AN ILLUSTRATED HISTORY OF ECCLES RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB
Legend has has it that during a game of football at Rugby School in 1823, Salford lad William Webb Ellis, with a healthy disregard for the rules, first picked up the ball and ran with it. In 1871 representatives of 21 clubs held a meeting in London that resulted in the formation of the Rugby Football Union. The Eccles Rugby Football Club took a little longer to find its feet with the game.
The first public record of an Eccles team is Saturday 26th October, 1878 when the Eccles Journal reports on a match between Eccles v Rossendale played at Higher Bentcliffe Park, Eccles, with the hosts victorious by score of 1 goal, 1 touchdown, 2 touches-in-goal, 2 dead-balls in a well contested game. There is also evidence of a match played between Leigh and Eccles Rugby Clubs on Saturday 19th October 1878. There are few details of that game but what we do know is the players of the Eccles Rugby Football Club celebrated the closing of that season by dining together on Thursday 3rd May, 1879 at The Cross Keys Hotel, Eccles and continued to play their fixtures at Higher Bentcliffe Park in the 1879-80 and 1880-81 seasons.
Higher Bentcliffe Park had a house with grounds and footpaths to Gilda Brook, a corn mill and lakes to the south. The site of the Park is now lost, built over by what is today Devonshire Road, Park Place and Salford Royal Hospital on Eccles Old Road. In the 19th century, the ancient route west from Salford to Warrington and Chester was populated by fields and meadows, with private estates at Ellesmere Park, Hart Hill, Hope Hall and Broom House and was known locally as Broom House Lane. A traveller may have heard it reffered to as "the Eccles Road', since that is where it led, but it was not know locally as Eccles Old Road until 1871 when there was a need to distinguish it from the Eccles New Road from Hulme.
The Lancashire County Union was founded on 22nd December 1881, Eccles became a member in 1886 and in 1887 were first recorded as a member of the RFU, with membership lapsing and reviving in the late 1890s. During these turbulent years, it wasn’t uncommon for a club of this district to cease its activities one season, only to recomence the next.
At this time, Rugby in this region was not only played by the privileged, educated sons of mill owners and shipping importers, but also those who toiled in the collieries, looms and docks. In 1830 the opening of the Liverpool and Manchester Railway had brought industry to the rural community of Eccles, where cotton weaving and coal mining were the principle employment for the population. At Patricroft, where the world's first railway intersected the world's first commercial canal, the Bridgewater foundry and Naysmith's locomotive works were founded. By the time the Manchester Ship Canal and the world’s first swing aqueduct at Barton opened in 1894, the cottages and open fields of the district were already being rapidly replaced with housing for the workers and the wealthy. It's no wonder, when work was done and the whistle blew on Saturday lunch everyone headed to the local pitch to let off steam. However, for working-class players, the time to play and train was limited by their need to earn a wage, and the risk of medical bills or missing work through injuries was a serious concern. As a result, many northern clubs wished to compensate their players for loss of income due to rugby commitments.
The RFU strongly opposed these ‘broken time’ payments and insisted its members prove their amateurism or face expulsion from the Union. Widespread suspensions and sanctions followed. The severity of these punishments contributed to a growing sense of frustration and absence of fair play. The professional Football League had been formed in 1888 with six Lancashire clubs amongst the renegades, and it was logical for northern rugby to follow their lead.
The great schism opened up a period of turmoil for rugby across the North of England. Harsh penalties for association simply encouraged more clubs and players to affiliate with the Northern Union and within two years Rugby Union almost ceased to exist in Yorkshire, Cumberland and large parts of Lancashire.
And so it was, under these stormy circumstances, with divided loyalties and shifting allegiances in a district where Northern Union was so prominent, that Eccles would play its earliest fixtures in the 1880s against clubs such as Salford, Swinton, Broughton Rangers, Leigh, Tyldesley, Oldham, Widnes and Rochdale Hornets before committing to amateur principals and re-establishing itself in 1897. With a continuity of existence maintained since then, the club considers this to be our inaugural year.
1897 - 1899
In 1897 Eccles played thier games at Chorlton Fold, off Rocky Lane, Monton (on a site now occupied by Monton Green School) with headquarters at the Blue Bell Hotel. W.H. Brown was the captain and a first team and an "A" team were soon established. By December 1898 Eccles were playing in thier Monton enclosure before "a large and fashionable attendance". Fixtures with Liverpool Old Boys, Owens College (Manchester University), Blackley, Manchester Athletic Club, Kersal (first and "A" teams) and Wilmslow were arranged.
1897-98 P17 W8 D0 L9. 1898-99 P23 W11 D0 L12.
Eccles Rugby Football club 1897-98. Back: F. Crompton, C. Marshall, T. Bradburn, R. Cameron, C. Entwistle; Middle: C. Hill, N. Sefton, I. Grange, W.H.Brown (Captain), C.C. Harris, H. Lomas, O.H. Brown; Front: F. Worsley, T.S. Stephens, O.S. O'Neill, F.H. Brown, H.M. Hadfield.
