Blackheath Rugby Club

25 Sep

24 September 2011

National Division 1

Blackheath 27 v Wharfedale 24

The Rectory Field, Blackheath

Team Talk. Showing that the Pigeon Stands will not discriminate based on ball or goal shape we decided to check out some south London rugby. This ties in nicely with the Rugby Union World Cup that is currently being played in New Zealand. While perhaps not a popular view, I need events like the Rugby World Cup running alongside a football season that sometimes feels too lengthy.

Many will be aware of the close history that football and rugby share. Until the formal laying down of nationally accepted rules in the latter half of the 1800’s the two games were distinguished only by public school house rules on preferences for kicking or carrying the ball. Carrying famously (and clearly falsely) came about when William Webb-Ellis picked the ball up and ran with it in 1823 during a game at Rugby school. If Ellis had been at my school he would have got a right kicking for such an act, and rightly so.

Like most northern gents I prefer my rugby of the league variety and preferably played by the mighty Bradford Bulls. However I was willing to make an exception for Blackheath, a club worthy of a blog piece if only for it’s history.

Founded in 1858, Blackheath is the oldest open rugby club in the world. “Open” in this context meaning that membership was open to anyone and not only attendees or old boys from a particular school, university or hospital. It is also the third-oldest rugby club in continuous existence in the world, after Dublin University Football Club and Edinburgh Academical Football Club.

Blackheath, along with Civil Service FC, is also one of the two clubs that can claim to be a founder member of both the Football Association and the Rugby Football Union. In 1863 Blackheath took part in the meetings at the Freemasons’ Tavern in London to agree the laws of a game that would come to be recognised as football. Blackheath pulled out of joining the Football Association at the last minute as they could not accept a proposal to remove hacking from the game. Francis Maule Campbell, the 19 year old club treasurer and player, argued at one of the meetings that to remove hacking  would “do away with all the courage and pluck from the game…[and] bring over a lot of Frenchmen who would beat you with a weeks practice.”  In saying this, Maule Campbell perhaps foresaw the emergence of the modern Arsenal team and decided that it was not for him. Blackheath instead formed part of a breakaway group that formed the Rugby Football Union (RFU) in 1871.

New balls please

The club and it’s supporters are clearly very proud of their history.  This is in evidence when supporters shout for “club” during games rather than Blackheath, which dates back to the club’s beginnings. Maule Campbell’s important role in the club’s history was recently celebrated by the unveiling of a sculpture of the player in the main bar. This sculpture was produced by current Blackheath prop Desmond Brett.

Blackheath currently play in the National League 1 (two divisions below the Premiership).  Before today’s game with Wharfedale the club lay in 12th place having won 1 and lost 3 of their opening 4 games. Wharfedale, who are the main sports team in the Yorkshire Dales National Park, had the same record but were two places below Blackheath due to goal/try difference.

Park the bus. Blackheath’s ground at the Rectory Field is a short walk from Westcombe Park rail station (zone 3). Regular trains run from Cannon St (stopping at London Bridge) and takes about 17mins.

Home Advantage. Blackheath have played at the Rectory Field since 1883, having previously played matches on the heath itself, using the nearby Princess of Wales public house for changing and perhaps the odd refreshment.

Welcome mat

The Rectory Field ground is also the home of Blackheath Cricket Club. The main clubhouse at the west end of the pitch is very much in the cricket pavilion style and houses one of Blackheath’s three (yes three!) bars. There is even a fantastic balcony out front to watch the game from. The other two bars (the Barbarian bar and the outside bar) are also at the west end. There is no cover at the opposite end (and no bar) which probably explains why the majority of the support stay at the west end throughout the game.

West end

Club house - west end

Club house - west end

View of east end

On the south side of the pitch there are two raised concrete standing areas that are either side of the covered Peter Piper stand. This stand offers the main pitch side seating area for the ground and is also unquestionably where the peck of pickled peppers picked is kept. The side opposite the Peter Piper stand offers uncovered standing on the grass and temporary raised timber platforms.

South side

South side

Peter Piper stand - south side

North side standing

Today was family fun day. This could only mean one thing. Yes, a bouncy castle for the kids.

Prawn Sandwiches. Did I mention that Blackheath has three bars? The clubhouse bar is well stocked with ale at £2.80 a pint. This must have put the visiting Yorkshire wallets at ease. The clubhouse bar also serves as a trophy room and display space for various historic bits and bobs. The outside bar is much smaller, but perfectly located for nipping away to grab a drink mid game. The third bar is there just in case you cannot get a drink at one of the other two bars. Blackheath really know how to cater to the casual and heavy drinker alike. Beer can be drunk anywhere and the staff will even serve it in 4 pint pitchers. Many football clubs could learn a few lessons from this.

Club house bar

Club house bar

Club house bar trophy room

West end outside bar

Outside bar seating

Oh, and there is of course a burger hut for soaking up all the booze.

West end burger bar

and the game. Not one for the casual spectator this. The game was a very tight affair that was always going to be won by the team that made the least errors (of which there were plenty). The 20-7 half time lead massively flattered the home team and I was advised by Blackheath’s support that the team have thrown away bigger leads in recent time. And sure enough, Blackheath’s margin was slowly chipped away at by Wharfedale in the second half which led to the far tighter 27-24 final score that nevertheless gave Blackheath the win.

Pitcher invasion

Man of the Match. Seeing Wharfedale’s travelling support, many having braved the four hour drive down the A1 from the Yorkshire Dales, made me think about the support from my own Dulwich Hamlet that had hired a mini bus to travel to the Whitehawk estate in Brighton. Such devotion deserves recognition. So there you go.

Post-match rub-down. A fine club with a dedicated support. Well worth a visit if not only for the hospitality.

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One Response to “Blackheath Rugby Club”

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  1. Pradines SVD’olt « Tales From The Pigeon Stands - 27 September 2011

    […] OK, I know I said we’d keep things South London, but in light of my fellow Pigeon Stander’s report from the egg-chasing, I thought I’d once again self-indulgently take a wild and wonderful tour of lower-league […]

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