Thu 02 Jul 2020 13:21

"To Play With All To Win" - A Brief History

I was asked to do a Programme for today and as I was a mere novice of 24 seasons at the club, I asked for help from the old guard from within the club. I wanted to have a look at the history of the club and try and remember some old names and special dates in the clubs history. I was honoured when I was given an old looking book from Frank Grant (left) that would have looked at home if it had contained the 10 commandments but infact was the Minutes Book of the club from 1965 to 1974. Back in the days when the Beatles ruled the world and Posh and Becks were a mere glimmer in their parents eye, the Rugby Club was about to reform again amalgamating the Smiths Industries and Technical College sides. It was that long ago, Frank Grant (pictured right) still had some hair !

The date on the first meeting minutes was 18th November 1965 and the Chairman was H Chatwood and the Secretary was Frank Grant, others on the Committee were Gerald Buckingham, E Morris, Barry Hugo, Pete Calcutt, D Peace, G Rollins and R Dunstan. The next week there was an article in the paper which went into the history a bit more. The club had first formed in 1935 (I think Frank was still playing even then but was probably just a Colt in those days !) but had folded in 1953 through lack of players. The 1960's had seen Rugby played by Smiths Industries and the Technical College as well as a renewed interest in schools rugby with the Grammar School (Henry Box in new money) playing the sport again. The new club colours would be black with a blue band as that was a combination of the two clubs colours.
The first full season would be 1967/68 as the existing clubs had fixtures to fulfil. Minor things like pitches to play on, changing areas and "bathing facilities" had to be sorted, I don't know, "the youth of today don't realise how lucky they are ….." etc etc. The AGM on August 10th 1966 took place in the Eagle Tavern and other familiar names such Leech, Douse, Prior, Coles and Le Marquand started appearing on the attendees list. Fund Raising was high on the Agenda and everyone played their part, matches started to be played at Newlands with changing facilities at the Grammer School and even a Scout Hut (at least the doorways would be the right height for Holty !). The Treasurers Report of 1966/67 showed yearly subs as £1 and the club voted for them to go up to £2 10s, quite an increase and this was believed to be the final straw for Holty (right) who then starting smoking. Doug Richens also appeared on the scene at this point as did Pete Kincaid and Pat Hall. Well, 1968 came and drinking after matches took place at The Bull but The Red Lion was being approached too, that what I like to see, the club getting their priorities right.
After starting the season with two sides, there were enough players to start a third team and so fixtures were made with other clubs. One distressing thing was that the 2nds were known as the Vipers and the 3rds the Vandals which I only though those "posh" Oxford clubs did, glad that didn't last that long ! The minutes referred to opposition "crying off" against Witney sides at the last minute being a huge disappointment, some things never change.