1899 - 1901
In 1899, Eccles moved from Monton to take over the ‘Old Barton Field’ (on the present day site of the Godfrey Ermen Schools built 1903). The Bridgewater Hotel, Patricroft, became the new Headquarters, which entailed a long walk to and from the ground but the busy district provided good gates and the club grew. Contemporary reports in the Eccles Journal, Manchester Courier and Manchester Evening News suggest the established ground was previously occupied by "defunct Northern Union team". The identity of that team is believed to be 'Barton NUFC' who also used the Bridgewater Hotel for changing facilities and who folded in 1898 due to financial problems. It's possible that a number of their players subsequently joined the Eccles club.
1899-1900 Eccles were captained by Lancashire county player J.E.Kidd, who would go on to play for Broughton Park and later become Lancashire County President in 1930. From 1900-1902 Eccles were captained by T.J. Bradburn, a club founding member, who went on to become the Hon. Secretary of the Lancashire Union in the 1920s and Lancashire county representative at the RFU. Whether Tommy Bradburn was related to the famous "Original and Oldest" Eccles Cake baking Bradburns is unknown!
1899-00 P18 W7 D3 L8. 1900-01 P22 W9 D3 L10.
ECCLES RFC 1899-1900. J.E. Kidd (Capt).
ECCLES RFC 1900-1901. T.J. Bradburn (Capt.)
1901 - 1914
In 1901, Eccles moved a short distance to a larger enclosure on Edision Road at the rear of the Rock House Hotel, Peel Green Road, near the Barton swing bridge and aquaduct on the banks of the Manchester Ship Canal and were to remain here until the commencement of War in August 1914.
Before the Great War Eccles RFC were considered a formidable opponent, holding their own with the principle clubs of Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire, with several players selected for the County and enjoying good local support. Regular opponents included Sale, Heaton Moor, Bowdon Rangers, Furness, Vale of Lune, Preston Grasshoppers, Harrogate, Nottingham, Waterloo, Birkenhead Park and New Brighton.
In 1903/04 season they won 21 of 27 games and were reported in the press as "the most consistent team in the Manchester district". March 1903 Eccles v Manchester resulted in a 3-3 draw with Eccles forwards getting the better of the scrimmages. March 1905 saw Eccles beat Preston Grasshoppers 24-0 at Barton. A 1905 report paints a vivid picture of the Eccles v Manchester fixture "Manchester in red and white striped jerseys against the green jersey of Eccles. The Eccles field is not an ideal football ground and its undulations are irregular and full of surprises. A ding-dong game. Manchester won - a goal and 2 tries to nil." The 1905/06 season was notable for 23 victories from 30 games played, amassing 399 points with Tommy .S. Stevens and Reid Cameron selected for Lancashire. For many years during this period the club would enjoy an annual Easter Tour in Bedfordshire with a fixture against Bedford being the highlight. In 1906 the visiting Eccles team were greeted and escorted from Olney station by a Silver Prize band!
In 1906/07 many ground improvements made and J. Clerc, three-quarter of the Racing Club de France joined Eccles. 28th September 1906 Eccles struggled in the opening fixture of the season at Barton against Furness, with a notable loss in weight from the forwards, the influential Reid Cameron having retired to the 'occassional list'. In January 1907, Liverpool Old Boys v Eccles, Cameron turned out for the Eccles pack and under his leadership the forwards gave a much improved display. Eccles win and go on to record more victories before the end of the season with Cameron credited for the progression and "cleverness of the forwards". Played 24, Won 11. The experienced and exhausted Cameron retires (again) April 1907.
1911 Harrogate arrived at Eccles one hour late and some players reportedly lost thier tempers. Eccles claim the victory 6-5.
In September 1912, a gate of 3,000 gathered at Barton to watch Eccles v Kendal in the opening match of the season in whihc Eccles would go on to win 19 of 28 games. In the following 1913/14 season, the Eccles 1st XV would win 17 of their 26 games, losing just two games away at Manchester and Kersal and one home defeat to Broughton Park by a single drop goal to nil! Eccles were on the rise. TS Stephens, a founding member of the club was still making his contribution with 6 tries this season, the Captain TL Whitehead scored 4 tries and kicked 3 goals, J Bolton kicked 20 goals, 8 penalites and 2 drop goals. Forward Harold Bowker and Half-Back Reginald Lightbrown Bolton both contributed nine tries each that season and were selected to represent their county. They would soon be wearing khaki for their country.
On 4th August 1914 war was declared and in early September rugby fixtures in Lancashire were abandoned. ‘Pals’ battalions were raised to encourage work colleagues and team mates to volunteer and serve together. Employers displayed recruitment posters, speeches were given at rugby matches, young men lied about their age and queued up to volunteer in their thousands.
Many Eccles players were amongst the first local heroes to enlist. Many would receive commissions and achieve recognition for bravery in the field. H Bowker joined the Duke of Lancaster Yeomanry and went on to become a 2nd Lt in the Royal Air Corp; he was to survive the war and went on to play for Swinton until 1920. Captain R.L Bolton of the Manchester Regiment, was killed at sea on 3rd August 1918 when the hospital ship Warilda transporting wounded soldiers home was torpedoed by German U-Boat in the Channel. Cpl. John Bolton, Reggie's brother and goal kicker for Eccles, was killed serving in the Lancashire Fusiliers. Sadly, Murdock, Bateson, Rawinson and many more of their teammates would never return home to play again. Clubs, communities, families were decimated. The old way of life had gone for good.
