Northampton Demons host St Albans Centurions this weekend at Bugbrooke RFC for their National South Conference Rugby League Clash, kick off 2:30pm. The Cents were the first side the Demons faced this season giving them a 32 – 0 drubbing as a welcome to the league present whilst we also came 90 minutes from losing Captain James [...]
RUGBY LEAGUE IN THE 80’s & 90’s
The first Rugby League club to be set up in the county was Nene Valley Rugby League Club which was set up in 1989.
Their first fixture was played in late April 1989 was against a combined Newmarket, Cambridge & Tendring side at the home of Cambridge City Tigers. Nene Valley played in borrowed red shirts with a black trim round the collar and cuffs and black shorts with red socks and went down 42-10. Apparently the team had 18 players and more than 20 spectators at the game! The club’s second fixture was against Milton Keynes “A “which was lost 56-26.
In June 1989 the club joined the Midlands and South West Amateur Rugby League Association, MASWARLA, and the Eastern Counties Federation.
June 17th saw the club’s first home match against Arley/Milton Keynes which was lost 36-16. One month later the team played Swindon at Boundary Avenue, Rushden.
The club’s finest hour was when they entered the Chester Sevens on 11th August which was a big tournament for development sides. Although we lost all of our three matches, lightening Irish winger Dennis Cuddihy scoring the only try after a kick to the corner by an inventive if not slightly old and unfit scrum half. The club received the David Pickett Shield for the best & fairest side eliminated after the group stage – our only trophy – which Phil Caplan was overjoyed to collect – sad but true. Picture is in RL Development News!
In September 1990 the club played two fixtures losing to Birmingham 56 – 0 and West Midlands Police 53 – 10.
The next info that relates to Nene Valley is for the following season,1991, when the side played in the newly formed Eastern Counties RL along with Hemel, Peterborough, Cambridge, St Ives, Newmarket, Milton Keynes & Cambridge A. The early results to hand are: 27/10/91 – Newmarket (A) L 22-12, Peterborough (A) L 86-6, Cambridge (H) L 58-6, all other scores 18-0 – forfeited
In early 1992 the ECRL had broken away from British Amateur Rugby League Association and affiliated itself to the Rugby Football League. On Sept 22nd 1992, Nene Valley became Northampton.
Phil Caplan’s next association was with Northampton Knights (then under Steve Newcombe) – who in 1992 had won the West Midlands Challenge Cup against West Midlands Police in the final – when he helped to stage a pre-season ‘Tudor Rose Trophy’ at the Dog & Duck Ground of Wellingborough FC featuring Academy sides from professional clubs Huddersfield and Oldham and a team from Hemel. One of the referees was Fred Lindop.
In the Tudor Rose Tournament Northampton beat Hemel 24-4 (tries: Craig Simpson, Jess Kightly, Mark Shepherd 2, Lee Coleman, goals: Coleman 2), Huddersfield (who included later French international Laurent Lucchesse) beat Oldham (including Damien Munro and Paul Norman) 22-12. In the Plate Oldham beat Hemel 44-4 and in the Grand Final, Huddersfield beat Northampton 16-6 (try – George Leonard, goal Lee Coleman. Crowd 150
In the 1992/3 season Steve Mullaney from Featherstone was the star player that year and man of the match in the final – ironically picking up the Dave Pickett Memorial Shield – scoring 50 points in 12 matches while the top points scorer was Kiwi Sean MacDonald with 86 from 16 games. Their full record was: Eastern Counties League – P9 W4 L5 F176 A206 / East Midlands Cup (L in semis to Clowne) and West Midlands Cup – P6 W5 L1 F191 A131 / Friendlies – P7 W2 L5 F109 A158 Total – P22 W11 L11 F476 A493.
In August 1994 the then Northampton Knights team entered the National Conference League Division 2. The team was coached by Paul Johnstone who had coaching experience with Fulham, Hemel and Southern RL in general. The club started off playing at Dallington Park in the town but moved to the then council owned Sixfields stadium.
Their first game was an away fixture against Milford which they lost 36 points to 5 on August 27th 1994. Man of the match, skipper Darren Griffin scored their try – a 50 metre solo effort – and half back partner Jess Kightly a drop goal with honourable mentions for the performances of props Chris and Mick Bryant, the tackling of Andy Clancy and Carl Mitchell and strong runs of winger Ian Kimpton.
The following week, September 4th saw the first home game against York Acorn. The programme showed a lot of vision for the sport in Northampton and announced that the Sixfields stadium would be used on November 6th for the game against Thornhill. Before this game the club suffered 3 more defeats in what proved to be a tough baptism of fire. Indeed the team did not win a single match that season.
Expectations were high at that point and in the programme notes for the first game Steve Newcombe talked about employing a Development Officer and introducing the sport to the schoolchildren of the town. Both of these ideas are both plans and actual events that have happened with the current Northampton Rugby League Club.
In this season the Knights lost all 22 matches scoring 185 points but conceding 1158 points. Paul Johnstone did not last long as the coach as he lived in West London. The travelling to training and matches in the North of England were the main reasons for his departure.
