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“The Redruth Football Club was started in 1875. It was the first to be formed in West Cornwall, and I think, with the single exception of Bodmin, the first in Cornwall”.

The opening words of Henry Grylls as, late in life, he recorded how he and W.H.Willimot came back from college and brought the game of Rugby Football to Redruth. His memory was not entirely correct as Penryn trace their history back to 1872 but he cannot be blamed for this small error. Rugby was far from being an organised sport in those days and many would be hard put to say exactly when a club actually got started.

Given the way the game has seeped into every pore of Cornish life it seems incredible that, back in 1875, very few in the Duchy knew anything about it at all. It had been mainly confined to public schools and universities and, at the time, was played by teams comprising up to 20 a side with no less than 16 in the scrum. But something in the ethos of the game appealed to men who hacked through granite deep underneath West Cornwall and by 1888 Redruth were seen as the Premier side in Cornwall, a position they still hold as we go into our 125th year.

But statistics are not everything, indeed they are arguably the least important part of the clubs history. Because what the club has always been about is people. From that small band of enthusiasts who set the ball rolling in 1875 up to the present day, many hundreds of people have played for the club, worked on committees or just come down to the ground to support the side.

What Henry Grylls would have made of the present structure of the game is impossible to say. Given that Redruths total expenditure in it’s first season was just £5.00 he would no doubt be horrified by the prospect of paid players and the thousands of pounds necessary to keep a team on the field. But he would still recognise the commitment of both players and supporters to the cause of the Reds and be proud of the way his club has grown in stature to hold it’s own 125 years later. Truly a cause for celebration.

Beer and rugby have always gone together. Today this can be seen in the high profile sponsorship deals between brewers and rugby sides, not least of course, our own ongoing relationship with our friends at St Austell Brewery. It is therefore appropriate that it was the generosity of the Redruth Brewery Co which helped the fledgling Redruth Football Club get off the ground. The brewery owners, Strong & Neame, allowed the club to use the field below Brewery Leats for practice and matches. It did not seem to have occurred to either the Redruth players, or the opposition, that there was anything strange in playing on a pitch with a granite post slap bang in the middle.. Perhaps this could be reintroduced to add some colour to the modern game.

Henry Grylls was forced to give up playing in 1882 on doctors orders and his place as club captain was taken by J.W Everett. The names of many of those early players were recorded at the time. They included the church organist R.Heath, the Peter brothers Thurstan and Lewis, Martin Edwards, John Penberthy, D.Hall the gas works manager, E Bonds the local rate collector, Alfred Williams, a shoe and boot seller from Green Lane as well as his brother Foster, C Beringer, son of the jewellery family and of course, W.M Willimott who together with Henry Grylls, got the whole thing underway. The old custom of referring to players by initial and surname only has almost died out now. Only the CRFU keep the tradition alive in their match programmes, much to the annoyance of sports journalists.

The way the game was played in those early days was somewhat different to the present time. Apart from the fact that scrums consisted of 16 players, with only 4 backs Henry Grylls records the fact that it was considered bad form for the forwards to heel the ball so the backs rarely saw it. Mind you some of today’s wingers would say nothing has changed. Back in the 1870’s the massive 16 man scrum would attempt to overpower the opposition by sheer muscle and weight before hacking the ball forward. The role of the backs, if they ever got the ball, was to kick it into touch, a tradition that the England stand offs managed to keep alive well into the 1980’s. Once a man crossed the line the opponents could do anything, short of murder, to stop im touching down, a tactic that was called ‘ a maul in goal’. There were no referees. Any dispute was resolved by agreement between the captains who would sometimes consult the crowd close to the incident. Perhaps that’s another old practice we could bring back although it would leave today’s supporters with no one at which to shout abuse.

Henry Grylls was a man of vision. As far back as 1925 he was concerned about the effect of money on the game to the extent that he condemned the new fangled practice of charging admission on the gate. Not that the club needed any money when it started. The players provided their own kit, which sometimes matched that provided by other team members. If a player was too poor to afford kit then a local benefactor filled the breach with a donation. The club Committee had virtually nothing to do as the captain made all the arrangements and selected the team.

The biggest step forward for the club came in 1892 when the famous Swansea three quarter J Longdon moved to Redruth to work as a teacher. He brought the new fangled idea of having four three quarters and developed more of a running game akin to today’s fashion with more emphasis on speed rather than sheer brawn. The Redruth club which welcomed the new century attracted some of the greatest names in Cornish football. The half back pairing of A Thomas and J Davey were almost immediately selected for the County side before, like so many other Cornish players they were forced to emigrate as the local mines closed. Both took their skills to South Africa where Davey captained the Transvaal in the Currie Cup and narrowly missed out on being selected for a Springbok tour of England. On Davey’s return to Cornwall in 1907 he found himself playing alongside one of rugby’s legends Bert Solomon, and, together with John Jackett and T Lawry they became Redruth’s contribution to Cornwall’s County Championship winning side in 1908.

