There are rumours that rugby has been played in Hinckley since 1880. However at the end of 1892 the Hinckley Rugby club’s inaugural meeting was held at Hinckley Grammar School (New Buildings), the ground was to be the George Croft (the fairground) and the headquarters based at the George Hotel. The first matches fully reported were in 1893.
Stoneygate, Belgrave, Newbold-on-Avon, Coalville, Aylestone St. James, Westleigh were the order of the day in these formulative years, plus teams now long forgotten. For example, in 1905 Hinckley were playing in the Leicestershire Rugby Union Combination Division III against the likes of Leicester Harlequins, Inglesants, Gas and Electric, West End and Wheatsheaf. Heady days indeed, where nil-nil scorelines were not uncommon!!
The Rise of Hinckley RFC
Up until 1920 the club had used various grounds, including the Lawns, Mount Road and Elm Tree Drive, before moving to Ashby Road opposite the cemetery. The players changed in the Mineral Baths Hotel, now the Ashby Tavern, and it is here that the club settled and developed for the next 9 years, only losing 14 times in 9 seasons!
The club then moved to Coventry Road in 1929 to a ground boasting stands, dressing rooms and a car park! This period saw the club develop its fixture list with games against Nuneaton, Cheltenham, Oxford University, Derby, Saracens, Walsall, Burton, Sheffield, Stroud and Rugby to name a few. The Palmer family were great servants to the club from the early 1920’s and it was Ron Palmer who led this drive to improve the playing standards over many years to come.
The “Rugger Club”
From the early 1930s to the late 1960s the “Rugger Club” became central to rugby social life. Situated in Castle Street, there was almost a 100% migration from the Coventry Road playing area within half an hour of the finish of play, such was its attraction. This hectic social centre was renown around the Midlands and stories too many and too long for this brief summary are still abound. When asked, the members who experienced the “Rugger Club”, just smile and say “Happy days!
In 1951, a generous donation of land in Coventry Road by Mr. Arthur Tansey and the Palmer brothers, brought both the rugby and cricket clubs together, along with the Ladies’ Hockey club. The quality of the ground and facilities brought both county rugby and cricket to Hinckley. In fact, Lancashire and England fast bowler, Brian Statham, achieved his career best figures on this ground. During the 1950s MJK Smith played for Hinckley before his commitments to England cricket came to the fore.
During the 1960s rugby continued to prosper at the Coventry Road ground where losing became a distant memory. Jewitt, Grove, Atkins and Shaw all led with distinction. However, the need to provide first class facilities to sports with overlapping seasons created a demand for a larger ground, so in 1967 the rugby and cricket clubs moved to the current 27 acre site at Leicester Road. This brought about the demise of the “Rugger Club” as each club now needed their own bars to generate much needed income. Some things never change!
Hinckley vs Leicester Tigers
In the 1970s and 80s the club went out like Tigers and came in like lambs. In 1973, a powerful Hinckley side got through to the last 16 of the John Player Cup where they lost to Leicester Tigers 16-4. It’s rumoured that the Hinckley front row took 4 against the head against the Leicester front row, including the then budding England and Lions international Peter Wheeler but a win was not to be!
Other John Player Cup games against Sale and Northampton followed and further County Cup successes achieved but due to a lack of leadership, the demise of the colts set up and the advent of leagues, the club ended the 1980s with 3 straight league demotions. The club was possibly at its darkest hour residing itself in Leicestershire Division One.
The 1990s, however, brought a transformation in the club’s outlook. Under the guidance of Bob Sulley, improved fitness levels and renewed enthusiasm through the introduction of the influential Masserella family, Hinckley steadily climbed the league tables. The mini juniors and colts produced players that added a new dimension to the First XV and in 1999, the club won Midlands Division One and entered the heady world of National league status.
Entering National League Three North, enabled the club to revisit old hunting grounds, including Stourbridge, Walsall, Nuneaton, Winnington Park, Birmingham Solihull, Lichfield plus others but alas after two exciting years we were relegated to face the challenges of Midlands rugby and the need to rebuild the backbone of an ageing side.
So as we move into the late 2000s, exciting times are yet again forecast as young blood comes to the fore and county cup successes achieved.
However, when you have followed a club, which since the inception of league rugby has only finished outside the top three or bottom three twice in 20 years, boring is not something we comprehend!
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