ECCLES RFC 1902-1903. Back: Gordon Bailey, S. Lightbrown, B.G.A Deakin, Reid Cameron, R. Walker. G.A. Leather, W. Pendlebury. J.W. Bentley, O.H. Brown. Middle: F.H. Brown, C.Chicken, W.E. Stephens. T.J. Bradburn (Capt.), T.S Stephens, W.H. Brown, S.R. Rider. Font: J. Birtwislte, J.B.Deakin. Fred Hartley.
ECCLES RFC 1903-1904. Back: T.J. Bradburn, S. Lightbrown, C.H. Entwistle, H. Pollit, A.J. Isgar, G.A. Leather, E.R.G. Walker, W.H. Brown, O.H. Brown, Gordon Bailey, W.E. Stephens. Middle: T.S. Stephens, J. Jackson, S. Rider, H. Monks, Reid Cameron (Capt.), J.B. Hall, F.H. Brown, W.W. Williams, Hamilton Barrett. Font: Fred Hartley, J.B. Deakin, J. Bolton.
ECCLES RFC 1904-1905 Back: S. Johnson, R. Cameron, F. Hope, J. Coatman, C.E. Forsyth, A.N. Tongue, D. McConnell, A. Reynolds, H. Fryer. Middle: C.W. Smith, W.H. Brown, H. Smith (Captain), T.N. Barren, S. Wilson. Front: J. Price, H. Monks.
ECCLES RFC 1910. Easter Tour to Bedford. O. H. Brown, H. Barrett. H. E. Ashton, W. A. Marshall, R. Ramsbottom, H. Cooper, A. H. Fawcett, H.F. Johnson, C. K. Marsh, H. Bowker, H. P. Cocking, G. A. Sanger. Seated: H. Pollitt, S. Whitehead, R. L. Bolton, T. L. Whitehead (Capt.), H.H. Whitehead, H. Smith, T.J. Bradburn (suit).
1906 Lancashire: Reid Cameron (back row 3rd from left) Tommy Stephens (seated on floor, far right) selected for their county, March 10th 1906. Yorkshire took the honours in Castleford that afternoon. Both gentlemen were members of Eccles rugby club on its re-establishment in 1897 and both became captain. Cameron, a leading forward was to play for Eccles until retirement in 1907. Stephens was still scoring tries for the Eccles 1XV until the outbreak of war in 1914.
March 1914. Teams published in the Eccles journal. Eccles beat Ashford House 24 - 3. According to a report on 9th April, the season was wound up in fine style with another creditable victory, Eccles 17- 3 Bowden Rangers. These were the last teams fielded by the club before the outbreak of war. Many of these young men would soon enlist together in Pals Battallions. Many of them would not return to Eccles to play again.
The Lancashire Rose, Eccles Cross, Barton Swing Aquaduct & Bridge across the Ship Canal. Three icons synonymous with the club since its eary days incorporated into its badge.
1919 - 1921
Following WWI, the return of ex-servicemen lead to meetings and a count of heads. As with many other Lancashire clubs, many former Eccles players did not return from those foreign fields and the club was forced to start afresh with practically nothing remaining other than its reputation from before the war. If it were not for the perseverance, determination and commitment of those men to overcome those difficult times, Eccles Rugby Football Club would not exist today.
Norman Shaw, who served in the Seaforth Highlanders and survived WW1 to play for Eccles through the 1920s, went on to serve his club as Treasurer in the 1930s, and return once again after WW2 as club President until the late 1950s.
The resumption of rugby activities began in October 25th 1919 when Eccles played a Fylde XV at Stott Lane, off Eccles Old Road, near Hope Hospital. Eccles were composed in the main of discharged soliders, many of whom had suffered wounds. Their efforts were clearly appreciated as the team soon established a good following. Eccles were to play Fylde at their new Woodlands gorund on January 1st 1920 and Ken Wooller brother of Phil, was reportedly prominent in the 3-0 win over Broughton Park. Other fixtures in the season included Bowdon Rangers, Tyldesley, Bury, Manchester and Old Salfordians.
1920-21 season fixtures included Fylde, Kersal, Bury, Oldham, Tyldesley, YMCA, Kendal and St Helens Old Boys. The Chairman of the club at this time was Mr JC Choate, a promient local Bank Manager, we presume a shrewd tactic and excellent choice! Before WW1 Eccles RFC played in green jerseys. It would appear from archive documents and photographic evidence that with this post war fresh start, the club adopted a change in its playing colours to blue and white hoops, which we believe may have been in tribute to the fallen comrades of the Salford Pals Battallions.
Although there were well equipped facilites at Stott Lane including hot and cold baths the pitch suffered from drainage issues. When Fylde visited on 14th January 1921 a difference of opinion arose over the fitness of the ground for play. It was agreed the match would be limited to 40 minutes and two visitors who declined to turn out were substituted by Eccles who found replacements!
ECCLES RFC 1920-21. A fresh start. The first appearance of the blue and white hoops! In the background of the photograph is the distinctive Old Vicarage of St James Church, Hope, which confirms the location as Stott Lane.
