History of Thetford Rugby Club
The Thetford Rugby Union Football Club was formed in November 1959 by a group of enthusiasts headed by John Clark, David Cunningham and Bill Jennings who had little to encourage them but their belief that the time was ripe for the formation of a club and that support for the club would grow along with the growth of the town.
It was a pitifully small number that decided to go ahead , but their enthusiasm compensated for the lack of numbers and they were urged on by Ronnie Williams together with J.R.Redmayne and other members of the Norfolk and Norwich Committees at that time, who were keen to see an expansion of an active interest in the game in the county. Certain it is that the early meetings at the Anchor Hotel were attended by more ‘Has Beens’ than actual players and without the support of playing members from R.A.F. Barnham and Honington in the first few years of the Club’s existence it is doubtful if it would have survived continuously up to the present time.
Not only were great difficulties experienced in obtaining sufficient players , but there was a glorious uncertainty as to whether there would be a ground for home fixtures, almost from one week to the next , and the meeting place after matches also had to be changed a number of times the first trial games were played with make-shift arrangements at Castle Park and at the Thetford Grammar School playing field but thanks to the first President The Lord Fisher the club then played for two seasons at Kilverstone while making it’s social head quarters at the Dolphin Public House.
An abrupt termination of the arrangements at Kilverstone left the Club without a home ground, but here the Commanding Officer at R.A.F. Barnham came to their assistance and for the first of a number of years the Thetford Club came to rely for existence on R.A.F. Stations in Norfolk and Suffolk . When Barnham closed down it was hoped that the club would be able to purchase the sports ground and pavilion from the Ministry of Defence but this was not to be and it was extremely fortunate that facilities for the game were made available at R.A.F. Feltwell and at R.A.F. Honington successive Commanding Officers at these R.A.F Stations are to be thanked for allowing the Thetford Club to continue the use of pitches and changing accommodation right up to 1972 when the club at last had its own ground.
December 1963 saw the birth of the name Heathens for the 2nd.xv
Discussions with AirScrew Weyroc to have a joint ground in 1964 at Barnham Common
The Crown Agents looking for a suitable site in 1964
Permission to use the town crest applied for in 1964
W,Rollings 1st. Thetford name put forward as a referee in 1964
1968 players to buy own kit, previously supplied and fixture cards
to be sold to all members
The problem of finding a meeting place was not quite so acute but this also caused headaches from time to time. the first meetings were held at the Anchor Hotel thanks to the then landlords Neville and Jean Bishop , they were unable to offer after match refreshments, but a stroke of fortune that the Landlord of the Dolphin at the time was Dennis Carnelly, for he not only opened a club-room on the premises , but with a playing record which included representative games for the Navy and Kent he became the first Captain of the Club, the club continued to use the Dolphin as its headquarters for a number of years under various landlords , then moved to the Grafton Arms and the Trowel and Hammer before moving to Two Mile Bottom.
The survival of the club owes a considerable debt to a small and forever changing hardcore of members, such as Mike Webb, Martin Lock, Bob Hogg, Charles Watson, Ron Barrell, Mike Robinson, John Smith, Bill Newtown, Des Allan, Chris Lawrence, John Allan, and Tim Nash, among some of the playing members Peter Cooke, Jeff Bowles, Tony Clark (large) Tony Clark(small), Doug Whalebelly, and Ian Clark will be remembered for their work as Officers of the Club during these formative years , apart from the help and use of R.A.F. personnel Thetford forged links with the U.S.A.F. bases at Lakenheath and Mildenhall enticing some useful players from American football
It would be quite wrong to ignore the contribution made by the Ladies in the early days supporting the various functions and fund raising , teas and of course cleaning kit and when the ground was being prepared helping with the stone picking.
The search for a home was going on during all of the early years and it was extremely frustrating that to all concerned with the running of the club that they were unable to obtain a suitable site within a reasonable distance of the town centre in an area which is so rural in character. Similar feelings would be experienced by someone dying of thirst in mid ocean .