Like many other clubs the First World War struck a major blow to Redruths ambitions. For five years the club played no rugby and many of the pre war players had retired by the time the game was resumed in 1919. Some never returned including James Solomon, Percy Lidgey and Joe Trethowan.

However the game had been kept alive by miners from East Pool who use the Recreation Ground during the war years and it was their players who formed the nucleus of the new Redruth side. Despite the fact that economic conditions forced many players to move away the team rebuilt and by the 50th anniversary of the club in 1925, Redruth was again a force to be reckoned with. The areas junior clubs such as Redruth Highway, Lanner and North Country supplied new blood for the Chiefs including Harold Curnow, Tom Semmens, Wilfrid Johns and Percy Rogers. They were joined by the great Roy Jennings who played at Centre while outside was one of the country’s fastes wings Len Roberts. The Redruth side of the 1930’s notched up one of the best playing records in the game. In the 1935-36 season the club won no less than 37 of their 40 matches amassing 864 points with only 101 scored against them. They won every game played against Cornish opposition that season.

The touring tradition really got underway in the ‘30s. Redruth became the first Cornish side to travel to London when in 1931 they went down by just 1 point in an 18-19 thriller against Barts Hospital. Then a flood of top teams started the trek to Cornwall. Cardiff, Bristol, Coventry, Bath, Swansea, Lanelli and Neath all visited Redruth while in 1934 the Reds triumphed over Oxford University.

One can only speculate on what further achievements could have come Redruth’s way but once again war intervened and once again some of the clubs stars failed to return. Jack Maynard, Eddie Bawden, Len Goldsworthy and H.Martin were among the casualties. But, when the club resumed in 1945 men such as Les Semmens and Frank Partridge formed the nucleus of a new team and in 1947 Keith Scott returned home from London after a spell with St Mary’s Hospital. He went on to captain England while playing for the club. Once more Redruth had a Bert Solomon on the field, son of the famous father.

By 1950 The Reds were again firing on all cylinders and good players continued to come forward including Bill Bishop and Bonzo Johns. Three years later Harold Stevens joined from St Ives and played alongside Paddy Bradley, Fred Bray and Bernard Nankivell. By 1955 Redruth were again back at the top in Cornwall and in 1956/57 only 6 matches were lost out of a total played of 51.

To compliment this success a massive plan got underway with the building of the clubhouse and the development of the social side of the club. Other developments have taken place including the provision of the Colts pitch which was eventually levelled in 1971.

The sixties saw the flowering of the career of Richard Sharp who went on to International honours while Paddy McGovan, Ken Abrahams and Bonzo Johns had all taken part in England trials. But social changes were having an effect on all rugby clubs including Redruth. Television was beginning to affect gates (something we in the nineties are also struggling to cope with) and the increase in car ownership meant people were pursuing other interests. Some brave souls had the nerve to suggest that competitive rugby was the only way to woo back the crowds, a proposal which caused heart failure among many old stagers at the time. In the event it took until 1967 before the CRFU introduced an official competition although it was only on a knock out basis.

Redruths ground was being used more often for County matches culminating in that never to be forgotten County Final in 1968 when some 22,000 spectators packed the ground, sat on roofs and swung from nearby trees as Cornwall went down to Lancashire. One casualty of this game were the old dressing rooms which were demolished to allow for more spectator accommodation. The ground has remained the favourite County venue for players and spectators alike, no other club provides the sort of atmosphere experienced when Cornwall play at home.

The seventies also saw an increasing emphasis on the role of the club coach as the truly Corinthian ethos of the game came under attack. The Reds have had a fine selection of coaches over the years. Andy Morgan made a great impact in the early 70’s and more recently former skipper Terry Pryor and currently Barry Trevaskis have filled this important role.

Without doubt the biggest impact on the game came in the mid 1980’s with the formation of the first ever system of National leagues. Many of the top sides had stopped coming to Cornwall and there was a severe danger that rugby in the county could be isolated. Whatever the arguments for and against, there is little doubt that the league system helped raise the profile of Cornish club rugby. The highlight for the Reds has to have been that wonderful unbeaten run in the old League South which culminated in a thrilling home win against London Welsh in the sunshine at the Recreation Ground and promotion.

As the club celebrates it’s 125th anniversary the game has changed out of all recognition. Like other clubs Redruth needs increasing amounts of money to maintain standards which is never easy in an area which still suffers high unemployment and low wages. Arguably the greatest strength of the club has been the ability to change to meet new conditions without losing sight of tradition. The main responsibility of today’s players, committees and supporters is to ensure that those celebrating the 150th anniversary in 2025 will be able to look back with pride on the next 25 years.

 

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