Recalling when Sidmouth RFC became the first club to lift Devon Junior and Senior Cups in successive seasons

PUBLISHED: 08:33 18 June 2020

Sidmouth RFC after their 1896 win of the Devon Senior Cup. Picture SRFC

Sidmouth RFC after their 1896 win of the Devon Senior Cup. Picture SRFC

Archant

Continuing our series from Sidmouth RFC of the ‘top 10 seasons’ for the club through the eyes – and pen – of Terry O’Brien.

This week we have reached third place and the season Terry has chosen is the campaign of 1895-96.

In 1890, the officials of Sidmouth Football Club, as it was then called, considered the club to be sufficiently well established to join the Devon Rugby Football Union and hence the RFU itself.

Sidmouth’s membership was proposed by Exeter and seconded by Crediton and duly ratified at the County AGM held in August of 1890.

Sidmouth now became eligible to take part in the Devon Junior Cup, which was in its third year.

The first match in a cup competition, away to Budleigh Salterton, was won 11-0. They went on to reach the area final, where they were beaten by Exeter Oaks.

In March 1895, Sidmouth won the area final for the first time and went on to win the cup, beating Ilfracombe 21-3 in the final played at the County Ground, Exeter.

This success elevated Sidmouth to the status as a senior club in the county and they duly entered the Senior Cup for the 1895-96 season.

It should be noted that many clubs did not enter the cup competitions.

Some, because of the potential travelling involved, and many of the top clubs, such as Exeter, Barnstaple and Devonport Albion, did not want to dilute their fixture lists. The county’s top club, Devonport Albion, entered their A team.

There were seven other teams entered: Dartmouth, Devonport Albion A, Exeter Oaks, Exmouth, Paignton, Plymouth and Totnes. The organisers decided to run the competition as a league instead of a knock-out competition.

This arrangement posed Sidmouth with a major financial and logistical challenge at this stage of the club’s development.

The number of fixtures, including their normal list of friendlies played in the immediate East Devon area, had risen from 21 the previous season to 33 with significant travelling commitments.

It is important too that this was before the age of the internal combustion engine. (It would be another 17 years before James Dagworthy’s char-a-bang would transport teams to away matches).

Travel was by train, horse-drawn carriage and occasionally boat. And, as we will see, sometimes all three.

Despite an early loss to Exeter Oaks, Sidmouth won their remaining games up to Christmas to be in contention going into 1896.

Although they had lost at Plymouth, it was subsequently found their opponents had played an ineligible player and the game was awarded to Sidmouth.

On December 28, they had an eventful time for their away match at Dartmouth. They travelled to Exmouth by carriage then took the Starcross ferry across the Exe before completing the journey by train.

They arrived to find the Dartmouth the pitch shrouded in thick fog. The game could not go ahead and, after a visit to a local hostelry for refreshment, they embarked on the return journey.

Misfortune struck when the ferry became grounded on a sandbank, where they were stuck until the tide came in to re-float them in the early hours. They eventually arrived back in Sidmouth on Sunday morning.

Sidmouth suffered a second defeat by 0-8 in their first meeting with Devonport A at the Blackmore Field. The Plymouth side were now installed as firm favourites until they were surprisingly beaten at Exmouth.

Sidmouth travelled to Devonport for the return match on Saturday March 28, when a victory for either side would win the cup.

Devonport started the match as clear favourites.

Sidmouth played with a strong wind in their favour during the first half but were unable to capitalise and the score was 0-0 at the break.

They defended superbly in the second half before breaking out in the closing minutes and Sammy Skinner kicked a drop goal to win the game.

Sidmouth had become the first and only club to win the Junior and Senior Cups in successive seasons.

The result was telegraphed back to Sidmouth and the team was met at the station for a torchlight procession through the town to the Club headquarters at the Anchor Inn.

The following week, they had the formality of completing the season with the rearranged game at Dartmouth. They treated it as a celebratory day out, wearing top hats with green rosettes. They won 9-0 and completed the return journey this time without mishap.

Winning the Senior Cup would ensure that Sidmouth became established as a senior club in the county, a status which would remain, in good times and bad, until the advent of league rugby. This influenced the standard of local opposition on the fixture list and touring teams attracted to play at Sidmouth.

Along with the success of retaining the cup the following season, the attention of the county selectors was drawn to Sidmouth players.

During the next two years Percy Baron, Tommy Fitzgerald, Tom Woolley and Sammy Skinner represented Devon in the county championships. Percy Baron progressed to play for the South against the North in a final England trial in 1898 and played in the county championship final against Durham in 1900.

The small seaside town of Sidmouth was well and truly on the rugby map.


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