"The game is more than the player, the ship is more than the crew" - Rudyard Kipling
Worcester Rugby Football Club owes its foundations to the cleric, the Rev Francis John Eld (died in 1922), a headmaster of the Worcester Royal Grammar School. It is recorded that the club began under 'most favorable auspices' with members paying a small subscription, and were each asked to find a friend to play who lived within three minutes of the city.
By November 8, 1871, in white shirts bearing the city's coat of arms, and blue knickerbockers, the team, turned out for their debut against the Worcester Artillery at Somerset Place, subsequently the site of the Flagmeadow Walk ground. Of this first season of only nine fixtures, our first recorded victory came against Gloucester College. Although no score was recorded it is understood that Worcester won easily.
In 1893 the club moved to Pitchcroft and a field adjoining Worcestershire County Cricket Club at New Road. With home games being played here away games distance was no deterrent, traveling by train to Leicester, Stoneygate and Oxford.
Unfortunately in 1896 the club was disbanded, despite the fact the club was in good health. However, it was also suggested that our difficulty in fielding a side consistently for away matches may have been a contributing factor.
In 1908 the club was revived and re-energised with matches being played at Pitchcroft and Northwick, with players changing at the Northwick Arms. The club's determination to succeed and place elements of infrastructure in the club began two years later with the formation of annual meetings - these still occur today. Playing membership hit 40 and the team was turning out in light and dark blue colours.
Only one game was played in 1913 - against Gloucester Franciscans - before the onset of the First World War meant no matches were played.
But the club was to rise again….
Worcester Rugby Football Club folded at the onset of the First World War but was to rise from the ashes in the 1920s and again start to grow. The club was reborn with an inaugural meeting in the upper room of the Crown Hotel in the city. Among those to attend were survivors of the war, schoolmasters, brewery students and school-leavers.
Practice games were held for the club at Perdiswell before the new club embarked on its first match away at Bromsgrove. The first win of the new era was registered at Harper Bean RFC, the early name of what is believed to be Dudley Kingswinford, on the canal side at Perdiswell.
New recruits started to arrive from Malvern, Droitwich, Pershore and Bromyard as well as young doctors from the infirmary and officers from nearby Norton Barracks. With the increase in members the committee decided to create an 'A' team and 'B' team as expansion continued at pace. The only real problem in the early days of the club was transport, which was an issue with players having to rely on Shrub Hill Station.
The club headquarters moved from the Bull's Head to the Hop Market Hotel and then Saracens Head where a clubroom and baths were installed by the brewery. It made a change to the usual bucket of cold water which was normally provided by the opposition, the notable exception being Birmingham University and Bournville where teas were put on for the players.
After a short spell the club was able to vacate the canal side position at Perdiswell for home games and given permission to use Stephenson Terrace, before used by the Girls' Secondary School for hockey matches. Later, grounds were available on both sides of Northwick Road before a return to Perdiswell Park.
The club continued to grow during the twenties with club dinners now arranged at regular intervals and proving popular events that were even attended by the Mayor of Worcester at the time. The annual dinner menu from 1925 included such delights as Severn Salmon Hollandaise, Cranberry & Apple Tart and Nougat Pudding in Praline Sauce.
The club, throughout this period, continued to play in the traditional colours of narrow band yellow on blue.
During the twenties the club was lucky to have several players with first class experience: H K Evans (Cardiff & Bristol), F Youd (Cheshire Cap), C F Walters (Neath), F Williams (Glamorgan Wanderers), J N Poynder (Devon & Lancs), M Averill (Bristol), The Rev JTB Evans (Royal Navy), WJ Hughson (Pontypool), AP Atkins (RAF & Ireland).
Among the original players of the period were: The Rev JG Scougal (RGS), GE Paxton, CJR Harrison, EL Walker, K Davy, TW Baker, R Thomas, Dr K Norman, Dr KM Foster, HA Rees, JE Wlilson (RGS), Capt MA Hamilton-Cox (Norton Barracks, Worcestershire Regt.), FG Henderson, WF Spreckley, H Gill, H Jefferson, HH Nicholls, Mumford.