1921 - 1924
In 1921 the club moved to a ground in Alder Forest, (close to what is now Winton Cricket Club and Alder Brook School) with changing facilities initially at the Brown Cow Hotel. Although leading a nomadic existence the club was regaining momentum and in 1921 almost 1,000 spectators would gather to watch the local derby between Eccles and Tyldesley. Norman Stone, who was to become a principal figure in the affairs of the club and wider Rugby Union circles joined as a player member during the season. Former Eccles players AK Dick and JR Walker were selected for Lancashire. Easter 1922 saw a tour of the Lake District and an incident in Windermere led to the departure of several club members!
1922-24 Eccles remained at Alder Forest, Winton but headquarters moved to the Bridgewater Hotel, Worsley. Club secretaries Mr W (Bill) Eckersley and Mr J Mehan set about recruitment and September 1922 saw the arrival of several new players including Singleton, Smith, Seddon and J Hayes joining existing members Musgrove, Stazicker, Ogden, Greenhalgh, Butler, N Bethel, Holmes and Dixon. Reports of the day describe a "fair ring of spectators" enjoying fixtures against visitors including Warrington, Fylde, Blackburn, Bury, Oldham, Kendal, St Helens Old Boys, Old Salfordians, Central Old Boys, Bowdon, North Stafford and Stockport.
Eccles had an enthusisatic youthful team that were improving and enjoyed a growing following. IHowever, in December 1923 their run of success was brought to an abrupt halt by a 54-0 heavy defeat to Tyldesley! The 1924 New Year saw a return to winning ways with Shaw, Butler, Eckersley, Chappell and Shaw contributing to victories over Stockport and Central Old Boys.
ECCLES RFC 1923-24. Back: N Shaw, W Dixon, F Chappel, Seddon. Middle: Shephead, A Featherstone, J Brindle, P Smith (Captain.), H Maddocks, Brown, LM? (possibly HL Meredith) . Front: J Dickinson, A Houlton, T Wallwork, F Townsend.
Smith was to remain as club Captain until 1928. Future club captains in this photo include Meredith 1928-29, Townsend 1929-31 and 1933-34, Wallwork 1931-32. Joe Dickinson was to loose his life at sea during WW2. Norman Shaw who had survived WW1 to play for Eccles in the 1920s would go on to serve Eccles RFC as Treasurer in the 1930s and return after WW2 as club President 1946-58. Mr Shaw would serve as Lancashire County President in 1960/61.
1924 - 1939
In 1924 Eccles moved to a new ground at Barton Lane with changing facilites at the Kings Head Hotel, close to the swing bridge, on a site now occupied by Holy Cross and All Saints RC School and remained here for one season.
In 1925 the club moved to land owned by Mr Farnworth at Bromyhurst Farm, Redclyffe Road, Davyhulme, on the opposite bank of the ship canal, behind All Saints RC church and facing Barton Power Station (opposite what is now B&Q) with changing facilities accomodated at the Rock House Hotel, Peel Green Road, where the club had previously held its Head Quarters 10 years earlier before WW1. Eccles quickly established themselves in their new home and soon a second-hand hut was purchased with 4 dressing rooms, a hot water bolier and a bath installed within the season. 1926 The match versus Stockport at home draws a large crowd. By 1928 Eccles had assembled a decent team and distinguished itself as the only club amongst 52 northern clubs to be beaten only once.
Despite the regular inconvenience of river traffic and the wait to cross Barton Bridge to the pitch, the club remained at Redclyffe Road until the outbreak of WW2. Fires in 1930 and 1937 destroyed the clubhouse, but the club met its challenges head on and continued to flourish with increasing membership and the prospect of raising a 5th team.
In the 1938/39 season Eccles had a number of very good players and a formidible, successful first XV. Eccles were to loose just three games this seaosn, 7-6 away to YMCA, Tyldesley away 18-17 and Whitingham away. Mr J Coatman CIE MA, former Eccles player and now Regional Director of the BBC became a vice-president of the club. In the summer of 1939 Eccles were in a good position and ready to progress. Hitler however had other plans for the athletes of Eccles.
Fixtures were abandoned at the start of the new season in September 1939. The Eccles RFC ground and pavillion were taken over by a Royal Artillery Search Light Battery, who promptly formed a rugby team and played matches against other service teams on the field. Once again the 7-year disruption of war ended many playing careers. Eccles and its neighbouring areas were badly hit by bombing during the blitz of 1940 but mercifully, there were only 4 casualties amongst members detailed in club records during WWII - Joe Dickinson (Royal Navy) Bill Walker (Army) Keith Bradburn (RAF) and John Lomox (Merchant Navy). There is a more detailed account of the club's WW2 experience HERE
The Barton Lane ground, near the Kings Head Hotel and Barton swing bridge.
The Redclyffe Road ground, behind All Saints Church at Bromyhurst Farm. Eccles RFC were to remain here for 24 years.
The rugby posts and pitch at Redclyffe Road are just about visible in the centre of this 1933 photograph. The position of the pavillion is unknown.
ECCLES RFC 1937-38. Norman Bisbey (Chairman) and Arthur Gilbody (Treasurer) pictured with the players.
