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askeans' story

The Askean Rugby Club has been in existence for almost 100 years and it is going to take a little time to cover the period from the start in 1929 into the 21st century and beyond. Thanks to the following for all their help in this project - Mark Bromage, Alan Eastick, Marc Fisher, Paul Hills, Steve Homewood, Ian Lunn, Ian Johns, Paul Walsh, Bob Noble and Kevin Acott.

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The first game in 1926 was before the club was founded  

As with most things it is best to start at the beginning and so this page will be gradually added to until we come completely up to date.

From then on the latest news on players and the league will be on the ‘News’ pages.

The history of the club has and will be helped by the addition of memories and memorabilia from former players and long- time supporters. Where possible I will try and credit them for their contributions.

If you feel that I have unjustly left you out of the credits then try and remember “It’s the thought that counts etc” and I probably thought I mentioned you!

 

This first section covers the early years from the forming of the club in 1929 until the end of the Second World War (that’s 1945 for those of you who were rubbish at history in school – I know I read it on the back of a beer mat – the war not your history proficiency)

 

For this period I am indebted to past writings from Nic Nicholls who was a long serving Press Officer and covered Askean games for more than 50 years, Ernest Lashbrook who was one of the 46 original members of the Rugby Club and the first captain and Graham Terry who for many years was Membership Secretary. All three are sadly no longer with us and therefore unable to correct any of my errors.

For much of the first half century of its existence it was an old boys club before it sensibly went open in 1974.

 

So, if you’re sitting comfortably...

A Club is Born

As the name suggests the club originally grew out of guys who had played rugby at Aske’s school.

The school had switched from football to rugby in 1925/26 and the first recorded appearance of an Old Boys XV was on 18th December 1926, when Roy Soper who had been the first school rugby captain led a team of Old Askeans against the school.

As more rugby players left the school the idea of forming an Old Askean Rugby Club gained momentum and the Club was formally instituted at an EGM on May 18th 1927 with EC Hart as its first Secretary.

Games were played at Gunnersbury (no idea, look it up), although only 3 games were played at the end of the 1928/29 season.

Regular matches became possible when a pitch was rented at the Kent RFU ground at Oak Lodge, West Wickham with changing organised at a local pub (typical Askeans). It took some time to get properly established and to build up a regular fixture list.

In 1929/30 the club played 23 games with more wins than losses. For 1930/31, the club remained at Oak Lodge with changing facilities moved to the West Wickham Social Club (where hopefully the beer was cheaper than at the pub).

Again, the club record improved winning 15 games, losing only 7.

In the next season, the ground at Kidbrooke was acquired with the first game being played there on 26th September 1931.

The club was now running three sides and the record improved again with 20 games being won.

By the mid-1930’s the club’s reputation had grown and the fixture list continued to improve.

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A back row player, ET Cassidy became the first Askean to play for Kent. He was soon joined in the County side by RA Pearce. Askeans were now running 4 teams. However, the onset of war in 1939 brought an abrupt halt and the ground at Kidbrooke was closed. Nevertheless, some 20 matches were played in 1940/41 using the school field for home games. As the war progressed only a few games were possible with many players being called up and Askean rugby ceased for the duration.

After the War

As life started again a group of former players largely led by L (Bud) Colburn were set on getting the club going again and on 9th February 1946 a match was played against Old Haberdashers – the first of 10 in that season. It was planned that there should be a full fixture list for 1946/47 and L (Tub) Southgate became 1st XV captain with WH (Nic) Nicolls as Press Officer. Kidbrooke had been badly damaged by enemy action (bastards!) and it would not be possible to move back there for some time.

 

However, Askean rugby was re-launched with the help from pitches lent by firms such as Unilever (who hopefully also supplied shower gel), Standard Bank (subsidised bar) and Standard Telephones (free calls to the wife to make excuses for still being in the subsidised bar). Two teams would now run up until there was a big freeze in 1947 (I blame Trump), when 7 weeks were lost because of frozen pitches. But both teams won more than they lost.

 

The Club continued to progress and in 1947/8 a total of 23 games were won with only 3 losses (and a draw).

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RM (Dick) Hills was one of the stars and another to be selected for Kent – as an aside he also became a scriptwriter for Morecambe and Wise, in partnership with another Askean, Sid Green (What do you think of it so far? – ask your Dad).

He played 28 successive games for Kent and was at one-time captain of the County Team.

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At the beginning of 1949/50, the club returned to Kidbrooke and a second pitch was made. But the Pavilion had been destroyed (don’t mention the war – I did but I think I got away with it!) – so changing facilities and after match beer arrangements had to be arranged. Luckily the Welcome Inn (now a block of flats or a Premier Inn I understand) was accommodating (sic).

The nomadic changing and after match beers continued until 1952 when the new pavilion was opened at Kidbrooke. But the intervening seasons were very successful, in particular the Extra A who were the first club team to go through the season unbeaten winning all 22 matches, the A XV were almost as good, losing just the once.

