Rugby on Boxing Day

A match on the Blackmore in the 1890s. Picture; TERRY O'BRIEN

A match on the Blackmore in the 1890s. Picture; TERRY O'BRIEN - Credit: Archant

The Blackmore Field, home of Sidmouth Rugby Club, was sadly empty and silent on Boxing Day, as another popular annual event fell victim to the coronavirus. 
The Boxing Day rugby match has always attracted one of the biggest crowds of the season and, since the Club opened its first bar in 1961, people have gathered to carry on the festive celebrations. Especially, it has been the venue for those who travelled home for Christmas to reunite with old friends and former team-mates.      
The playing of rugby or football on Boxing Day has been a tradition throughout the country since before the formation of either the Football Association or the Rugby Union. The earliest games would have been between teams made up from within the same town or neighbouring villages each playing according to their own unique rules. 
The first record of a Boxing Day game played in Sidmouth appeared in an article in Letheby’s Journal on New Year’s Day 1875, nine years before the Rugby Club was formed. 
The game was played on the Coburg Field, where “a good few players entered heartily upon the game for two or three hours”.  
In 1884, the year the Club was founded, Sidmouth visited Chard on Boxing Day. The following year Chard were due to play at Sidmouth but cancelled. At short notice, a game was arranged between married men and those who were single.  
In 1888, Sidmouth fielded three teams on Boxing Day. The 1st Team played Honiton at home, while the 2nds travelled to Exeter Oaks and a 3rd Team played at Honiton. 
By the end of the 19th century, touring teams, usually from Wales, were providing the opposition. In 1904, Cardiff Macintosh were the opposition on both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, losing 0-3 and drawing 3-3 respectively. They clearly loved Sidmouth as they returned to play on Easter Monday, winning 3-0 to level the series. 
This continued until 1950, when Salisbury became the last Boxing Day tourists. In 1951, in the absence of a visiting side, the president Tommy Sanders assembled an invitation team, TS Sanders XV.  
The President’s XV match has continued ever since.   

Tommy Sanders arranged the first President's XV match in 1951

Tommy Sanders arranged the first President's XV match in 1951 - Credit: Terry O'Brien

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