The thirties saw the club with a very strong team and huge community spirit, which reflected in the results. Charles Kimber succeeded Viscount Deerhurst as president and remained in office until 1935. Those who followed him in the post included Dr K M Foster, R G Coventry and J W Jackson.
During the 1931/32 season the club played in 30 games and won 27 of them, losing two and drawing one. The team scored an impressive 409 points and only conceded 129 against. Wins including the scalps of Gloucester United, Moseley 2nd XV, Old Edwardians 1st XV and Coventry Extras.
Throughout the thirties the club was very much concerned and worried about grounds. In the early years of the decade the club had two pitches on what is now the Recreation Ground in Northwick. The ground was then privately owned and in 1934, due to landlord demands, the club was forced to move home again. This time they shifted to Perdiswell Park with the aid of the city council. Admission to the ground was 2d.
This ground proved satisfactory until early 1936 when the club was forced to move again in February so the arrangements could be made for the Three Counties Show. Fortunately the club arranged for a pitch to be provided on Pitchcroft.
Just before the war broke out the club, due to the constant upheaval, negotiated and paid the deposit to purchase its own ground for £1,000 opposite the Ketch Inn in Kempsey. Unfortunately the war broke out and with it negotiations and cost us the deposit.
Milestones included the club moving its headquarters from the Hopmarket to the Saracen's Head Hotel in 1934 and a junior committee being appointed to run a B XV in 1936. The first life members were elected in 1939 with George Smith, Charles Kimber, Harry Rees and Ralph Taylor bestowed with the honour.
The main social events during the thirties were Bridge Drives, the Annual Ball in the Guildhall and Annual Dinner. Club caps were still being awarded, though the proud recipient had to purchase them a shop in Lowesmoor with blue velvet, gold braid and gold tassel.
From 1940 matches were arranged on an ad-hoc basis, with anyone interested in rugby in the district, normally H.M. Forces and local schools. However, during the war it was decided to close down owing to the difficultly raising a team and also of finding opponents close to home, as transportation was difficult. Among those who did not return after the war were C.R.B. Inch, Tom Pye, Bob Hall, Don Hemming and Ken Heard.
In the autumn of 1945, after two preliminary meetings, it was decided to restart the club at a general meeting at the Saracen's Head. Twenty eight members were present and they stood in memory of those that did not return after the war.
The meeting was told that the potential purchase of land opposite the Ketch Inn for £1,000 had been abandoned because of the inability of raising the funds. The club eventually found land at Claines and the first games was played in November. During that season 19 games were played, ten were won and one was drawn.
A total of 53 players turned out in the club colours, hoping to perform well enough to receive a blue velvet, gold braid and gold tassel club cap. The most prominent players being G.K. Taylor (captain), J Brittlebank, J Preston, B.A. Trump, J.H. Pearson, J Russell, L.W.W. Whiteman, J.A. Willmott, D.G. McEwan, T.E. Averill and L Bache.
The following year the bad weather wrecked much of the season with eight games lost to frost and snow. However, a feature was the formation of an 'A' team as the number of players grew. The club was also able to move to a new home by the canal at Perdiswell and the changing rooms returned to the Saracen's Head. That season also saw the formation of the Ground Purchase and Development Fund.
The club went on air for the first time in 1946 when the BBC arrived in the city, but the end of that season saw the retirement of Ken Taylor, a founder member in getting the club restarted after the war.
The 1948/49 season was a tragic one as sadly Peter Stockford of the Worcester Training College, died after injuring his back while playing for the 1st XV against Wolverhampton. The club launched an appeal fund and various fundraising events were held. A total of £1,800 was raised.
Brighter news concerned the location of the club as the decision was made to once again move headquarters to the Old Talbot Hotel in Sidbury and the home ground to Bilford Road, sparking an increase in attendances.
Worcester Rugby Football Club was now settled at a home on Bilford Road and with a series of successful seasons the decision was made to try and improve the facilities and reputation. Worcester City Council was approached to install a double decker bus as a grandstand - the scheme was never authorised - before a shed was bought to serve as a players' cloakroom and shelter.