During the close season there was talk of a merger with the Leicester and Peterborough RL teams. This merger did not happen with players from Peterborough not being interested and then it was too late in the day to sort anything out with Leicester. The 1995 – 96 season saw the club plan to play their games at the Sixfields Athletic stadium which backs on to the football ground.
The Knights were then expelled from the league in November 1995. Presumably this was for the continued non – fulfillment of fixtures.
The next information that relates to Rugby League in the town is when Halifax played Sheffield Eagles in July 1996 at the Sixfields Stadium. This fixture was part of a drive by the newly formed Super League to take fixtures to different parts of the country. Northampton was one such venue and the fixture attracted over 4,000 spectators on a Friday evening. At that time Steve Newcombe had also set up a company to raise funds for the setting up of a professional RL team in the town. Sadly that venture did not materialize.
In its time, the club had some excellent ideas. Namely the games were recorded and sold as videos around the town. There were plans to show the games on hospital TV in the county and a lottery was set up to provide revenue for the club. A comprehensive player’s handbook was produced for the 1993 – 94 season.
Some two years later in 1998 an application was made to the Rugby League Conference. The RFL turned it down on the basis that the clubs organisation was not up to scratch. In 2005 another application was made from a group that included ex Students from the towns university. The application was accepted but the team never made it onto the playing field.
THE CURRENT NORTHAMPTON RUGBY LEAGUE CLUB
Based on a desire to set up a Rugby League team in Northampton, Andrew Quirke placed a number of articles on various websites about the formation of a Rugby League team in the town in late 2006. Offers of assistance were received from Coventry Bears and three other Rugby League enthusiasts living in Northampton. The founding members were Andrew, Richard Heighton, Patrick Wilson and Chris Welch who met in March 2007 and put in place a plan to set up a team.
Local RU clubs were contacted and after visiting Northampton Casuals RFC agreement were reached to base the club at this facility.
As soon as the Rugby Union season ended, training began for the newly formed team with 18 players attending the first session from local RU clubs and the University of Northampton Rugby League side.
The club was accepted into the London League which operates on a Merit League basis. Geographically Northampton is some distance from the London teams and due to this fact played fixtures against teams from the Midlands RL Merit League for example Nottingham Outlaws as well as St Albans and Bedford.
The club played its first fixture on May 13th 2007, after four training sessions, against a predominantly first team from Bedford Tigers losing 56 -12. This was the first time Rugby League had been played in Northampton by a non-university side since the mid 1990s. Indeed one of the players from that era, Mick Bryant, had joined the newly formed team. Two weeks later the team recorded its first victory over St Albans Centurions second team. The club went on to play a further six fixtures in 2007. A victory, a draw and four defeats were the results of those games but the club had been established in the town.
13/5 Northampton 12 Bedford 56
26/5 St Albans 16 Northampton 46
3/6 Northampton 20 Nottingham 24
9/6 Northampton 36 Bedford 44
30/6 Bedford 58 Northampton 24
14/7 German Exiles 22 Northampton 22
21/7 Nottingham 52 Northampton 10
28/7 Bedford 24 Northampton 50
As a means of attracting players and raising the profile of the club leaflets were distributed at the final home games for Northampton Town FC & Northampton Saints in April 2007. After the Saints game, a parent whose child played Rugby Union from Olney in Bedfordshire, contacted Andrew to see if his and other children could play Rugby League. Junior development wasn’t in the original remit of the club but seeing a great opportunity for the growth of the club the children joined to form the Northampton Knights Junior Rugby League Club. As a result over 30 juniors participated in the sport of Rugby League. The culmination of this was their entry into the Birmingham Junior Rugby League festival in July 2007 where teams at the under-11 and under-13 age groups played against teams from Coventry Bears, Derby City, Nottingham Outlaws, Telford Raiders and Birmingham Bulldogs. To this day the junior section draws a large number of its players from Olney.
The end of July 2007 would normally have been the end of RL activity in the town for that particular season. However in August 2007 all the local RU clubs were approached about their junior players joining the RL junior section. A very positive response was received from Kettering RU club. Following this and the positive response of the existing players and parents it was decide to recommence training for the juniors in October 2007. After poor attendances at the training sessions the club decided that fixtures would attract more players and in November 2007 Northampton Knights Junior Rugby League Club joined the Chiltern League. The Chiltern League was based around cluster clubs attached to Hemel Hempstead and St Albans plus a team from Aylesbury. The idea was that the league would allow junior players to play RL during the winter months. Initially Northampton joined forces with Aylesbury Knights but towards the end of the season player numbers from Aylesbury diminished and Northampton took over the fixtures in their own right. The team played 2 fixtures under that banner.
PRE SEASON 2008
Determined to attract more players to the club, Northampton Rugby League contacted Northampton Saints RU to try and raise awareness of the club and in March 2008 Chris Ashton, current Northampton Saints and ex Wigan RL player, hosted a training session for both the adult and junior players. This event helped to further raise the profile of the club and the event was featured in all the local press and the regional news programmes on BBC & ITV.
