From The Vaults

24 January 2022
The History of Wimbledon RFC

This article was first published in the Wimbledon Society Newsletter, September 2021.

In 1865 Queen Victoria reigned, Alice in Wonderland was published, the American Civil War was coming to an end and Wimbledon Rugby Football Club was born.

The club, which recently celebrated its 150th anniversary, was one of the founding members of the Rugby Football Union. Now a successful club playing on the London and SE Premier League, it supports ladies, mini and youth teams, walking rugby, SEND (Special Educational Needs) rugby as well as four men's teams.

How did this all start?

There's no definitive record of the first match but 'Bells Life' reported a game was played between the 'Wimbledon Hornets' and Richmond on the 28th October 1865. Unfortunately they lost by two 'goals' which was the rugby scoring metric of the time.

The club also played under the names of Brackenbury's Wimbledon, after the name of the captain, and Wimbledon Wanderers but in 1868 they had formally adopted the name of Wimbledon Hornets and had fixtures with Richmond, Harlequins, Wasps, Blackheath, Civil Service and Marlborough Nomads.

At this time there were no fixed rugby rules, each club playing by its own and so a meeting was called by the 21 existing clubs in January 1871 at a restaurant in Pall Mall, London. There's a plaque commemorating this occasion on the corner of Pall Mall and Cockspur Street. The clubs in attendance were, Addison, Belsize Park, Blackheath, Civil Service, Clapham Rovers, Flamingos, Gipsies, Guy's Hospital, Harlequins, King's College, Lausanne, The Law Club, Marlborough Nomads, Mohicans, Queen's House, Ravenscourt Park, Richmond, St Paul's, Wellington College, West Kent, and Wimbledon Hornets.

As a result of this meeting, the Rugby Football Union (RFU) was founded. Wimbledon's then captain, Leonard James Maton (an Old Rugbeian) was elected to the Rugby Football Union's Executive Committee and wrote the first Laws of Rugby at his address on Homefield Road, Wimbledon Village, whilst recovering from a broken leg. In 1874, he went onto become the third President of the RFU.

Another Wimbledon captain, HJ Graham, also joined the executive of the RFU and became Honorary Secretary and Treasurer in 1877. He was contacted by a rugby club in India, the Calcutta (Rugby) Football Club that was folding due to lack of members. They were offering £60, the remaining funds in their bank account, to the RFU which would pay for a trophy of "Indian workmanship" to be made and so the Calcutta Cup was born, now of course held by the winners of the Six Nations fixture between England and Scotland.

From this auspicious start Wimbledon Rugby Club has gone from strength to strength. The club initially played on Wimbledon Common, between Southside and Rushmere and then near the Gravel Pits along Parkside, until the First World War, using the Rose and Crown in Wimbledon Village as the changing rooms and clubhouse.

The club reformed in 1927 and changed from a blue and white kit to the colours still worn today, of maroon and Cambridge blue. The first game on Beverley Meads was around 1959 and then finally in 1987 the club built its own clubhouse there coinciding with the formation of the first amateur rugby leagues.

The men's teams have gone from strength to strength, starting first in Surrey 2 and are now in the London & South East Premier League having briefly been to the dizzy heights of National 2 South under the then tutelage of Nick Easter and Nick Evans, former England and All Blacks internationals respectively. They are currently under the watchful eye of Head Coach Colin Osborne, formerly a coach at Premiership Champions, Harlequins.

The Ladies team was formed in 1990 and have also seen much success and now play in the Women's Championship South East 2 division.

In 1997 a decision was taken to set up a minis section, for children from six to 12. Jim Green, the current President of the club, had just retired as Captain and set up this fledgling organisation. Now expanded to include

Youth as well, every Sunday in the season sees over 600 boys and girls turn up, supported by volunteer coaches, first aiders, team managers and parents.

Wimbledon Rugby Club was originally set up by a group of friends who enjoyed a run around with an oval ball and a beer afterwards. The ethos has not changed and the club, now with full RFU Accreditation, welcomes players of all ages and abilities and also social members and visitors.

Article by KEVIN O'NEIL, assisted by Noel Aherne and John Woods and was first published in the Wimbledon Society Newsletter, September 2021. You can find out more about the Society on their website.