Formed in 1971, Wootton Bassett is a relatively young rugby club with some of its founder members still actively engaged in its activities.
During the last 40 odd years, the club has grown to become a major force in North Wiltshire rugby, and has been honoured on several occasions by supplying players from our Youth, Colts, U21 and Senior sides to represent the combined Dorset and Wiltshire teams. We have also seen England honours awarded to members of our very successful junior section. These achievements provide us with the incentive to continue to provide a supporting environment at Ballards Ash, one that gives all our members the opportunity to develop their potential.
Although we are ambitious to achieve a highly successful first XV, our aims are wider. We are equally interested in providing the opportunity for people of all ages and abilities to participate and enjoy the game of rugby. To this end we have three senior teams playing on Saturday’s, as well as junior teams, and a very active Mini rugby section, which has teams of all age groups.
In the beginning
The Wootton Bassett Rugby Football Club came into being on the 21st December 1971 at a meeting held at 'The Curriers Arms'. The meeting was attended by the following thirteen individuals who can proudly be described as the Founding Fathers of WBRFC:
- Colin Applegate
- John Baker
- David Brown
- Michael Brown
- Ian Campbell
- John Forbes-Keith
- Ian Keith
- Hamish Keith
- Michael Leighfield
- Vernon Nation
- Royston Smith
- Tony Trussell
- Melvyn Wright
At the start of the 1971/72 season, many future Wootton Bassett players were already committed to other local clubs, principally Calne Bentleian RFC, so only seven games were actually played.
The very first match played by a Wootton Bassett RFC XV in February 1972 was against a combined team of teachers and senior pupils from the Wootton Bassett Secondary School. The Club took this opportunity to give trials to some 40 would-be players, and the recording of a 24 points - nil victory was somewhat academic. The first real match involving a selected XV was against a team from nearby RAF Lyneham, which the Club won by 16 points - 8. The first defeat of the Club by 18 - 11 was suffered against a 'touring' side from Middlesex - Pinner and Grammarians RFC who were engaged on an Easter Tour of the West Country. Other matches resulted in victories over Swindon College and Minety, whilst Chippenham and Hereford proved to be too strong.
Activities off the field were not neglected during these early months. The first fundraising event took place on 5 March 1972, when more than 40 enthusiasts completed a sponsored 10 mile walk - between two local hostelries - raising over £100 towards Club funds. The Wootton Bassett carnival in May 1972 recorded the first social event for the Club and an entry in the Float competition entitled 'Crossing the Line Ceremony' was awarded second prize. Unfortunately, Club members somewhat blotted their copybook at this event by kidnapping the Carnival Queen and holding her overnight for ransom. Although money was raised for charity, the Carnival Committee was not amused! However, all was forgiven in subsequent years and Club floats designed by Melvin Wright and constructed by the members won first prize both in 1973 with the 'The Moroccan Queen' and in 1974 with 'The Dragon'. To mark the end of its first 'season' a Club Dinner for members and guests was held at Noremarsh Farm Hotel.
At the initial Club Annual General Meeting held on 19 June 1972 the first elected Executive Committee, for the 1972/73 season, was formed as follows:
- Chairman: David Brown
- Secretary: John Forbes-Keith
- Treasurer: Vernon Nation
- Social Secretary: Ian Campbell
- Public Relations: Tony Trussell
- Fixtures Secretary: Colin Applegate
- Team Secretary: Royston Smith
- 1st XV Captain: John Jones
- Peter Arkell: The First President
On 30 June 1972 Peter Arkell, the Chairman of Arkell’s Brewery, accepted the invitation to become the first President of the Club. In its first full rugby season of 1972/1973 the playing record of the Club was as follows:
- 1st Team Played 30, Won 15, Drawn 1, Lost 14
- 2nd XV Played 31, Won 7, Drawn 0, Lost 24
The early playing days
During this season the Club also fielded a Colts XV on two occasions, but unfortunately, the results are lost in the mists of time. Home matches were played on a piece of vacant land owned by the Wootton Bassett Town Council. The Clubhouse continued to be the Curriers Arms, where the Club Treasurer, Vernon Nation, was landlord, and on the odd occasion when both teams played at home the situation in the bar could be described as 'intimate'. On 1 December 1972 the Club was legitimised by being accepted as a probationary member of the Dorset and Wiltshire County Rugby Football Union.
In April 1973 land adjacent to Stoneover Lane was first suggested by the Club to the Town Council as a possible venue for playing rugby football.The annual Club Dinner and Dance was held at the Blunsdon House Hotel on Friday 13 July 1973 (defying superstition) with Mike Titcombe, a local referee, as guest speaker.The highlights of the 1973/74 season included the selection for the Wiltshire Rakers (County) side of three Club players - John Bromley prop forward, Ian Keith wing three-quarter, and Phil Weaver centre; the appointment of Graham Spencer, a one-time England Colts reserve, as Club Coach; the design of the first Club tie incorporating the local 19th century Town Hall as the official emblem; and England International Dave Rollitt as guest speaker at the Dinner and Dance in May 1974.
