A LITTLE BIT OF HISTORY...
The club started in 1979 when some teachers recognised that there was a group of boys at Heathfield Community College who had both the talent and desire to play rugby. Some of those individuals are still involved in the club and their sons and even grandsons are now playing. Initially the club lacked a proper home and migrated around various establishments until finally settling in the barn at the Blackboys Inn. We’ve come a long way since then...
Early Days - 1980’s
After initially using the school facilities, the club gained use of the Waldron pitches. Socially the club wandered around various establishments including the Jack Cade before the Star at Waldron became the main watering hole. There was a brief disastrous period of using the village hall in Waldron in which we were not allowed to sell beer but had to ask for donations so this was short-lived.
Showering facilities at Waldron were primitive, ineffective and potentially lethal involving a battery and some iffy wiring.
In 1983 the landlord of the Blackboys Inn, Patrick Russell, offered the club the use of the barn next to his pub. This became the club’s home for the next decade and saw the gradual growth of membership and development of the distinctive atmosphere in the club. Pat sadly died a few years ago but he was a huge supporter of the club and is warmly remembered.
We continued to use the pitches at Waldron and the car journeys between Blackboys and Waldron caused muddy havoc to many car interiors, as well as making visiting teams feel that they were playing a bunch of country hicks. But results continued to improve and the first team became well established in Sussex League 1.
Members normally moved from the barn into the pub’s public bar as the afternoon and evening progressed, with many happy evenings being spent around the open fireplace on cold wintry evening...
The increasing size of the club also meant the involvement of a number of more mature individuals, often parents of current players. A number of these were instrumental in helping the club make the move from the Blackboys to Cross-In-Hand and the building of a new clubhouse in place of an old football pavilion on that site.
Paul Wilson, Peter Mercer, Simon Leney and Kelvin Bromley are among the key individuals who put in many hours of their time in the extensive negotiations with the Parish Council, fund-raising bodies, the RFU, etc, etc. The playing members were generally unaware all this effort but they all appreciated the end result – a clubhouse which has a fine reputation as a friendly place and which naturally includes a fireplace for those cold winter nights.
The first team was now enjoying a purple patch as one particular generation of players were at their peak. Promotion to London 3 SE was achieved and wins were achieved over teams such as Lewes, East Grinstead, Worthing, Bognor, Hove and Haywards Heath who had previously been beyond our range.
Roy Wickham coached the team the first time that we won Sussex I. He was followed by Ken Chichester who was a magician of the game and often out-thought the opposition.
In 1997 we had a great run in the RFU Intermediate Cup beating Jersey away, Askeans (then a London 1 team) and reached the London Semi Final just losing to Ipswich.
The big development in these years was the expansion of the mini and junior sections. Bob Woods had laboured almost unaided for many years running the mini section. Eventually the weight of numbers of boys meant that a more organised structure was needed and Douglas Wardle was the key man in making this happen. This took a while to work out and at times the junior and minis seemed to be entirely unconnected with the main club. Eventually all was reconciled and they now form an essential part of the main club with their management teams reporting to the main club Board.
The 1st team gradually slipped back from its previous high point and bounced between London 4 SE and Sussex 1 for a couple of seasons. It was clear that we had enjoyed one especially good generation of players but that inadequate attention had been paid to developing their successors.
During this time the management structure of the club was being developed and longer term planning became possible.
Part of this involved the appointment of Dave Jones as 1st team coach and the recruitment of a Youth Development Officer.
The original main pitch at Cross-In-Hand had a serious slope on it with a big drop away in the far corner. Supported by the RFU and the Parish Council, the club invested in the necessary earthworks, drainage and reseeding. This produced a superb playing surface which was formally opened by Jason Leonard in October 2004 on a big day for the club.
The 1st team won Sussex 1 unbeaten and were thus promoted to London 3 SE.
After cruising through Sussex 1 the previous season, there was some uncertainty as to how we would do in London 3 SE. However the team gradually realised that it was competitive and eventually ended in third place. Promotion became a possibility but the two teams ahead had too great a start.
One of the highlights was the home match against Tonbridge Juddians who had extensively (and expensively) rebuilt their team. The Greenies gave them their toughest match of the season, leading until well into the second half. Juddians have since been promoted on three successive seasons.
During this season the Cypress Field was finally declared available. This magnificent playing surface was enjoyed by the 1st team in particular, with the back division often cutting loose against weaker teams.
Promotion from London 3 SE beckoned as we led the league for most of the season but for the second season in a row we were third in the league, just out of the promotion slots.
We became the focus of much media interest in March when three generations of the Burdett family took to the field for our fourth team, something than cannot have happened too many times before in the history of the game. Grandfather and Club veteran Brian played at scrum half feeding his son Brady at fly half with his son, Jeremy, playing outside his dad at inside centre! This unusual event was covered by the BBC, ITV and Sky.
London 3 SE was a desperately tight battle all season as we fought Charlton Park and Crowborough for the two promotion slots. An early away loss to Charlton Park was immediately followed by an unexpected away loss to Horsham, at least partially caused by the large number of injured players. The season eventually hinged on the away game at Crowborough and we had to come from behind to snatch a win in the dying minutes on a noisy, exciting, heart-stopping day. With promotion assured, the league title was secured by beating Crawley in the last match of the season.
Also, the U13 became Sussex Champions and the U16 and Colts reached their respective Sussex Finals. All the age groups did well reflecting great credit on the coaches and management teams as well as the contribution by the YDO.
London 2 SE proved to be a tough competitive league in which we beat some highly ranked teams but irritatingly lost to some lesser ones. The last kick of the last league game of the season gained a bonus point that secured our place for next year. The team learnt a good deal and a significant number of young players have been introduced to 1st team rugby. We are expecting plenty of close games this season and will be targeting a mid-table position.
Rugby in general and the Club in particular lost a great supporter and remarkable man in May 2012 when the Rev John Lamborne finally lost his battle with cancer.
The Junior Section again had a good year but the undoubted highlight was the National Bowl title won by the U17 team at Worcester Warriors Sixways Stadium, beating Shrewsbury 53-23 on a great day for the club. They came from behind very late in their two previous games beating Wymondham and Taunton in tough encounters. We look forward to many of these players evolving into the senior part of the club very soon.