The idea of a new ground owned by the club was discussed and a Ground Development Committee formed to look for suitable land for purchasing - Bevere was to come under consideration in the coming years. Meanwhile, the bathing facilities at Ye Olde Talbot were rapidly becoming inadequate so a new bath was built for the start of the 1952/53 season.
Concerns were raised over the collection of gate money and so to attract more fans car stickers and a club badge were produced.
The club embarked on a first Easter Tour in 1953 playing Weston-super-Mare, Minehead and Ilfracombe. Two years later, the club went northwards and toured Wimslow, Vale of Lune and played Shrewsbury on the way home.
January 15, 1954 went down as important day in the club's history as it is the first time in the club's minutes that a new ground at Bevere was mentioned as a possible purchase. The move happened quickly, as within months a hut was purchased on the land and moved to the site from Malvern.
The official opening of the new home handed on September 5, 1956 with the ceremony performed by Surgeon Rear-Admiral L B Osborne, the then President of the RFU. A match was played against M R Steele Bodgers XV watched by a healthy crowd of 600. Worcester rose to the occasion and won 10-5 with the game followed by a celebration dinner at the Guildhall in the city.
Only two years later the club committee felt an extension was needed and covered accommodation for spectators. Finance, however, caused problems and local businesses were approached for help.
The 1950s saw only four club captains with John Clapton in charge until 1955. Joe Flanagan then stepped in for four years before Don Everton and Brian Wilkes enjoyed the role.
In 1955 it was decided that the club should have a chairman and G.H. Day was the first to be elected. He was later succeeded by John Flay for two years. The Presidents at the club were A.D Arbuckle, J.J. Roberts, Cuth Herridge, John Flay and G.K. Taylor, who was Honorary Secretary from 1950 to 1956.
The club entered the swinging sixties having made great strides in regard to the playing strength and the facilities at the clubhouse at Bevere. The playing strength had grown with five senior teams and two colts teams. Gradually, however, a decline was to hit the club and by 1968 the colts teams had disappeared altogether.
Cyril Waters, who had won the Bernard Higgins' Kicking Cup in a season when notching 148 points, entered the era as captain and the club was providing a record number of call-ups to the North Midlands side.
By 1961 Ray Shrimpton had been elected chairman and the provision of floodlighting was being discussed. Jeremy Richardson became skipper for the 1962/63 season and North Midlands selections continued to flow.
Black news greeted the club in 1965 when David Payne, joint Hon. Treasurer with Bill Richardson, reported the club was in a "very unstable position" financially. It was put down to two reasons, bar takings being down £800 and a lack of income from social events. It was also in this year that Ted Burnham ended two years as President and 15 years as Match Secretary.
Membership, however, was improving and a fifth side was created and a sixth was contemplated, so that as many as possible could have a game each week.
It is probably down to this playing strength that the club enjoyed two peaks in 1966/67. The 1st XV had the best season in the club's history to date with 27 victories under the leadership of Peter Baxter. They scored 470 points and conceded only 236. Bernard Blower was pack leader and did not miss a single game.
But if the other sides were doing well, the Wanderers under the drive of David Robins were doing even better. They scored 513 points and the 25 wins they recorded was a new best by six games.
In the following season the 1st XV scored more than 400 points in winning 21 matches and the Wanderers again tasted victory on 25 occasions, and set a mammoth new points record of 572. On Boxing Day, Kidderminster were smashed 81-3, equally the 1921 record when the 1st XV beat Birmingham University 81-6. Brian Howells scored 87 points and Clive Higgins 51.
In 1969 it was decided to alter the names of some of the sides. An Extra 1st came into being, the Wanderers becoming the United. Bill Bourne, the President, introduced a new social occasion President's Day, which attracted a number of old players and patrons.
Worcester Rugby Club entered the 1970s in a strong position after the growth at the club over the last decade but the issue of a home continued to dominate much debate at the club. The club continued to play at Bevere for the early part before a move was secured to Sixways in 1975.
The club waved goodbye to Bevere Drive in Claines with a fancy dress party in April 1975 with celebrations led club skipper Neville South and president John Clapton.