There were many fruitless hours picking stones on one proposed site near Barnham Cross Common and many searches and abortive negotiations before the Club was fortunate in securing the lease of the ground at Two Mile Bottom.
First mention of site at Two Mile Bottom Oct.1968
June 1969 outline permission granted to use ground as playing field and trustees formed Aug.
Before it was built the club house was scheduled to be built on the south side of the ground, but the road safety ,electricity and water supply problems had it re-sited.
lease starts 1st. Jan. 1970 (45 yr. Lease with option to renew) £25 first 5 yrs. £ 60 next 5 yrs. £ 100 next 4 yrs. Then 7 yearly reviews.
A fence was required along the road to stop people from getting in .
Paul Rackham levels field, summer 1970 , seeded, rolled and. Stone picked
Clubhouse design discussed Jan 71. members loans agreed.
First trustees were D.W.Cunningham. A.J.Clarke, J.A.Clark.
Much generous help was received from Vice Presidents, individuals and local firms in levelling and preparing the pitches , planning and building the clubhouse .
As a matter of interest the whole of the money required for the building of the clubhouse had been raised by means of interest free loans from members, grants from the National Playing Field Association, The Rugby Football Union and Greene King , The Borough Council offered to cut the grass.
The first fixture played at Two Mile Bottom was against Norwich Lions on the 4th. Sept. 1972 , Captained by Mike Davies the team included :- Robin Watson, Steve Baker, Tony Allnutt, Russell Pitcher, Mike Wilson, Bill Rawlings, Pete Robbins, Andy Ward, Derek Jones, John Dresser and Ian Clark with Bill Rollings refereeing . Thetford won by 10 pts. to 8 . Which was also the first victory against Norwich.
Sunday the 1st. October was a red letter day in the clubs history when Two Mile Bottom was officially opened by Mr.E.G.Tweedy, an immediate Past President of Eastern Counties and a game was played between the Thetford President’s XV and Ronnie Williams XV .
The playing area , thanks to Reg Flowerdew with the help of Dick Scott made the pitches the envy of all the Eastern Counties , this work was continued by Roy (Buster )Brown until his untimely death , Tim Crowley, Tony Maxey, Frank Devlin, Steve Farmbrough and Andy Luckhurst.
The Thetford Town Cricket Club made application to join as did
The Thetford Tennis Club and build some courts.in 1972 and the
1ST. Use for firework display by the Round Table
1st. County Game at Two Mile Bottom Norfolk V’s Hunts 1972
The 1973 season was not very successful on the playing side as the three day week and a stony ground created a few to many injuries and call offs ,.
1974 saw one of the legends of Thetford Rugby Club take over his first stint at the captaincy, Pete Plant (who is still available to play in 2002) , he was renowned for his enthusiasm and hard training regimes , The club also fielded three teams which all won on the first Saturday of the new season. In the October Thetford travelled to Hurth in Germany , Thetford’s twin town, and lost 9 - 8 on a saturated pitch , the club returned to Hurth in the June of 1975 as part of a mixed sports weekend and won 23 -12 returning with the Ben Culey Cup .
1st adverts appeared in fixture cards 1975, it was at this time that plans were drawn up for the extension to the club-house and was discussed at the A.G.M. Guarantors for extension loan obtained, Built 1975/6 ,all personal loans repaid by April 1976
To show how the club had grown the second team had fielded 60 players during the season, and the thirds had won more games than the previous two seasons put together.
1976 saw the highest score to date by a Thetford side of over 100 points when the second team beat Newmarket 2nd’s 112 - 0.
The club entered the Norwich sevens, and sent an all American team to the Bury St. Edmunds sevens getting to the third round before losing to Bury 2nds. With the addition of the various service men from around the area Thetford were able to field four teams on several occasions . Easter 1976 saw Thetford play against Hurth at Two Mile Bottom and won 24-6 retaining the Ben Culey Cup.
