Sidmouth rugby and the Devon Senior Cup
- Credit: Terry O'Brien
By winning the Devon Junior Cup in 1895, Sidmouth became a Senior Club, and now became eligible to enter for the Senior Cup, which they did.
At that time, the decision to take part in a county cup competition was not straightforward. There were financial implications as a club’s only income was from gate receipts and subscriptions. Also, there were logistical issues, particularly in a county the size of Devon.
This was the age before motor transport. The development of mass-participation sport became possible because of introduction of the railway system. While this enabled long distance travel, a journey depended on the timetable and the number of changes at branch lines involved.
In the 1895-96 season, eight teams entered for the Senior Cup: Dartmouth, Devonport Albion ‘A’, Exeter Oaks, Exmouth, Paignton, Plymouth, Sidmouth and Totnes. The format was a straight league competition with matches home and away.
Sidmouth were in contention throughout, but Devonport Albion became favourites when they won at the Blackmore in February. However, Albion’s unexpected defeat at Exmouth, opened the way for Sidmouth. A victory in their return game at Devonport would win the cup.
The game was played on Saturday, March 28, with Devonport strong favourites playing in front of a big crowd of home supporters. When Sidmouth failed to score in the first half, playing with a strong wind in their favour, the bookies odds shortened.
Sidmouth raised their game in the second half. They defended superbly and stretched the home side on the occasional breakaway. In the closing minutes, Sammy Skinner kicked a drop goal to win the game and make Sidmouth the only team ever to win the Junior and Senior cups in successive seasons.
The following season, Sidmouth defended the cup but this time only six teams were entered. The format was a league with the top four teams then playing off in a knock-out. Sidmouth finished second to Exeter Oaks and were drawn against them in the semi-final. The match was played at Exmouth, with Sidmouth winning by a goal and a try to nil.
The final against Totnes, played at the County Ground, was a dour affair with both side failing to rise to the occasion. Once again Sammy Skinner provided the only score of the game with a penalty goal.
On their return home, the team were greeted with the traditional torchlight procession to the Anchor Inn led by the band.
It was another 33 years before they would reach the final again. Having been losing semi-finalist five times during the 1920s, they travelled to Torquay to play Brixham in the final on March 29, 1930.
Brixham’s strong pack made them favourites but, on the day, the Sidmouth forwards matched them well. Scrum half Arthur Bagwell had an outstanding game, as the match report noted, he ‘seemed to have a hand in every movement’.
Fly half Chip Mortimore was also influential and centre George Carter made several important tackles. Brixham applied early pressure after full back Bunny Palmer was forced to concede a five-metre scrum but good work by the Sidmouth forwards cleared the danger.
Despite the rain, the Sidmouth backs posed a threat as they moved the ball into the open. Three times speedy winger Mossy Turner was tackled into touch just short of the line and the score remained 0-0 at half time.
Sidmouth took control for much of the second half. Both Turner and fellow wing Snip Courtney came close to scoring before Bagwell dispossessed his opposite number at a scrum and Bert Welsman dribbled on the loose ball before kicking it over the line for Turner to win the chase and touch down a decisive try.
Towards the end, Sidmouth produced the best handling move of the match, which ended with Turner diving over in the corner but there had been a foot in touch.
Sidmouth held on to the three-point lead and arrived home to enjoy a torchlight procession, this time to the new HQ at the Commercial Hotel (now the Black Horse).