The official opening of the new site took place on September 4, 1975 with the ribbon cut by world famous Irish international CMH Gibson MBE. The opening match took place the same day as Worcester took on Birmingham. The official opening of the floodlights at Sixways was to take place a few months later on September 24 as a Presidents XV took on a Public Schools XV.
The club celebrated its centenary in 1971 and on the field the club enjoyed some early success at the start of the decade. Among the notable performers were pack leader Bernard Blower who in November 1975 hit the milestone of 25 years as a player. Dave Robins also hit a famous figure as he clocked up his 200th consecutive game on April 6, 1974 when Worcester defeated Stafford 9-6.
Worcester Rugby Club welcomed some famous faces in the latter years of the seventies with world-wide legendary entertainer Max Bygraves making an appearance to perform at Sixways in concert on February 12, 1976. Worcester also welcomed the touring New Zealand side in 1979 who they hosted to lunch in November. Bernard Blower, then club chairman, greeted NZ captain Graham Moune with Worcester skipper Robert Lloyd.
The club made a cup final in the 1976/77 season as they faced Dudley in the North Midlands Cup final. Sadly the team lost 13-10 but there would be better luck the following season. The 1977/78 season saw the club taste silverware for a first real time as they were crowned North Midlands Sevens winners. The team consisted of A Jammall, R Humphreys, R Montgomery, R Phillips, W Griffiths, M Knott and J West.
Even more success was to follow in the North Midlands Cup as, just 12 months after losing to Dudley, the team tasted glory over Camp Hill. Worcester defeated Selly Oak 11-6 in the first round befoe dispensing of Old Saltelians 24-4 in the second round. Local rivals Stourbridge were beaten 23-16 before a last four clash with Erdington saw Worcester claim a tense 7-0 win and a place in the final. This time victory was secured 9-0 with the winning team consisting of coach Dave Robins, G Griffiths, R Humphreys, P Wakefield, K Plain, T Hadding, M Pocock, R Tilt, D McLellan, W Mercer, M Davies, R Lloyd, J West, W Griffiths, C Fincher, B Gunston, J Smith, N Davies and captain M Knott.
Worcester ended the 1970s in real good health with the first team even going on tour to France. The team played an Easter tour and enjoyed great success beating La Snecma 20-14 and Montataire 36-4 before defeat 38-6 to Montrevil in the final game.
Worcester Rugby Club entered the 1980s eager to build on the growing stature of the club from the previous decade - and enjoyed great success both sides of the pond!
The club hosted its first annual dinner of the period on March 27, 1980 with club captain Robert Lloyd in attendance alongside John White from Moseley, club stalwart Bernie Blower and John Currie of England and Harlequins. The Clubman of the Year award went to Roy Rhead and Colt of the Year to David Lewis. Weston Nesbitt was named the most improved player of the year.
On the field the Worcester 1st XV played 45 games in the 1980/81 season and secured 19 wins but conceded 638 points - the most points ever recorded against the club team. The club tasted silverware as it won the Worcester Sevens in September hosted at Sixways.
The club embarked on a tour to Canada and USA in May 1980. The 1st XV secured four wins by defeating Nanaimo 24-6, Richmond 24-3, Old Puget Sound in America 25-7 and Meralomas 25-9. The 2nd XV also enjoyed three wins with a solitary defeat to Meralomas in the final game.
Before the tour the club received a letter from Downing Street and penned by the Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that still proudly hangs from the wall at the entrance to the Clubhouse. She wrote: "I send my warmest good wishes to the Worcester Rugby Club on the occasion of its first tour of Canada and the United States. It is a very special occasion when a rugby club, founded more than a century ago, embarks on a major international tour in North America for the first time. I welcome the initiative which the Worcester Rugby Club has shown in arranging this tour, and I recognise that one of the best ways of promoting international understanding and goodwill is by sporting contacts of this kind. I wish the team every possible success". The club also received a letter from Charles Royer, the Mayor of Seattle, wishing them huge success.
Sixways was becoming the place to host big rugby tournaments with the Rediffusion Floodlight Trophy being won by Abertillery in 1980 and Moseley on 1981, with the winning trophy handed over by Bill Beaumont, the England and British Lions captain.
