The rise and rise of the Sidmouth RFC junior section 1946 to 2020

Sidmouth RFC Junior section from the early 1990s. Picture: SRFC

Sidmouth RFC Junior section from the early 1990s. Picture: SRFC - Credit: Archant

Following World War II, the Sidmouth Colts were reformed under the leadership of Frank Ellis and played their first match in November 1946 against Chard School, winning 6-0, writes Terry O’Brien.

Sidmouth RFC Colts after their 1971 Tiverton Sevens success. Picture; SRFC

Sidmouth RFC Colts after their 1971 Tiverton Sevens success. Picture; SRFC - Credit: Archant

At this time the Colts played on a field between Yarde Hill and Manstone Lane, adjacent to the Recreation Ground, when Blackmore was not available.

Also, in 1946 Glyn Evans, a teacher at St Nicholas Primary School “with an eye to the future, each Saturday morning on the Blackmore Field instructs any schoolboy who cares to attend in the game of Rugby Football”.

Unfortunately, in 1949 Glyn Evans left the area and the first introduction of junior rugby was not continued.

1960 saw the demise of the Colts with serious consequences for the club.

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The club playing record declined along with the number of players during the 1960s with the Chiefs recording their worst ever record of six wins from 36 games in 1965-66. The reintroduction of the Colts the previous season thanks to the efforts of Stan Baker would act as the catalyst for a remarkable revival in the 1970s.

Another important factor in the revival was the arrival in 1967 of Keith Roberts as a PE teacher at the then Sidmouth Secondary Modern School. He reintroduced rugby to the curriculum after many years. This boosted the recruitment to the Colts. The numbers and quality were such that they could field a competitive team, while their more talented players reinforced the first and second teams. They would win the prestigious Tiverton Colts Sevens in 1967, 1968 and 1971.

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In 1969 the club were awarded the tenancy of the field at Sidford, which would benefit the Colts, enable the introduction of a third team and eventually provide the space for the growth of a junior section.

On Monday, September 15, 1971 Sidmouth became the fourth club in England and the first in Devon to start a junior section.

A group of current and ex-players joined me to greet about 40 boys aged 9 to 13 for the first coaching session at the Blackmore Field. When light declined in October sessions moved to the now traditional Sundays.

No fixtures were played in that first season because there was no opposition. However, the Pullin Cup was revived, and four 10-a-side teams contested for the trophy in April. In the final the Allsorts beat South Town 22-11.

The first fixtures were played the following season when Under-12 and Under-14 teams played against Exmouth during the Christmas holidays.

In April 1974, Sidmouth hosted the first junior tournament in Devon. Teams from Sidmouth, Exmouth, Tiverton, Crediton and Bideford played in Under-12 mini rugby and Under-13 Sevens.

In the same season, the first junior tour took place when the Under-11s travelled to play Wheatley Primary School in Oxfordshire at the invitation of the Headmaster Glyn Evans, who was delighted that his idea in 1946 had been revived.

In 1978 the Colts reached the final of the Devon Colts Cup, losing 15-20 to Plymouth Albion.

They would be runners up again in 2003 before eventually winning it in 2013, albeit shared in a draw with Okehampton.

An Under 16 team had been formed in1974 by David Keast. In 1982, coached by Geoff Retter, they won the Martecia Cup for East and North Devon beating Exeter 22-12.

The juniors went into decline during the 1980s with only a few age groups continuing. Fortunately, one age group provided the inspiration for an eventual revival and the template for future growth.

Coaches Bernard Holland and Stuart Hayman were supported by Annette Trim, who provided the off-field parental support, which is the hallmark of junior rugby today.

The team dominated their age group in the county for six seasons, winning the annual festivals and culminating in the Devon Under-16 Cup in April 1995, beating Torquay 8-0.

Following the same template during the 1990s, with the addition of a junior chair to oversee the organisation, Peter O’Brien was followed by Malcolm Barratt and by the 2000-2001 season, the club was running with all age groups from Under-8 to Under-16.

In 2004, the new junior chair, Chris Dunford, set up the club’s first website, initially to improve communications for the junior but it soon expanded to cover the whole club.

The section continued to develop, and by 2010 the impressive number of supporting officials required by the RFU today were in place.

In 2006, the Council built changing rooms at the Sidford ground and the club installed floodlights to enable midweek training for both seniors and juniors. In recent years a pavilion has been added to the facilities and the pitches have been levelled with drainage installed to provide an outstanding facility.

In 2012, girls’ rugby was introduced for 12-year olds and upwards, who could no longer play in mixed teams, with Cara Monaghan and Saul Vicary in charge. The number of girls has grown rapidly, and the club now has teams at Under-13, Under-15 and Under-18 playing regular fixtures.

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