Plymouth Albion was formed in 1876 by a group of apprentices from the Royal Naval Dockyard in Devonport.
Albion first played at Devonport Park and the players and officials carried the goal posts and flags to the park. There were no facilities so the players had to return home for a bath after the match!
During the 1894 season Plymouth Albion played at Home Park, now the home of Plymouth Argyle, and then moved to Rectory Fields, where they enjoyed great success. They were only beaten once in 13 years by another English side – their city neighbours Plymouth – and also played the first touring All Blacks team there in 1905.
The First World War and a failed attempt to spread rugby league to the West Country had a major impact on Plymouth rugby.
Albion’s Rectory home was sold to the Admiralty – it is still used today by the Royal Navy RFU and Devonport Services. Plymouth RFC had also lost their home and their team, so in 1919 the two clubs merged to become Plymouth Albion RFC and purchased a new home at Beacon Park.
In the 1920s, Albion were one of the top clubs in the country, providing a third of the England team.
During the 1950s and 1960s, the Club had an excellent record. When leagues were introduced in the 1980s, Plymouth Albion were placed in Courage League Three. In the 1988-89 season, they won promotion with a 100 per cent record.
After three seasons in Division Two, Albion suffered relegation in two successive years, ending up in Jewson League Two (South). In the 1998-99 season, Albion only avoided relegation from National League rugby by winning away against Weston-super-Mare in the last match of the season. This was Albion’s only away win of the entire season!
Bold action was urgently required. Graham Dawe (Bath and England) was appointed Chairman of Rugby and made his presence felt immediately by achieving a creditable fourth in National League Three South the next season. The 2000-2001 season must be one of the highlights of recent rugby in Plymouth with Albion winning promotion to National League Division Two and being unbeaten in League rugby. The 2001 – 2002 season saw promotion again to National Division One (now known at the Championship). The club set a new National League record of 41 consecutive victories during this period.
To support the rugby off the field and improve the weak commercial position, Plymouth Albion Rugby Football Club Limited was formed in 2001 and the finances of the Club were placed on a sound footing. In the summer of 2003, the Club moved from Beacon Park to the Brickfields Recreation Complex in Devonport – 400m from their old Rectory home.
Albion nearly went all the way to the Premiership, finishing third twice between 2003 and 2005. Injuries in the final two months of the season cost Albion in the 2004/05 campaign when they were battling with Bristol and Exeter Chiefs. Albion also reached their first Twickenham cup final that season.
Albion were founding members of the RFU Championship and reached the promotion play-offs the first season the new league was introduced.
However, the club suffered financial difficulties and in November 2011 they parted company with Graham Dawe. The club expressed its thanks to Dawe for 12 years service having rescued them from the brink of falling out of the National League to the heroics of almost reaching the promised land of the Premiership and many other successes.
Peter Drewett initially succeed Dawe before Nat Saumi, who had joined the club as a player in 2003, took over and then James Shanahan.
However, with the club sitting at the foot of the Championship and facing administration, Plymouth-born Dawe agreed to return to Albion in early 2015, initially as a consultant and later as director of rugby. He officially took over first team affairs again in April 2015.
Albion managed to avoid administration but it was too late to prevent relegation after 13 years in English rugby’s second tier.
The 2015/16 season saw a rebuilt playing squad with the emphasis on young, exciting West Country talent.