The 1970's started with proceedings now moving from The Windrush Inn to Dark Lane and the ledgendary "Green Hut". Familiar names such as Bobby Croxford, Taffy Redford, Ralph Foard, Alan Townsend, Bob Waterhouse and Mike Riddell appeared in the minutes and Doug Richens was praised for his captaincy. One Season he even nominated someone else to replace him but was outvoted and got the captaincy again ! The following year saw Ian Richens, Keith Bennett, Dickie Jegou, Dabber Willis, Billy Bowles, Cary Grant and Mike Bound all appear at the AGM and again Doug was praised for his captaincy and again he was voted in. For the first time a Colts side was brought up and it was agreed this would be a good thing for the club - forward thinking or what !
The AGM of 1972 commented on the improved results and that this was due in no short way to Gordon Mangun's efforts on the coaching front, he was Witneys version of Carywn James and was years ahead of his time. Those of us lucky enough to be coached by him as Colts in 1979-81 certainly benefited from his vision, even if he did look a bit odd refereeing games in his dirty old raincoat. I note that John Skyrmes, Geoff Cranville and Martin Hester also appear in the lists and that Eddie Coles requested that more support was needed for support at the "pop" dances ! There was life before Disco's then.
In 1972/73 the Colts side played and after a ballot the Most Outstanding Colt went to a promising lad called Mark Godfrey. It was also noted in the minutes that the Colts had contributed heavily to the social funds in the club, I think the "Godfrey" factor may also have been an influence there too ! By the end of the book other Witney legends such as Gary Pizzey, Joe Brierley, Pete Cripps (left), Ty Castle, Murray Swinton, John Shears and George Shears had started at the club and the infamous Paris Tour run by Taff Redford was mentioned. I believe the tour funds were spent very wisely back then ! The search for a "home" was still very much to the forefront of the club though and the focus was on some land near to Burwell, things over the next few years would change though as we all know.
My dad was a keen rugby player but I was never that interested but a mate at school was, so aged 12 in 1976, I went along to a junior rugby morning one Sunday down at Newlands. There were 4 of us aged between 8 and 14 and we ran down the pitch passing the ball under the instruction of a tall, straggly haired man in a dirty rain coat, ofcourse that was Gordon Mangan. We went back to the Green Hut and had a packet of crisps and a coke which in all honesty was the best part of the morning and my time at Witney was put on hold for a few years after just one more session when there was only three of us !
The mid-late 70's saw the appearance of a certain Dave Wicks (right)who soon became known as a fund raiser extraordinary. Some of my first memories of the Rugby Club were the Rugby Club Disco's which took place down at the Football Club every month and were always a good night. There was never any trouble as the doorman included Wicksy, Marky and Dabber, so any "argy bargy" was always sorted out very quickly. Around this time Bat Out of Hell came out and the younger Godfrey, Nick was the main man to lead the lads on the dance floor. Over the years he must have said "this is the last ever time I'll do this" many, many times.
The club acquired some land on the Hailey Road in 1979 and that turned out to be a very shrewd investment as we all know. The Green Hut was still "home" though and Henry Box was still the changing facility we used. The Season 79/80 saw one of my best mates at school Dave "Moose" Campion play for the Witney Colts but I was happier enjoying the pubs as a wordly wise 16 year old. In January 1980, I was dragged out the Royal Oak by Moose as the Colts were short and as I had played rugby at school, I could make the numbers up. The side that day contained Richard Dolan, Andy Gosling, Shaun Lewis, Moose, Pete Holliday, Andy Wedge, Clive Manning, Graham Briggs, Ticky Locke, Derek Toogood, Ian Frazer, Jez Hugo and Andy Moss. Wotton Bassett were the opposition, Frank Grant was refereeing and we played down at Henry Box playing fields (exactly where the astro turf pitch is now). The match soon got a bit feisty and with 15 minutes to go Frank sent everyone off and abandoned the match, welcome to Witney Rugby Club ! After playing all my rugby as hooker or flanker, I had been stuck on the wing and made the mistake of beating two people on one counter attack, so was relegated to the "lesbians" for the rest of my rugby life.

We had one season of changing at Henry Box, playing at Hailey Road and drinking at the Green Hut and I remember The Holybush being "home" for a spell too while the Green Hut was being demolished and the new clubhouse erected. The senior club was going through a transition with many of the old school having moved on but Douggie Richens was brought back for another spell at Captaincy and the 1sts contained some new names like Rose, Tacon, Britnell, Cannons, Harper, Marshall, Eldridge etc. Some more familiar names like Wicks, Croxford and Godfrey still appeared but this period was definitely a change from old to new. Meanwhile, life with the Colts was superb and if we were not the best in the County on the field we were certainly no 1 as far as the social life was concerned with others joining including Dave Wilsker, Will White, Dale Bottomley and many others. After Gordon Mangun, our coaches were John Jackson and Taff Thomas and they made sure we worked hard on the pitch and played hard off it too.
We had a great trip to Swanage in 1981 which was my first taste of Rugby Tours and was memorable as it combined Colts and Seniors. This was important in the building of the club spirit with people like Wicksy, Nick Brown, Dusty Mountford, Froggy and Welly being very important in this.
Talking of Nick Brown, the old Smiths and Tech College matches were still being played and there was a triangular series of matches each season with Bowyers also getting a 15 up for these social Sunday occasions. Nick Brown captained the Tech College side for whom I played and against Smiths I saw Nick completely lose it after one maul, he was ready to take on the world ! It turns out that someone had bitten him on the knee, it was never proved but Harvey Wicks was very quiet for the opposition for the rest of the match.
In 1982/83 the Clubhouse was open for business and I seem to remember the "Lumps" being 40p a pint, ah those were happy days ! That season while buying some boots in The Sportsman shop, I saw a bloke doing the same thing as he was about to play his first match for Witney, it was Andy Tacon. As well as the clubhouse moving forward things were also moving forward on the pitch and highlights in the 80's included reaching the Semi Finals of the County Cup twice and of course the advent of League Rugby. Witney didn't really get off to the best of starts and too many of us remember being relegated after losing to Didcot over at their place, if ever there was "one of those day" this was it. I remember Marky saying afterwards that we could have played for f*cking days and still not have won.
A lot of personalities came into the club with John "JC" Campbell's entrance being more spectacular than most. I was playing for the 1sts and we came back from an away match to find the new lad for the 2nds had a shock of "ginga" hair and a love bite, courtesy of Dave Wicks. For weeks afterwards JC kept referring to us a soft southerners who couldn't drink but he always seemed to get pissed before us, I guess that's what drinking with Ian Frazer did for you ! Other new names included Frankie Cobb, Andy Mills, Alex Fellows, Steve Miles, Gareth Lewis, Chris "Larry" Baker, Dave Beckett and the return of the legendary Mark "Norm" Serle. Some youngsters also started such as Mike Dunbar and Neil Tullett and the social side was thriving as you would expect with captains including Mark Godfrey and Dave Wicks, both for a couple of seasons.
We also had tours to Germany, Paris, Amsterdam and Edinburgh and to tell all the stories from those would fill a Programme ! Mini and Junior Rugby started too and from the start they managed to get more numbers than my experience in the 70's and it has just gone from strength to strength (as documented later). At the end of the 80's we build the extension to our changing facilities with Alex Fellows the driving force behind the project. Many people clubbed together and did jobs for next to nothing, the final cost of the building was incredibly low due to the club spirit at the time. At the end of the 80's also saw the start of Danny Crumps reign as Chairman of the Club, he has certainly seen some changes !