The new Pavilion proved to aid the renaissance of the club – with changing, washing and most importantly the bar being a major benefit. Club results again improved in particular for the lower sides:

1955/56 – the A lost only one game

1957/58 – the Extra A were unbeaten

And in 1956/57 the club began to run 5 teams, with 6 in the following season.

 

In 1954/55 Askeans ran a Jubilee 7 a side tournament at Kidbrooke a this became a fixture in the calendar. The following season Askeans qualified for the Middlesex 7s finals at Twickenham for the first time where they played Harlequins. They scored first but went down 14-3.

 

There will be a separate section on 7s later in this story which will record the many successes of the club at the shorter game – not least in the many appearances at Twickenham in the finals.

1966 and All That

The sixties saw some big advances for Askeans.

The 1st XV fixture list had become extremely strong with the team playing regular games against strong Welsh and Provincial teams like Newbridge, Penarth, Tredegar, Lydney, Stroud, Birmingham and Oxford.

There were also matches against Hull and East Riding, Torquay, St Luke’s Exeter and Loughborough College.

Much of the hard work in strengthening the list was down to the hard work of, amongst others, John Morgan, Mick Sidgewick and Graham Terry.

In 1967/68, the Easter tour featured matches against Cross Keys, Ebbw Vale and Penarth and included opponents who were current Welsh internationals and British Lions. Six teams were running every week and the B XV under captain George Martin (the long-serving Team Secretary) won all of its games in both 1961/2 and 1962/3. In 1964/5 the Club launched the ‘Princes’ as the second XV. The Princes was designed to take on first teams from other clubs who were no longer competitive with the 1st XV and had to give way to the stronger fixture list. The team were named after Charlie Prince – the late games master from the school.

 

A new stand was built next to the Ist XV pitch and in 1967 floodlights were installed – again this helped the club gain mid-week fixtures against first-class clubs like Harlequins who didn’t have room in their existing fixture list to play Askeans.

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During the 60s the club provided the Kent County side with three County Captains – Des Kirby (61/62 and 62/63), Graham Smith (65/66, 66/67, and 67/68), and John Heggadon (69/70 and 70/71)

 

 

Alan Hunt, another County player, had been capped for England Schools had left Askeans to play first class rugby but returned in 1969/70 to captain the club.

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Decline and Fall

Following the heights reached in the 60s, the start of the next decade saw a decline in the fortunes of the club. Many of the experienced players had retired and with a slowing of recruits from the school, it was no longer possible to run six sides.

This fall in playing membership was reflected in the first XV results and games which had been previously won comfortably were now being lost.

 

One memorable spot in 1972/3 was when Chas Wickens made his 500th appearance for the 1st XV. Chas joined Askeans in 1953/54 and played his 500th 1st team game in January 1973. He was also a Kent County cap.

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It is certain that his final total of 546 games for the 1st team will never be beaten.

The real crisis for the club came in 1973/74 when it became difficult to field even three sides regularly – if subs had been allowed back then it would have been down to two. 

Phoenix from the Flames

Up until this time, there was a (stupid) club rule that only those who had been to Askes could play for the 1st XV.

It seemed that the ‘old brigade’ felt it was more important for players to have been in the same Latin class than to be able to pass and tackle.

 

Whilst this may have seemed a ‘no brainer’, especially to the current players, it took some persuasion for the older non-playing members to accept that the club had to go ’Open’.

 

Old was dropped from the name and the club became ‘Askeans’. It was not an immediate panacea and in 1974/5 the 1st XV had its worst-ever season. However, the turning point was the inauguration of the Schools knock-out Cup under floodlights with local rugby schools invited to compete.

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Roger Bonner, Dave Kingston and Chas Wickens did much of the work to make this competition a success and recruited players from Askes, St Mary’s and St Joseph’s to form a highly successful Colts side.

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Many of these players joined the club when they left school – including Paddy Norton, John Field, Marc Fisher, Mark Bromage, Sean McManus, Steve and Frank Peat, ‘Scrapper’ Harris, Steve Taylor, Kieran Hurley, Tom Hennessey, Kieran O’Shea, Ian Alexander, Steve Fullilove, Alex Mitchell and Hugh Robson amongst many more.

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By the late 70s these new recruits made up over half the 1st team and under the leadership of Les Blythe the results improved dramatically.

In 1975/6 Askeans qualified for the second time for the Middlesex 7s Finals at Twickenham where they played the holders, Richmond in front of a 70,000 packed house.

This was to herald a long period of 7s success for the club (see later section)

 

The next season (1976/7) underlined the decision to go open – 

Askeans could again field 6 sides and the 1st XV won 22 games, losing only 6.

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The Princes won 23 and lost 4, the A lost only 3 and the B just 2.