On the outbreak of war, fixtures were abadonned for the 1939-40 season. The players were otherwise engaged.
ECCLES RFC October 1946 - The first team formed after WW2. Photo taken at Redclyffe Road, with All Saints Church in the background, just before a game vs Didsbury which Eccles won 51-0! . Back Row: AR Gilbody (Treasurer) J Chapman, J Rooney, H Jones, H Parry, ES Mayor, NS Davies, JE Roscoe. Middle: A Toms, JA Isaacs, T Povey (Capt), EF Wrightman (Vice Capt) R Higgs. Seated: FE Seddon, AG Wild, WS Warren, FD Howard.
March 1947 - a match at Redclyffe Road, Barton Power Station in the background, taken just a few months before the club moved to its new home at Gorton Street for the 1948 season. On returning to the site after WW2 to recomence activity, it was found the pitch had survived the luftwaffe bombing but the local Home Guard had left a big hole in the floor of the Pavillion and the goalposts had been burned on a VE Day celebration bonfire!
1946 - 1976
In June 1946 a new club committee was formed with Norman Shaw, Norman Bisbey, Bob Challoner Arthur Gilbody and Tom Povey elected to office. Headquarters were set up at the Cross Keys Hotel and fixtures recommenced at Redclyffe Road, near Barton Bridge, but the focus of those gentlemen and the members was to find a permanent home for the club, something that had evaded Eccles for its first 50 years.
One Sunday morning in early Autumn of 1947 members of the committee went to inspect a former anti-aircraft gun site in Peel Green; a rough, lumpy field of long grass, full of concrete blocks and holes! Perfect!
At the club’s AGM in May 1948 members were pleased to hear the Club Secretary report that a lease on land at Peel Green was being negotiated and two second hand Maycrete huts had been purchased from Knowsley Hall, on the Earl of Derby’s estate. Committee members Norman Bisbey and Tom Povey had visited the former Army Barracks where they had selected the best two huts on the camp and submitted a tender. Supplies of gas, water and electricity were obtained to the site “immediately behind Barton Hall Cricket Club which can be reached from Guilford Road or Gorton Street” and following a lot of hard work that summer from the club members, the ex-army Sergeant’s Mess and Chapel would become a rugby pavilion!
On the 2nd of October 1948, Eccles Rugby Football Club 1st XV played their first home game at their new ground, celebrating a 38-3 win over Central Old Boys. At the start of the 1948 season, one of the new members joining Eccles was Harry Broomhead, who had just finished his National Service with the Royal Air Force. Harry was to prove over the many following years to be one of the most loyal hard working servants of the club. In 1955, Eccles RFC were proud to see former player Harry Scott recieve an England cap playing France at Twickenham. Harry had joined Eccles around the same time as Harry Broomhead, departing the club for National Service in the Royal Navy and went on to enjoy a distinguished career with Lancashire and Manchester.
Eccles RFC grew in reputation and membership in the 1950s and the club regularly fielded four teams. However, playing fortunes varied and the performance of the first XV declined towards the end of the decade with just 8 victories in 1958/59 and 6 in 1959/60. Following a particularly poor season in 1960 (2 wins from 36 games) significant efforts were made to radically correct the lack of younger members. An instrumental figure in the solution was Rudi Sheldon, Fixture secretary and a local schoolmaster who commenced a programme of recruiting school leavers. Asisted by senior player and Club Treasurer Ivor Ridgeway, Eccles RFC’s first Colts XV was formed in 1962 and with regular fixtures, many players of ability were cultivated. Two loyal forwards from this period stand out - Brian Griffiths and Mike Bateman, gentleman still involved with the club today. By 1966-67 Eccles 1XV had returned to enjoying 23 wins from 38 games. Fourteen seasons of satisfaction would follow from the first colts experiment, with many young men remaining loyal to the club and going on to become members of some fine Eccles first XVs. The seeds of the club’s Home Grown principles were sown.
In the late 1960s Broughton Park in introduced an end of season knock out competition for teams in the Manchester region, the winners of which recieved the Griffon Plaque, named after thier club emblem. The hard fought Semi-Finals and Final were played at Broughton Park and Eccles were entrants to the competiton from its earliest days, enjoying good success and lifting the plaque on five times in seven years, 1970-71, 1972-73, 1973-74, 1974-75 and 1976-77.
ECCLES RFC 1948-1949 The first season at Gorton Street. Captain E.S. Mayor.
ECCLES RFC 1949-1950
ECCLES RFC April 1952 - Sevens competition at Caldy. Eccles beat Liverpool Univeristy and Orrell to reach the semi-final where they lost to Sale 5-3, who went on to beat New Brighton in the Final. (Standing) Ken Faulkener, Jack Wild, Walter Morgan, N Sam Davies. (Kneeling) Harry Broomhead (capt.), Eric Stanley, Rory Miller.
The old Eccles RFC clubhouse circa 1950s. Houses of Clandon Ave to the left, Bowling Green Pavillion and Barton Hall Cricket Club pavilion to the right. The lean to at the car park end was removed in 1983 to make way for construction of the new clubhouse. After 45 years of service, the former Army Huts were demolished in spring 1993 to make way for the new changing rooms extension. Some of the original pitch side concrete post & rail is still in place today.