Season 90-91 was our Silver Jubilee and our Captain was Derek Hoyle (right) who was a superb hooker after converting from being a very ordinary scrum half. We had a great year and gained promotion behind Bicester. Despite playing in shirts with a silly "silver" (looked grey to me !) and red stripe inamongst the traditional sky blue and black. I will always remember that season for Welly looking after the rest of us, if anyone chose to cause trouble with "his boys" they soon found out it was not a good idea. We extended the Clubhouse again, building the Presidents Bar and Jason Leonard was the official "celebrity" who opened it, that boy could drink a serious amount of Guinness!
We also started to employee Club Stewards, Ady Bayliss (who sadly died a couple of years ago) was pretty good but others such as Jim and James struggled and if there were more than two people needing served, they had severe panic attacks. Behind them all the time was Wicksy and he was often running the show as Bar Manager as well as doing his job at the same time. When he finally got the Stewards job at least he was now getting paid for. The rest of the 90's on the pitch saw 4 teams regularly take the field (although the 4ths had played in the 80's) and a fair share of up's and down's.
Some youngsters started coming through from the Mini's and Junior set up such as Gareth Williams (left), Huw Davies, Gareth Davies, Alan Richens and Lee Illot. Roy Holt took on the Colts for a couple of seasons and produced a rich crop of talent including Ben Dunmore, Nathan Phillips, Paul Thomas, Glyn Davis, Luke Hollick and the Lee brothers Mark and Peter. Indeed Mark Lee went onto play and captain the Scotland "7" side and we hoped he would one day get a cap but his time has probably now gone. Lee Illot went onto play up at Northampton but never made that break through either.
We also had a few South Africans over for a season (or in G's case, two) near the end of the decade and they breathed some real fresh air into the club with some great running and the willingness to run the ball from everywhere. There were Tours to the Newquay, Isle of Mann and Leeds and players like John Williams, Remy Martin, Simon Reeves, Matt Collins, Rick Toase and others joined, each bringing their own personality to the club.
The Mini's and Juniors continued to thrive and the likes of Roger Dore, Mike Minch, Dave Graves, Chris Tucker and Paul Kelly were among the superb people who came into the club. The Golf Days started and the Bee brothers Andy and Paul, Andy Payne and I ever presents and the last day saw almost 60 of us enjoy the "Golf experience". The unknown of Ladies Rugby also came along and that has done wonders for the club on a social front. They are now establishing themselves as a force on the field too. It was no surprise that Marky was at the forefront of that too alongside Wicksy (not a bad duo to have in your club really !). More on them later !

The new millenium started well, Matt Collins (right) enjoyed an unbeaten season as captain of the 3rds which is a feat that I doubt would ever be repeated. We have consolidated our position in Southern Counties North and are building gradually to better things. Wicksy continues to do marvels both sides of the bar and has generated a great social atmosphere at the club. Holty and others have seen the new extension built and the exploits on the field over all teams just gets better and better. The spirit in the club continues to be as good as ever and hopefully that will never leave, Mark will be looking down on us and will be proud of what he sees ! - Scottie Apologies to all those not mentioned who deserved to be - not enough space !