Also in May 1974, the Club, sponsored by Swindon RFC and Vickers RFC (now Supermarine), was accepted as an affiliate member of the Rugby Football Union.
The first overseas recruit
Following three years of consolidation, with improving fixtures and the introduction of a third XV, in January 1977 the Club was extremely fortunate to recruit an overseas player - and what a player he turned out to be! Alan (Kiwi) McLennan from Wellington, New Zealand was a lock forward in true 'All Black' tradition. He gave 110% skill and effort on the field, yet proved to have hollow legs in the after-match bar.
Although, on this visit, Alan played for Wootton Bassett for one full season (1977/78) and two part seasons, he inspired the Club as a whole, and the pack in particular, to record by far its best series of results.
The highlight was to reach the final of the Dorset and Wilts County Cup in March 1978 by defeating the old enemy, Swindon, in the semi-final by 6 points - nil, full back Wyn Rees kicking a penalty goal in each half.
In an emotionally charged final at Devizes, despite gaining overwhelming territorial advantage, the Club had to give best to Salisbury RFC by 10 - 3 with centre John Pettit scoring the solitary dropped goal. Even so, this was only the second defeat for the first XV in a season of 32 matches. Such was the respect commanded by Alan McLennan that the invited opposition for his farewell match in November 1978 included Peter Larter, British Lions and England, Dai Llewellyn, Wales B and London Welsh, and representatives from Bath, Harlequins, Rosslyn Park and Swansea. A game and a night to remember. Alan returned to Great Britain in 1982 as a member of the management team with the New Zealand under 23 squad. He resumed playing for the Club and currently lives with his family in the town. During these first eight or so years the Club, chiefly through its long-time Chairman, Mike Leighfield, had been constantly pursuing a fixed abode for both playing and entertaining.
The move to Stoneover Lane
In terms of pitches, the Club has so far used three sites, each for a single season, before being obliged through development, to return to the playing fields of Wootton Bassett Comprehensive School, to whom the Club is ever indebted. The Club had also outgrown the after-match facilities provided by four local hostelries - the Curriers Arms, the Beaufort Arms, the Red Lion and the Cross Keys. With the prospect of being granted a piece of land for a Clubhouse, in the Autumn of 1979 members of the Club dismantled a wooden structure which had served as a clubroom at RAF Wroughton and was donated to the Club. The walls, roof and floor sections were stored to await re-erection. Finally, in May 1980 the Club was told that a strip of land adjacent to Stoneover Lane would be made available to accommodate a Clubhouse and car park.The 15 year lease for this land between the Club and Wootton Bassett Town Council was signed on 18 May 1981.
Work began immediately to plan and build the Clubhouse. The wooden structure from RAF Wroughton had badly deteriorated during 2 years storage and it was decided to build a block construction incorporating a clubroom, bar area, kitchen and toilet facilities. All of the main services - gas, electricity, water and sewerage had to be connected up to Stoneover Lane, a distance of over 100 yards. Even so, all of the ground works and the building construction were completed by Club members, a few of them professional with a small army of amateur labourers. Grateful thanks are due to Ian Homersley, Roy Blackburn and Bryn Burchall who provided much of the necessary expertise and equipment. A great inspiration during the building period was Club Secretary Fred Davies who took periodic photographs of the site to record progress. Due to the utilisation of 'cheap labour', the building and fitting-out of the Clubhouse was completed at a capital cost of £16,700.Although some minor work was still outstanding, the Clubhouse was first used at Easter 1982 when a side from Lucon in France, on tour to Cirencester RFC, visited the Club for a game and to perform a thorough 'christening' ceremony.
On 1 June 1983 a 5-year lease was signed with the Town Council, for the remainder of the site at Stoneover Lane, for use as rugby pitches. The Club immediately put in hand the drainage of the land, at a cost approaching £5,000.Work was also started to extend the referees’ room and shower block. Again, much of the labour was provided by members, containing the cost to £11,000. The new facilities were available for the 1984/85 season and the official opening was performed by the Mayor of Wootton Bassett, Ken Scott, on 7 October 1984, and marked by a game against a Wasps XV, when a crowd of over 500 enjoyed a spectacle of running rugby. With the full time availability of playing facilities, both Mini-Rugby and the Colts section began rapid development and a regular fifth senior side took the field. This was later expanded to a sixth senior team which subsequently proved to be unsustainable. The decline in the number of senior sides the club was able to put out can be traced back to here and coincided with the advent of league rugby which removed the tradition of “coarse rugby” which many diehards had enjoyed for so long.