The adult side competed in the 2008 Rugby League Conference Eastern Division playing against teams such as St Ives, Thetford, Greenwich, Colchester, Hainault and Cambridge. Although it proved a tough season, results and travelling wise, the club learnt a lot of hard lessons which stood it in good stead for the following season. Like its first season, the club attracted new adult players who were able to play RL for the first time.
The clubs 4 junior teams enjoyed a very successful season with the Under 16 team winning the Midlands competition and the Under 14 team finishing mid table. The Under 12 and 11 age groups competed in 5 festivals at other Midlands clubs and the Under 11’s came second in the Mighty Quins Festival played at the last home game at Harlequins RL in September 2009.
Information relating to results for the 5 teams from the 2008 season can be found on the club website, www.northamptonrl.co.uk
BUILDING A SOLID BASE FOR THE CLUB
Previous attempts to set up a club had floundered because there was no flow of players from a junior section to the adult team and the team had to travel to Lancashire, Yorkshire & Cumbria to play fixtures. Rugby League in 2008 is a different proposition. The Rugby League Conference was set up and is aimed at setting up clubs in the non traditional areas. RLC clubs now exist in Coventry, Bedford, Birmingham, Derby and Cambridge alongside Northampton to name a few. This means that Northampton RL plays against clubs more local than in the mid 1990’s when the Knights played in the National Conference League.
To ensure the long term success of the club funding was secured from various avenues to start coaching in schools. Approval was reached from the Partnership Managers employed by Northamptonshire County Council and the Competition Managers for the club to introduce the sport to schoolchildren. Coaching started in Weston Favell School in November 2008. During the early part of 2009 it is hoped that other schools within Northampton will start to receive weekly coaching sessions.
The success of the junior section is epitomised by the fact that an under 15 team is successfully competing in its own right in the 2008/9 Chiltern League. Many RL clubs hibernate for the winter but the entry of the under 15 team with 25 registered and playing members is a sure sign that the roots of the sport are taking a firm hold in Northampton. In October 2008 the under 15 team won the pre season Chiltern League 9’s tournament against 4 other teams and won the League Leaders trophy and Grand Final of the Chiltern League.
The autumn of 2008 saw the club and its members receive a number of awards. Patrick Wilson was awarded the Midlands Service Area Young Volunteer of the Year and the Northampton Borough Council Young Volunteer of the Year Award. Andrew Quirke received the Rugby League Conference Volunteer of the Year Award. Capping it all, the club was awarded the prestigious Clubmark award. Northampton is the first rugby league club in the East Midlands to achieve the award. Northampton, along with Birmingham Bulldogs, was presented with the award on the pitch before the Gillette Fusion international between England and Wales.
To achieve the award Northampton RLFC had to prove they met a series of challenging criteria. Having met these, Sport England recognized Northampton as having met high quality standards. This should help sell the club to young people, parents and schools as well as open access further funding opportunities in the future. Particular areas that the club had to prove themselves in included, the playing and participation programme, duty of care and safeguarding and protecting children, sports equity and ethics, and club management.
After the adult teams last fixture of the 2008 season Richard Heighton stepped down as the coach of the adult team. He had been coaching both the adults and under 16’s. He felt that he wanted to devote his energies and time to just the Under 16 team. The club approached Joe Smith about taking up the role of coaching the adult team. Jo had played with Northampton in their debut season in 2007 after a highly successful career with Coventry Bears. Joe had won both National League and Regional Divisional titles with the Bears. Moving clubs would be a wrench for Jo and after much deliberation he agreed to take on the role. Joe enlisted the help of ex Barrow player Gary Campbell as his assistant and it is hoped to take the team to the next level.
The adult team competed in the RLC Eastern Division which originally comprised Northampton, Cambridge, St Ives, Bury Titans, Norwich, Hainault A and Colchester. This should have given the team 12 fixtures but frustratingly both Cambridge and Hainault dropped out of the league at various points.
The appointment of Joe and Gary heralded a much stronger and successful campaign. Player numbers increased and on the field the team remained undefeated in the RLC East, 6 points clear of their nearest rivals Bury Titans and ended up as Grand Final winners over the Titans. Victory in the Grand Final ensured qualification for the National Play Off’s and after victories over Parkside Hawks, in the Quarter Final, and Devon Sharks in the Semi Final the club made it through to the Rugby League Conference Regional National Final. On September 13th 2009 Northampton Rugby League Club were crowned the National Champions of the Rugby League Conference Regional Competition following a 40 – 14 victory over Jarrow Vikings in only its 2nd year competing at this level.
The junior teams competed in the newly formed Kukri Midlands league at Under 12, 14 & 16 age groups. Over 120 junior players registered with the club which was a 50% increase from the previous year. On the field the three teams enjoyed a high level of success. The Under 12’s won the Grand Final against Telford Raiders 30 -16, the Under 14’s were narrowly beaten 24 – 20 by Redditch Ravens and the 16’s were defeated in the semi final stage by Nottingham Outlaws. An Under 11 team was also run in 2009 and they played fixtures against St Albans, Coventry, Telford and Nottingham.