Just about the time Robbie Williams was singing that line the Witney Angels were starting to build but the first time womens rugby took place in any form (as far as I know) was in the Silver Jubilee Season (1990-91)where the blokes dressed as women, wore wellies and played against a ladies side. It was good fun but surely ladies would never play serious rugby at the Hailey Road Ground, would they ? Well in May 1996 at the Inter Club Sevens the Ladies of The Holybush Pub played against their mens team and although the emphasis was definitely social, some of the girls showed touches that promised more, perhaps it was coaching they had received from Andy Milton and Wicksy ?
One girl in particular shone out and enjoyed what she had been part of, Mary Drew (left) and by 1998/99 she was joined by a number of others. Wicksy (and to a lesser degree, Marky - well he had to be around didn't he ! - and Gareth) trained the girls and towards the end of that season they took part in a Tens Tournement in Oxford. They didn't win a match but showed great spirit and no shortage of potential. By this time Mary had been joined by Andrea Thomas, Catherine Forteath, Becky Hince and others who were determined to make the Angels work on and off the field.
I started to help coach the girls the following season after some gentle persuasion from Becky and Andrea and was immediately impressed by their handling skills, the ball spent a lot less time on the ground than in the blokes training evenings ! In November 1999, they played their first competitive match and lost narrowly to Buckingham but the seeds had been sown. Nick Godfrey stepped in to help the coaching duties while Wicksy was ill.The highlight of that season was getting to the final of the Buckingham Tens and an early try by Mary threatened an upset before the hosts came back to win but the girls played out of their skins and I was a very proud coach that evening !
The next couple of seasons were testing ones for the Angels under the guidance of new coach Matt Bevan mainly due to numbers. Regulars such as Feisty ,SMorley, Lou, Olivia, Lisa and Naomi had come into the Squad but Andrea and Catherine were always fighting against the Squad being too small and 12 or 13 are always going to struggle against 15 ! This did not stop the Angels thriving off the pitch though and their social lives put the blokes to shame and generated a fantastic spirit within the team. The Tour to Dublin in August 2002 was the icing on the cake and from then until now, they have gone from strength to strength. New girls have joined the Squad and a new coaching team of Nick Godfrey, Nigel Hugo and Mike Dunbar were in place and the girls all showed commitment in training which paid off on the pitch. They threatened at one stage to win their League but in the end were well beaten by Taunton and just squeezed out by local rivals Oxford. Oh yes, they managed 100 points on one game too, who says girls can't play rugby !
This Season the Angels are looking in great shape with a healthy Squad and all the players fitter and still learning and wanting to learn more - a coaches dream ! Their social activities are still "lively" and these girls certainly know how to enjoy themselves. Mary and long term skipper Andrea have seen many changes and have only Leann and Nicky from that original team but they are as enthuiastic as ever and both passed their coaching classes last season. Mary has now started the Cherubs who are the girls side for anyone aged 12 - 17 and that team played for the first time over at Oxford and did superbly. I have a feeling that Ladies Rugby is here to stay at Witney and the club is much the healthier for it despite some initial reservations from a few of the members.

Mini Rugby was started at Witney in 1983-84 by two Dads - Ray Gould and Tom Danter - who, without any help, organised training and some fixtures for around 20 boys in the Under 8 and Under 10 age groups (age groups were then 2 years apart). Equipment costs were met by weekly match fees. Popularity gradually increased through the 1984-85 season and in 1985-86 several new boys joined the Club with Dads keen to help. Ray and Tom gratefully decided that they would hand over the Minis organisation to a group of the newcomers. At this time the County was just starting to recognise Mini and Junior Rugby. Lynn Evans as YDO and Tom Jeffrey took the initial steps to organise Mini and Junior Rugby at County level. At the start of the 1986-87 Season a new organisation was set up to run Mini Rugby (at this stage there was no Junior Rugby at Witney). The officers of President, Chairman, Director of Coaching and Director Match Management were created, and activities were divided into three main areas, Playing/Coaching, Match Management and Finance. - Finance & Administration (collection of match fees and subscriptions, registration, maintenance of membership lists etc.)
The Club have hosted the County Tournament in the year 2000 and are known as one of the best set ups in the County, on and off the pitch. The site of literally hundreds of children enjoying rugby on a Sunday is fantastic and a testament to many people who have put in so much work over the Seasons.
Life Members

Nick Brown, John Campbell, Ed Coles, Geoff Cranville, Danny Crump, Chris Delaney, Alex Fellows, R Foulkes, Dave Gardner, Mark Godfrey, Frank Grant, Pat Hall, Martin Hester, Roy Holt , Barry Hugo, John Jackson, Gordon Mangan (picture), Bill Le Marquand, Mike Minch, Andy Moss, Mike Riddel, Andy Tacon, Dave Wicks, Phil Harper
Francis Grant,Catherine Forteath Andy Gosling Mark Serle