A management committee was formed in 1976 and at the A.G.M. the subscriptions were raised to £6 for players ,£5 for V.P.s and £3 for non playing members , Bill Jennings was congratulated for becoming the first Thetford member to be elected the Norfolk Rugby Union President.
All players at this time had to purchase their own shirts, then in 1977 the club supplied a set for the first team, under the captaincy of John Crisp saw Thetford play for the Battered Ball Trophy which was played between Thetford and an American side at U.S.A.F. Lakenheath ,in a close fought game Thetford won 9 - 7. Apart from the extension a sum of money was granted to provide a watering system for the pitches which were suffering in the summer due to very sandy soil and hot weather.
In 1978 the clubhouse was extended to it’s present size and the bar made much larger, with a V.P. lounge ,
1980-81 saw the first ground improvement (top field levelled but not used).
Presentation to the club in 1983 by the Mildenhall Anglo-American Committee recognizing organisations for their contribution as a group towards friendship and harmony .
1984 was the year an Elephant was borrowed from Red Lodge as a fund raising idea for the Harrods Bomb Victims leading to a court case where Messrs. Smith, Bailey, Riggs, Frost, Mitchell and Strutton had to pay a fine and costs.
1985 Pitch side railings erected
1986 saw the first sponsored logo’s on shirts by Anglia Panel Products
(Andy Luckhurst ) and the Gym under the bar room was completed
1987/88 saw the first Courage league season and Thetford found it difficult to compete in Eastern Counties Division 1
1978 saw the start of the tours to Berry Hill and Jersey which gave rise to some of the infamy which the club enjoyed over the following years as when the Horses Head appeared in a room where it should not have been (1980) ,
the removing of the Jersey States Police sign from the wall of the Police Station ( caught in the act ),
the borrowing of a diesel generator and starting up on the top floor of the hotel
the streak across the Jersey 1st. Team match with Newport
the Hamster flying contest,
the new car redesigning to drive with no interior left
the wall demolishing contest inside the hotel
the eyebrow shaving, and many other instances that should not be mentioned.
1988 Lounge and bar walls Panelled by Anglia Panel Products and the kitchen refurbished
other alterations inside the building have seen the wine store removed and the space that was under the extension made into a gym and sauna. 2000 saw the original windows and outside doors replaced with new moulded plastic ones.
The original posts were supplied by the forestry and were replaced in 1990 with a set donated by Jeyes U.K. Ltd. 60ft. High
With various changes to the league system from a low point of Eastern Counties Division 4, in 1989? Thetford have both won and with reorganisation moved up to London League Division 4
This has been achieved under the leadership of several Captains, and a sound squad which has both benefitted and learned from various players who have had to move on with their employment, most if not all have enjoyed their time at the club,
The Thetford Hockey Club applied to join and build an all weather pitch on the site. Barnham Bowls club applied to make a bowling green .
Centre Parcs and Danepak for two years ran their company fun day.
Round Table uses the club for functions ,Burns nights , birthday parties and wedding receptions .
Balloon Flights regularly take off from the ground
1995 saw the top field levelled for the second time and put into use as a third pitch mainly for the youth and this has since become the home of Thetford Independent’s Youth Football club with three soccer pitches
For two seasons it was used by South Norfolk Saints Rugby League Club in the summer months.
Over the years the club has hosted many County games from the under 12's to the full county side and it has been used for the Cambridge University Ladies rugby training week for the last six years and has hosted several cup finals, and sevens tournaments,
1997-8-9- won Junior cup
2000 Bath removed and all showers fitted
Since the Millenium the club has moved on and has a strong Ladies section playing most weeks during the season ,
the Rugby League club has moved back in 2003 and now enjoys the summer months ,
in 2004 the club has started to raise funds to put up Playing Lights on the main pitch
the junior football club has been joined by Thetford Ladies Football Club who play matches regularly ,
The Rugby club's league position varies according to reorganisation and success with the 2003/4 season being unbeaten in a league which the standard is to low
the junior section is going strong but as always needs more children of all ages