The Wyn Rees Memorial Trophy
The start of Mini and Junior Rugby
Youngsters playing rugby was now rapidly establishing itself at Wootton Bassett as it was nationwide, and it was this movement that was to prompt the idea of moving from Stoneover Lane. Haydn Pugh and Fred Davis, two respected school teachers who first proposed the idea that involving youngsters was the way forward in the light of the decline of rugby in secondary schools.
It was then taken on by Pete Sirett and later Paul Randell who began to put a structure into the club to promote it as its own identity. Over the years, and with carefully nurturing by Steve Cameron, along with assistance from Stuart Fulling and Geoff Martin, thousands of children, boys and girls, have enjoyed getting up on and Sunday morning, running around on a wet, muddy pitch and watching their parents freeze on the touchlines. From these early beginnings, we have seen future internationals come through the ranks of Wootton Bassett Rugby Clubs.
David Parker - David was the first club member to play international age-group rugby. He played full-back for England U18 club side. He continued to play for the club and college sides for several years before his work as a fitness trainer curtailed his playing. He still plays 7’s occasionally at a good level.
Mike Baxter - England 16’s & 18’s. Bath Academy player then contracted to Premiership squad. Had loan spells at Pertemp Bees and Rosslyn Park. In 2007 he played for Scotland in the Dubai International 7’s.
Chris Patterson - England 18’s. Chris has unfortunately suffered from injuries and premature balding. He has played for Gloucester Academy and Development XV and s currently playing at Royal Wootton Bassett RFC.
Pippa Crews - Pippa played in New Zealand for a year, toured Australia as a member of England ladies tag team in 2001. Member of England’s Ladies 44-player squad for the 2007 6-Nations Currently playing for Worcester.
Karl Brant - Karl played England 16’s & 18’s but didn’t continue to develop physically as he might have hoped. He had some success at college rugby with Filton and is now playing with Chippenham.
Elliot Read - Clubs > Wootton Bassett, Filton College (Bristol Rugby), Dings Crusaders, Leicester Tigers Academy, Moseley, Coventry.
Jonny May - Jonny was in the same age-group as Elliot but didn’t make England squads at 16 or 18. So don’t get dismayed if you don’t make it, keep trying. He was a late developer growing after he was 16 and getting quicker and stronger. His first successes came after he went to Hartpury College and was selected for England U20’s. Jonny has now gone on to win eleven full England caps, scoring three international tries.
Gareth Evans - Glos Academy and has now made 1st team squad and has played a few senior games.
Kevin Gough – Prop for Newbury 1st’s 2003-2008. Retired from professional rugby in due to injury.
Liam Rowe - Liam has won full England caps playing for the England Deaf XV.
Behind the scenes plans were now being put in place for a move. Bill Cannon, a trustee of the club and a member of the WB Sports and Social Club, discussed plans to buy land near to Noremarsh Farm. This met with limited success and attention was switched to across the road, Ballards Ash! Wiltshire Council had other ideas and through the Town Council, Ballards Ash Sports Ground came into being.
Although, primarily a football orientated project, one and a half rugby pitches were planned and when capacity at the Stoneover ground and Wootton Bassett School pitches became over subscribed, Ballards Ash became our salvation. During 1996 the Club successfully negotiated with its landlords, the Wootton Bassett Town Council and North Wiltshire District Council to secure a 25 year lease over the Stoneover Lane site. Once this was finalised further efforts were made to provide even better facilities for the Wootton Bassett Rugby Football and Social Club at the Stoneover site.
It was our new president at that time, Peter Orton, began to see the potential of a permanent move to Ballards Ash. Through his contacts and expertise, discussions with the relevant parties took place. The process took over twelve years at a considerable cost to the club, estimated to be £130,000 who undertook to finance the move. Much of the money was raised by the club with significant contributions from Peter Orton, and it is in his memory that the clubhouse is named in his honour. Other significant contributions were received from the Vice Presidents set up by Alan Belding. This involved members including ex players and local business men having lunches prior to 1st team games and contributing money for the privilege. This tradition has been carried on by George Loughlin with now over eighty members, including ladies, sitting down and enjoying good food and good times before cheering on the efforts of the 1st team through slightly hazy vision!
On the senior playing side, the club adapted to the new leagues format and though player numbers declined from the halcyon days of fielding six team down to only two, the playing side is enjoying a revival with three teams regularly representing the club. Much of the social rugby during this time was played by the Veterans Team who would play regularly each season against a variety of oppositions. Tours and games against touring sides also featured heavily. Promotions, play offs and relegations also become regular features in the seniors fixture list with the highlight being promotion to South West 1 East. The Club has embraced professional rugby with the appointment of paid coaches, though through the efforts of unpaid coaches such as Graham Spencer, better playing standards have always been a priority. Winning the second team cup for two years and being finalists for a third year in succession has brought more deserved silverware to the club