, who joined just prior to Christmas and wing forward Scott Conduit who was recruited by Tony to assist him in a playing/coaching role. Scott was a former England under-21 forward and was working his way back into form following a bad knee injury. Jai Purewal, a strong-running centre joined from Kenilwoth.
A win against Derby gave us hope of a revival but, after an expected loss to promotion chasing Amptill, the next game against Huntingdon proved to be the crucial one. Yet another slow start saw us go 17-0 down after twenty minutes, but it was all Leamington from then on as we fought back with tries from Simon David, Simon Parsons (on his return from injury) and Simon Lane, but with our main kicker, Gary Ross out injured a number of chances were missed and we went down unluckily by two points. On a Saturday when all our relegation rivals won, the result effectively sealed our fate and with three sides going down we needed a miracle to survive. It was not to be forthcoming and the final four games against Stockwood Park, Longton, Moderns and Lincoln were all lost, although commitment and team spirit remained high until the end. So, after narrowly escaping a second successive relegation the previous season, this time we fell through the trapdoor and were relegated to Midlands West 1. We were effectively back where we started from at the beginning of the 1990's.
The season finished on a real low with a friendly against neighbours Kenilworth on Easter Saturday, which demonstrated the turnaround in the strength of the two clubs. After holding our own and camping in the Kenilworth half during the first quarter, we were completely overwhelmed with Kenilworth scoring 70 points in an eleven try rout. This left just the Warwickshire Cup to complete the season. It was played after the end of the league programme in April in the new truncated format. We drew Old Laurentians and they repeated their earlier league victory with 53-15 drubbing. They went on to defeat Kenilworth in the next round.
One of the positive things to come out of the season was that the overall playing strength through the club had stabilised after the loss of players in the previous seasons. The Extras, Spartans and Stags all played regularly and had successful campaigns. Dave Ward took over the captaincy of the Extras and after a poor first half they improved to win most of their games after Christmas, including the scalps of Kenilworth, Broadstreet and Barkers Butts, who they trounced by 63-21. In the Warwickshire 2nd XV Cup they defeated Coventry Saracens 57-0 before going out to Stratford in the next round. Ken Robertson captained the Spartans and again they improved as the season went on and won 20 of their 32 games. Norman David and Hugh Smith looked after the Stags. They played 27 games and won 17 of them. Highlights included a 15 try rout of Old Leamingtonians in October and a 46-7 win over Broadstreet in February when Norman led the scorers with a hat-trick off tries. The "Tigers tour" again took place at the end of the season, this time to Shipston on the Friday and on to Abingdon for the weekend. Peter Gray began to organise a Veterans side which made its debut in February, beating Stratford and Southam and at the end of the season they played in the new Warwickshire veterans' tournament. They lost in the first round to runaway winners Rugby, but took the Plate competition and were probably the second best side there.
The player of the year was Alex Carroll who showed his great versatility and flair by playing well in most of the back positions. The most improved player was the "Leamington Lighthouse" Gez Robinson who was relatively new to the game but showed great potential in the second row when called upon to play in the first team. On the representative front, Nick Maxwell, Jai Purewal and Greg Melville played in the South Warwickshire XV which won the Warwickshire inter-district competition. Jai and Nick were also members of the Warwickshire under-21 squad. The annual Richard Caldicott Memorial game against Warwickshire College resulted in a 34-5 victory for the students who had recently been crowned as British Colleges' champions and again they fielded a number of players with joint credentials.
It was another very good season for mini and junior rugby with the youngsters showing the senior teams the way home. One of the highlights was the minis' tour to Maidenhead and Woodford which resulted in fourteen wins out of fourteen with 396 points for and only 82 against. As with most other clubs in the County we were unable to field a Colts side and for this and the following three seasons arrangements were made to keep those players we had got by including them in the senior sides. However, we were one of the few clubs that were able to put together a team for the Warwickshire Colts Cup, which like the senior competition was played at the end of the season. Our first game was a semi-final against Silhillians, which was won 29-17. In the final we lost 43-10 to a strong Barkers Butts team with our points coming from a Stuart Pearl try and a conversion and penalty by Phil Thomas. The side was - Phil Thomas, Richard Watkins, Tom Back (captain) Nick Oliver, Steve Alford, Ben Smith, Gareth Renowden, Stuart Pearl, Ian Hibberd, Nick Waters, Dave Smith, Ade Fice, Lee Summers, Richard Dalton and Scott Walker. Replacements - Tom Morgan, Greg Williams, Bali Atwal, Richard Swain and Huw Jones
On the social side, the season finished with the reintroduction of the club cabaret - the last production of which had been 15 years previously. Organised by Peter Forrest, there were some old acts and some new ones, with twenty-eight members performing for two nights, (some with their clothes on) to packed houses. Highlights included Brian White (as Elvis) fronting Louis and the Ludos, and Roger Crockford leading John Thomas and the Beavers. The sex appeal came from the all girl group of Jane Gray, Jane Reeve, Jenny David and Debbie Dixon as the Dried Herbs, a Spice Girls tribute band. The most revealing act was the dirty old men, comprising Dave Ward and friends who displayed great balls by performing a rain-coated version of the "balloon dance".
First team 1998-99 - not sure what they were so happy about!
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