One Saturday the club was able to field 8 teams.

The following season Askeans made the record books with a 150-3 win over Bredgar in the Kent Cup.

The result was covered in the national press – Paddy Norton scoring 3 tries and converting 21, Mark Gregory scored 7 tries.

 

Paddy played for Kent and Mark was capped for England Colts.

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The renaissance of Askeans during the 70s also helped the recruitment of senior players from other clubs  - players like Vic Betts, Hugo Wurzer, Andy Oakes, Dave Simmons, John Long, Jim Rouncefield, and Micky Datsun, all of whom played for the 1st XV (and none of whom had Bill Kerridge for Maths – luckily for them!).

 

7s Above

I have broken off here to write about 7s. Askeans have a tradition of doing well at the tournaments that were prevalent from the 50s through to the 90s, but the competitions sadly dropped out after rugby went professional. Askeans regularly won tournaments at Chatham, Medway, Tonbridge, Kentish Times, Brockleians, Colfeians and Oxford

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But it was in the Middlesex Finals at Twickenham that the club’s 7s pedigree really shone.

 

These finals were held at Twickenham every May and signalled the end of the season with a big party and a full house of around 70,000 spectators. There were 16 teams on the day – 12 having qualified from over 200 teams at grounds around London the previous weekend. The others were the previous season’s finalists and two invitation teams from outside London.

 

After the game went professional in 1995 and now the format only features Premiership clubs and is played to a ground less than half full – still you know best dear! At this time the  Club also benefitted from the coaching of Rod Turner (a former pro rugby league player from Hull) and Bryan West the England International and British Lion who turned to rugby league. Both were allowed to coach (by the RFU) as they were teachers (St Mary’s and Askes respectively).

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Askeans qualified more times than any other ‘junior’ side in the history of the tournament – and so remain the most successful one of all time. The team first qualified in 1957 and then a further 7 times from 1976 until 1992.

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At Twickenham we played:

1957 ­- Harlequins

1976 – Richmond

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1980 – Hartlepool Rovers

1983 – Waterloo

1987 – High Wycombe

1988 – Cork Constitution

1991 – Rosslyn Park

1992 – Rosslyn Park

 

The teams were:

1957 – Draper, Stacey, Skillman, Kirby, Davis, Morgan and Welch

1976 – O’Shea, Shute, Lockyer, Hickford, Norton, Bushell, Acott

1980 - O’Malley, Gregory, Field, Ayin, Acott, Bushell, Robson

1983 – Gallagher, Lockyer, Field, Ayin, Alexander, Ibbs, Refell

1987 – Homewood, Lockyer, Field, Greenaway, Refell, Potter, Cheval

1988 – Corliss, Lockyer, Field, Watson, Refell, Francis, Ibbs, 

1991 – Thomas, Lockyer, Field, Gilden, Refell, Rigby, Russell

1992 – Osbourne, Johns, Hughes, Graham, Hill, Rigby, Montgomery

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80 Leagues

The 80s saw Askeans join the National Leagues. The team enjoyed having a number of high-profile players – John Gallagher joined from St Joseph’s and played for the 1st and 7s teams before heading off to New Zealand in 1984, becoming an All Black and starring in the World Cup Final in 1987 (a good pub quiz question is who was the first Englishman to pick up a rugby world cup winning medal!).

The link with NZ was fostered by Alan Hunt and several recruits from the land of the long white cloud arrived to play for Askeans. These included the All Black Cooper brothers as well as Haydn Corless and Rob and Blue Cheval.

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Irish International and British Lion (1974 tour) Stewart McKinney arrived as player coach and Tony Bond, the England centre came to captain the team.

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The team won the Kent Cup after beating Blackheath in the semi-final.

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Askeans were promoted to National 3 and were one of the top 36 clubs in the country and won Rugby World’s team of the month.

The fixtures now included Vale of Lune and Exeter who included current Director of Rugby, Rob Baxter at number 8.

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John Gallagher who had gone to NZ, become an All Black and won the World Cup returned to play a match for Askeans 

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England props Jeff Probyn and Paul Randall joined and are credited in the 1991 World Cup Final programme as Askeans.

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Paradoxically this led to a second downfall for the club.

 

The club could not sustain the financial needs of playing in the league, yet worse was to come when the group who had resisted the decision to go open and controlled the ‘Old Askean Sports Ground Ltd’, sold Kidbrooke to Charlton Park. Overnight, Askeans were homeless and destined to become nomadic from that day until now. The Club dropped out of the London league into Kent 1. Since then, the club has shared grounds with Shootershillians and Blackheath (both at Well Hall and the Rectory Field).

We plan to continue this to include the Askean Story from the early 90s right up to the present day (and beyond) - if you have any memorabilia like programmes, press reports, photos or memories for this period that you would like included please email Dave Shute (davidshute@outlook.com)