1977 - 1997
Faithful to the recurrent pattern of decline and regrowth in our club’s story, the success with youth lost its momentum by the end of 1970s. There’s no evidence to prove it was the appointment of the club’s present day Chairman, Paul Thorpe, as Colts Captain in 1983 that lead to the demise of the Eccles Colts, but it was to be 15 years before the colts were to run out again onto the green pastures of Gorton Street!
A distraction to the issue came in the form of a new clubhouse, opened in April 1983, with the original building retained for changing and baths. Harry Broomhead, now serving as club president was a driving force behind this positive development, and many other club members were engaged in its construction.
In 1983 and 1985 the first XV, under the captaincy of Dave Nicholls, won the Griffin Plaque Competition but this success was based around a core of senior players who were now fast approaching their sell-by dates! With the expiration of the previously well-established colts, the flow of players into the senior teams had slowed and by the late 1980s the playing strength of the club had weakened. The answer, as before, lay in a return to a Home Grown policy.
In 1991, with the objective of recruiting and developing young players, a Mini and Junior Section was established with Dave Nicholls and 3XV Captain Brian Wilkinson instrumental in nurturing the green shoots. The sun shone brightly on those dads and lads that first Sunday autumnal morning session (Danny Nicholls, Carl and Adam Wilkinson, Thomas Chapman, amongst the crop) and indeed it continues to shine on what has developed into one of the finest and deep-rooted M&J sections in the North of England. The club owes a debt of gratitude to both former players for their efforts, over many years, both on and off the field, in cultivating and encouraging this area of growth. The bedlam we all now enjoy on a Sunday morning is down to them getting out on a field with snotty-nosed kids and a ball!
As the word spread, numbers swelled and the early Eccles coaching sessions were a mix of ages, 5-10, and may have been described as ‘unstructured’ to the untrained eye! That Christmas, following a 1XV fixture with Tyldesley RUFC, a conversation in the bar between Dave and his opposition centre, revealed that they had also suffered a similar demise in recruitment, and their M&J section was now in its third season and going well. Generously, a couple of the Tyldesley dads volunteered to come down to Eccles with their youngsters, for a joint training session, which ended in a game between the mixed-age teams - our first ever mini and juniors fixture.
Fuelled by “beans on toast for fifty” fun and fast, free-flowing rugby soon became the Eccles Juniors trade mark. ‘International tours’ to Drogheda, Ireland and Pwllehlli Wales were organised and festivals were initiated. Mid-week training was soon introduced and during one balmy pre-season Wednesday evening, Dave Nicholls spotted two errant youths, having a kick about on the first team pitch and invited the lads to join his session - future Director of Rugby Sam Simpson was recruited!
With the assistance of numerous enthusiastic parents and players over the decades, the Eccles Junior section flourished and in 2021 will celebrate its 30th anniversary. As the years past, Minis became Juniors, Juniors became Colts and Colts became Seniors.
In Summer 1993, after 45 years of service, the old clubhouse was replaced with the new building extension, the new changing rooms and facilities made ready for use for the opening fixture of the new season on 1st September 1993.
In 1997 Eccles RFC celebrated its centenary and embraced a whole new world establishing a Ladies team, formed by wives and girlfriends playing friendlies in its first season. Ted Nichols, who had become involved in operations after coming down to watch his son Dave play in the 1980s, retired from work in 1997 and Eccles gained the services of a genial and committed volunteer groundsman who was to serve the club for almost a quarter of a century. Around this time, Gary Grieves joined the club with his son and like many other parents, would go on to make much valued contributions as coach and committee member.
In November 1997 Eccles Juniors were invited to particpate in a curtain raiser on the Old Trafford pitch before the England v New Zealand test match. Club members charttered a barge to travel to the stadium on the Bridgewater Canal and with food and drink in ample supply, departed the match with a set of World Cup post protectors acquired from the RFU thanks to Mark Dutton.
Work in progress ...
1998 - 2018
In 1998 the club prepared itself to enter the new millennium and registered as a Friendly and Provident Society. In the same year the Colts returned and prop Billy Borrett joined the club Committee becoming Bar Secretary. This was a thankless demanding task, being called upon at all hours and Billy fulfilled this role admirably with the assistance of his wife Monica for over 10 years. Trevor Parrott who was already already volunteering at the club as a successful junior and colts team coach took over the role of men’s coach, a position he held with great dedication until 2005. Eccles Ladies had their inaugural game against Widnes at Gorton St and Captain Claire Dean was to be instrumental in their first decade of development. In the 1998/99 season membership was recorded as Adult Male Players 78, Adult Female 10, Colts 36, M & J 135.
In 1999 Brian Wilkinson passed the Junior Chair role on to Steve Eveson who was influential in organising the club's first Juniors invitation tournament. Sedgley Park Women completed a successful and mutually beneficial move to Eccles and within a year the Ladies were joined by players from Salford University and were soon entering in the RFU league structure to play in League 2 North. Shelley Powe was appointed Ladies Captain, a position she went on to hold for 12 consecutive seasons and commenced 18 years of active service on the club Committee.