The club followed the USA and Canada tour by undertaking an Easter tour to Amsterdam in 1981. They also welcomed South American visitors from Argentina when the Asociacion Deportive Francesa sent the Argentinean Under 21 team to face their Worcester counterparts. The hosts ran out 17-13 winners against the side form Buenos Aires.
Worcester 1st XV made the final of the North Midlands Cup in February 1982 but the showpiece event on Valentine's Day was not a match made in heaven as they lost 12-6 to Bromsgrove. Worcester had previously beaten Old Saltelians, Ludlow, Dudley and Shrewsbury to make the cup final. The team on the big day was Geoff Monaghan, Stuart Hill, Charlie Richards, Ian Narraway, Winston Nesbitt, Ian Thomas, Stuart Preece, Micky Knott, Peter Iddon, Bruce Mercer, Nevill South (coach), Bill Mercer (physio), Carl Arntzen, Mike Wilkinson, Tim Wells, Alan Williams (captain), Jeremy Matts, Pat James and Paul Drew.
Worcester again bolstered international relations with the USA before the end of the decade when they entertained Fort Worth Rugby Football Club in 1986. The following season Worcester again made the trip to America and this time included a trip to Worcester in Massachusetts. The two teams, with the same name from different sides of the ocean, met on September 26, 1987 and local Mayor Timothy J Cooney Jnr. pronounced the day should be known as 'Worcester Rugby Football Day'!
Worcester Rugby Club enjoyed unprecedented success in the nineties as the club rocketed up the leagues and began its transformation into the power of the English game that it has now become.
Off the field the club was also growing at real pace. In 1992 the club revealed plans to construct a training shed - it was branded no more than that - to provide facilities for young rugby players in the youth and mini category. The then chairman, David Hallmark, in consultation with the North Midlands RFU, managed to get Worcester identified as a club suitable to establish a centre of excellence for youth rugby.
As a result, the idea was taken forward to a triumphant conclusion. An application for a much more sophisticated facility was made to the Sports Council in June 1995. The application was successful and Worcester received what was then the largest single award made to a sports club - £1.3 million. 1996 brought about a £1.3 million National Lottery grant and in 1999 new facilities & £2.5 million stand were built.
Most crucially the decade saw the arrival of Cecil Duckworth who has driven the club forward ever since. "I always used to watch all the internationals on TV and I first started to go to watch Worcester, who were playing the other side of the city at Bevere," said Mr Duckworth. "My then girlfriend, who is now my wife, used to join me and she knew more of the players being a Worcester girl, than I did. I built up lifetime friendships with people like Jeremy Richardson, Bernard Blower, Derek Thompson, Don Everton, Brian Wilkes, who were exceptionally good players in their day."
It was Mr Duckworth who supported the Lottery bid and paid the professional fees involved in putting forward a bid that was likely to succeed. With his guidance the club enjoyed huge success and Worcester Rugby Club change beyond all recognition in the space of a few years. With Phil Maynard as coach, he helped attract players such as Neil Lyman, Steve Lloyd, Mar Linnett, Duncan Hughes and Richard Tomlinson. As a result the club won Midlands One without losing a game.
National Division Five and Four were conquered and in 1997 the club again won promotion to Jewson One which was again won promotion to Allied Dunbar Premier Division Two followed in season 1999-2000 - the division was soon to be re-named First Division Rugby.
In 1996 the game went professional and Cecil Duckworth decided, if Worcester were going to be successful, they also had to be professional and go full time. Les Cusworth arrived to lead the club and hopes were high at the start of the season. However, the club was deducted two points that season for fielding a player, in Tom Robinson, who was not properly registered. Worcester proceeded through the season and we were still leading the league in February when we visited Exeter. In the mud the club lost and it was Bristol who took the honours and were promoted. An administration mistake proved a defining moment as Worcester lost promotion to the very highest level at the first attempt. But with the benefit from the experience of season 1998/1999, the club set out with the high hopes of winning the league as the next decade dawned.
"When I first got involved with the club I asked the Committee how far did we want to take the club? They asked what I meant by that? I said the game was not particularly well organised or well financed. The top clubs were not light years away and, therefore, it would be my vision that we take the club into the Premier league and compete in Europe. We started the next decade with that aim." added Cecil Duckworth.
