Albion will host mid-table Coventry at Brickfields this Saturday, with Kieran Hallett’s side tussling with Ampthill for second-place in the league and keeping one eye on the future. Jack Horswell takes a look at our opposition on Saturday…
It was all the way back in 1874 that Coventry RFC took part in the first ever organised game of Rugby Football in England. Prior to its formative years, the club were a group of players from Stoke Cricket Club, who featured in this fixture against Allesley Park College. The match saw a half of rugby rules and a half of association rules.
The stomping ground of Coventry was established at Old Bull Fields, where they remained unbeaten and successful for the majority of the late 1870s. Following its enclosure in 1880, the Old Bull has now taking its name as Butts, where Coventry’s first official match took place against Stourbridge in the same year. The club continued to impress into the 1890s and the side won the Midlands Counties Cup a staggering five times under their first captain, Harry Ratliff. Alongside Ratliff, Coventry produced many great rugby union players in their early years. W Judkins became the club’s first British Lion in 1899 and W L Oldham was Coventry’s first player to represent England. Oldham is regarded as one of the first great 2nd rows of the game.
Ironically, the issues that arose with WWI allowed Coventry to thrive as one the best rugby clubs in England. They moved grounds following the war to Coundon Road where we saw the birth of the ‘Golden-Era’ of Coventry RFC and club success that would last 80 years. Similarly, as an industrial town, WWII meant that the clubs’ player’s war efforts were in the factories and not on the battlefield. Players remained in the town and from this the club produced a record 72 game unbeaten run.
Coventry players continued to dominate into the 1950s and 60s through both county and international rugby. Warwickshire won the county championship seven times in eight years and at one point the club had 13 of its players representing England. The early 70s saw Coventry win the ‘John Player Cup’ in 1973 and 1974, which was a superb tribute to the club’s Centurion years. However, the 1980s brought a sea of financial difficulties for the club and to this day, Coventry RFC have only once featured in the top flight of English Rugby.
By the start of the millennium, Coundon Road was in need of serious investment and in September 2004, Coventry RFC played its first game at 4,000 capacity Butts Park Arena. The name ‘Butts’ originating from the club’s formation years, poses an accolade to Coventry’s ravishing history and success. The club is now managed by club legend Tony Gulliver and their club President is Peter Rossborough, a Coventry born and former England International in the 1970s.
The experienced management team have led Coventry to a strong defence of Butts Park and a respectable league position this season. However, only two wins away from home and on the back of a loss by relegation fighters Fylde, it would seem that Albion have the edge coming into the fixture at Brickfields on Saturday.
Like many clubs in National League One, Coventry want to continue flourishing their long heritage and maintain the traditions of a prominent Rugby Union side. They reach out to the local community with 10 qualified coaches, who provide workshops for children in the Warwickshire area. The club also have a strong youth development system with 19-year-old Freddie Tuilagi Jr, son of Samoan giant Fereti (Freddie) Tuilagi playing for the Coventry first team.