Approaching the new millennium, Mens 4XV fixtures began to fade out as the experienced playing age adults found other interests including running Sunday rugby for age-grade players! The club held a memorial game for Norman Bisbey which included spreading his ashes on the pitch. Glen Cahill, who joined the club in 1992 commenced his epic 11 year stint as men’s club captain, a record for Eccles and probably a record at any other club. His tenacity during a period of development, and then as the team blossomed towards the end of his captaincy reaching level 6, is a credit to his dedication and ability. The 2000-2001 season membership was recorded as Adult Male Players 55, Female 34, Colts 24, M&J 156.
With the growth of the Minis and Juniors section, the success of the Ladies team, plus Mens and Colts teams, Eccles were outgrowing their facilities. Following a lengthy application process lead by a committed team of Club Secretary Andy Brunt, Chairman Mark Dutton, Brian and Carl Wilkinson, and Treasurer John Whiteside, the club was eventually awarded a Lottery grant in 2002 for mixed-use changing facilities, increased training floodlighting, a bigger kitchen, a gym and other improvements. On the 13th January 2002 the new club facilities were opened by the Mayor of Salford, Councillor James King. RFU Community Director, Terry Burwell and Finance Director Nick Eastwood visited the Club to see the work undertaken and discuss National Facilities Strategy.
By 2003, Eccles were turning out 15 teams (3 Mens, 1 Women, 2 Colts, 9 Mini and Juniors) and the Club further extended and refurbished the Clubhouse in order to accommodate the swelling ranks. Chris Parrott, home grown Eccles Junior, plays for England under 16’s.
In 2004, Eccles Secretary Andy Brunt received an unexpected call from the RFU and following surveys a 60mx40m all weather pitch was installed and funded in appreciation for our commitment to community rugby. After 13 years as Fixture Secretary, Alan Chettoe stood down for a well earned rest as Don Edmondson, who had joined the club while still refereeing, takes over the reigns and goes on to become the longest serving Fixture Secretary in the club's history.
In 2005 Andy Brunt, Gary Grieves and Dave Nicholls took over coaching the men's first team from Trev Parrott, who was to continue his invaluable contribution to club development in his new role as Salford RFU Community Rugby Coach. Eccles Junior Alex Hurst was selected England under 16’s. In the same year Paul Thorpe joined the committee and would go on to give the club 16 years of unbroken service as Secretary, Chairman and President. In 2006, following advice from Sport England, Eccles RFC registered as Community Amateur Sports Club (CASC). Carolyn Radcliff, who’d joined as a social member when her son began playing in the centenary year, took on administrative duties for the club and proved to be a dedicated and valuable volunteer in the role of Assistant Secretary. Mark Dutton became Junior Chair and Heather Thorpe took on the role of Child Protection Officer and Juniors Membership Secretary, demanding roles that she still fulfils diligently to this day. In 2007 the Eccles men were defeated in the final of the Lancashire Plate but Jordan Davies, another Eccles Junior represented England at under 18’s and the club reached 16 teams (3 men, 1 women, 2 Colts, 10 Mini and Juniors).
Between 1998-2008 Eccles 1XV played at Level 8 of the RFU structure for 10 seasons. In 2009, Sam Simpson, a former Eccles Junior and Colt who was furthering his playing career at Level 2 with Fylde, returned to Gorton Street to coach Eccles 1XV to League promotion and a Lancashire Plate Final victory, the first in the club’s history. Eccles remained at Level 7 for four seasons before winning promotion to Level 6 in 2014, where the club remained for 3 seasons. This was a buoyant period for Eccles, with home grown talent making significant contributions to both mens and ladies teams. The second and third teams had built steadily as Colts moved up through the ranks and there was talk once again of raising a fourth team. Paul Bates became Junior Chairman, a position he maintained for the next decade.
In 2009 1XV players Mike Ince and Mark Greenhalgh began coaching the Ladies who were promoted to National Challenge 1. After a second successful season where they finished third in the league and lifted the Lancashire Plate and the Manchester 7s Plate, the Ladies were invited to be promoted to National Championship 2. Eccles Ladies went on to win the Championship 2 league title and retain the Lancashire Plate in 2011/12 and enjoy six years in National Championship 1. Mark Greenhalgh was to serve the club for well over a decade in various officer roles including Club Captain, Secretary and Chairman.
Sadly, 2009 also marked a tragic event in the club’s history. Whilst playing for Eccles, Christopher Tickle suffered a severe neck injury and sadly died in hospital three weeks later. Chris was a popular 23 year old with a great love of life and sports, an infectious sense of humour, a willingness to help others and was about to begin studying at Salford University. In March 2010 he was posthumously awarded The Duke of Edinburgh Gold Award by HRH Prince Phillip. As a tribute to Christopher, Eccles RFC was to become the first rugby club in the country to establish its own DofE awards programme in 2011 and continues honour his memory each year with its fundraising activities in aid of spinal injuries research.