Worcester started the decade in National Division One and battling to gain promotion to the promised land of the Premiership. Often dubbed the perennial bridesmaids of the division, the club were edged out by long term rivals Leeds and Rotherham for a place in the elite until the 2003/04 season when, under the guidance of John Brain and skipper Werner Swanepoel, the club finally made it.
Worcester Warriors were promoted to the Zurich - now Guinness - Premiership after winning the title with a perfect record of 26 wins from 26 games in the 2003/04 season - something that had never before been achieved. They were the bookies, and many of the rugby pundits odds on favourites to go straight back down but defied the odds to stay in the top-flight in the first season after a memorable campaign that opened with Newcastle Falcons - and Jonny Wilkinson - gracing Sixways Stadium. The team finished ninth and secured memorable wins over Harlequins, Leeds, champions London Wasps in a dramatic game under the floodlights on home soul before the 'winner takes all' end of season finale with Northampton. On a nervous afternoon the Warriors edged it 21-19 with Drew Hickey scoring the most sensational of late tries. The match was shown live with more twists and turns off the pitch as well as on it, with then Northampton ace, Shane Drahm, who had signed for Worcester eventually starting, and successfully kicking almost everything.
The season was all about consolidation for Warriors but there was also an impressive European run to the final of the Shield at Oxford's Kassam Stadium. Worcester -without many first team stars on the day - eventually lost to French side Auch.
In the2005/06 season the club avoided relegation again and safety was secured long before the final day drama. The club again re-wrote the record books with a very special 15-11 victory against the Leicester Tigers and a 37-8 victory against London Wasps, along with victories over Saracens, London Irish, Northampton Saints, Leeds Tykes, Bristol and a first day of the season draw against arch rivals Gloucester. During the match against Newcastle club made history as twins Lee Fortey and Chris Fortey made history as the first twins to ever play on the same team in a Premiership match. The season culminated in eighth place finish in the league on 47 points, one place higher than the previous campaign. In Europe the Warriors made the semi-finals of the Challenge Cup but lost out to local rivals Gloucester at Kingsholm.
Last season the club endured another rollercoaster ride, written off until a dramatic late run saw them win four of the last six games to secure top-flight status. Who will ever forget Aleki Lutui's early big tackle that set the tone and the smile of Dale Rasmussen's face as he crashed over for a crucial second half try as last day joy was secured in front of the TV cameras again against Saracens.
Off the field the club has made huge strides during the first eight years of this decade. The East and North Stands of the stadium have received huge facelifts to increase capacity to 10,197 - with more to come this summer - and the outside of Sixways has been transformed as part of the on-going multi-million revamp of the complex.
The future for Warriors, both on and off the field, looks incredible bright as we enter the latter stages of the first decade of the new millennium - so what will happen in the next 100 years? Keep watching and backing the Warriors to find out!
(With thanks to John Lumby, W.A Richardson, Chris Townend, Ben Mottram, Getty Images and Berrows Journal)
North Midlands Cup and North Midlands 1977-78 Sevens Winner
North Midlands Division One Champions 1989-90
North Midlands Cup Finalists 1990-91
Midlands Division Two Champions 1992-93
North Midlands Cup Finalists 1993-94
Midlands Division One Champions 1994-95
Whitbread Flowers & Rugby World Junior Club of the Year 1994-95
North Midlands Cup Winners 1995-96
National Division five North Champions 1995-96
National Division four North Champions 1996-97
North Midlands Cup Finalists 1996-97
Jewsons National League One Champions 1997-98
North Midlands Cup Winners 1997-98
Powerline Floodlit Cup Winners 1997-98
Allied Dunbar Premiership Division Two 1999-2000
National Division One Champions 2003-2004
European Shield Finalists 2004-2005
Middlesex Sevens Finalists 2007-2008
European Challenge Cup Finalists 2007-2008
If you would like to contribute any memories or photographs to the Warriors History Section, please contact Chris Townend on firstname.lastname@example.org and he will be glad to hear from you.