In October 2014 Eccles RFC was selected to host a publicity event for the RFU National All Schools Programme aimed at increasing state school participation in rugby. HRH Prince Harry attended and joined in coaching sessions on the glorious green turf of the Gorton Street pitches. The club did not miss the opportunity to present His Royal Highness and Sir Bill Beaumont with the local delicacy Eccles Cakes. After the event, Jonathan Dance, President of the RFU was kind enough to write "It was a privilege to come to a real rugby club where the game in all its aspects is obviously at the centre of everything the Club does. I find it hard to imagine a more appropriate place to hold it." Praise indeed. Following the successful event Eccles Chairman Andy Brunt and his wife Gillian received an invitation to a Royal Garden Party at Buckingham Palace.
The honours continued in 2015 when William Webb Ellis returned home, with Eccles RFC selected by the RFU and Salford Council to host the England Team World Cup Trophy Tour. With the club swelling to 21 teams (4 mens, 2 womens, 2 colts, 10 junior, 3 girls) the 2015/16 season saw a new bar and coffee shop installed in the clubhouse but the first team ending its 3 year spell at Level 6 as a number of senior players retired.
The Club Officers negotiated a new 50 year lease for the ground giving the club security for the next half century in 2017. In the same year the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme rewarded Eccles RFC with its own operating licence, in recognition of its success. In this same year, as tribute to former Eccles players who had volunteered and sacrificed their lives in WW1, nine Eccles RFC U18s undertook an expedition to the Somme to retrace the journey on foot of the Salford Pals Battalions 100 years before them. On arriving at their final destination of Thiepval, the young people laid poppy wreaths before meeting with Baron Edward Llewellyn, OBE, Her Majesty's Ambassador to France and Colonel Borneman, Military Attache, British Embassy Paris. On returning from France, in recognition of their efforts, the club hosted a commemorative match between the Eccles 1XV and the 1st Battalion Royal Regiment of Fusiliers. The following spring the nine young people from Eccles were invited to Buckingham Palace to meet HRH Prince William and receive their DofE Gold Awards.
Although there was plenty to celebrate off the pitch, 2017 and 2018 marked a low point on it, with back to back relegations as the Mens 1XV returned to Level 8. The Ladies section also endured a difficult period of transition with the loss of players to the emerging professional Women’s game.
2019 - INTO THE FUTURE
The club began the 2018/19 season determined to arrest the decline with a refocus on the development of home grown youth. In October 2018 Eccles RFC celebrated 70 years at Gorton Street by gathering players on the pitch from all its 16 teams - a fitting symbol of our club’s ethos in rugby for all.
In April 2019 the 1XV secured promotion back to Level 7, winning 16 out of 20 league games and reaching the Lancashire Plate final. The Senior Colts also won thier Divisional title and the North West Colts League Lancashire & Cheshire Plate. In addition to the silverware the RFU rewarded our commitment to our community by awarding a grant for a new 3G artificial turf pitch after 14 years service. Eccles RFC were one of the first clubs in the region to take up Walking Rugby which made big strides with strong numbers and a very successful 2019 was capped off with awards recognition, winning two prestigious regional 'Club of the Year' Awards and earning finalist nominations in the Sport England 'Club of the Year' award for the Greater Manchester region and the National Sport Mirror awards.
In March 2020 the 2019/20 Rugby season was curtailed with the announcement of Government restrictions introduced to suppress the spread of the Covid-19 virus. The global pandemic was to have a devastating impact on the game and our way of life. The club successfully navigated the uncertain times completing a Crowdfunding project to overcome the loss of income during the enforced lockdown. The disruption effectively suspended activities for 18 months and competitive rugby would not be seen on the Gorton Street pitches until August 2021 when the club hosted the ‘Eccles Cup’ tournament to celebrate '100 Years of Hoops’ at the Eccles Beer Festival.
In 2022/23 the club officially celebrated 125 years (although we now know our history stretches back much further) and went on to enjoy one of its most all round successful seasons on record. Membership surged to 507 as the good word spread through our community, our minis continued their irrepressible growth, improved links with local high schools saw many of our junior teams recruit new players, our Ladies section fostered a relationship with Salford University which resulted in a new Ladies 2XV, and our restructured mens section launched a new 3XV team. The men were the vanguard of our advancement on the pitch, with the 1XV achieving a County League title and Lancashire Plate double with promotion back to Level 7, the 3XV matched this with their own promotion League and Plate double, the 2XV achieved a very respectful 3rd place and cup semi final and the Senior Colts reached 2nd place in thier division, two cup semi finals and players selected for Sale Sharks Academy, County and England represenation. Off the pitch the club facilities were improved and foundation plans were laid for future development.
With over one and a quarter centuries of Rugby behind us, Eccles RFC remains ambitious and progressive. We continue our faith in developing homegrown youth and, as we know all too well from our own story, there are no short cuts to success. All things prosper with hard work. “Labore Omnia Florent” as the ancient townsfolk of Eccles no doubt once said.
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Griffin Plaque Winners 1971, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1977, 1983 and 1985.
Lancashire Plate Winners 2009, 2022, 2023
Counties 2 Lancashire & Cheshire Div Winners 2023
Senior Colts Halbro North West Colts League Cup Winners 2009
Senior Colts Raging Bull Cock O' th' North Challenge Trophy Winners 2009
Senior Colts Halbro North West Colts League Plate Winners 2019
Senior Colts Halbro North West Colts League Winners 2019
City of Salford 'Club of the Year' 2019
Lancashire RFU 'Club of the Year' 2014