Festive rugby at Sidmouth

 Festive rugby at Sidmouth

Sidmouth RFC president in 1951, Tommy Sanders, who selected a side to play in the annual Boxing Day fixture. Picture: TERRY OBRIEN

The Blackmore Field home of Sidmouth RFC was, sadly, empty and silent on Boxing Day as another popular annual event fell victim to the pandemic, writes Terry O’Brien.

The Boxing Day rugby match has always attracted one of the biggest crowds of the season and, since the club opened its first bar in 1961, people have gathered to carry on the festive celebrations.

Indeed, the Blackmore has become ‘the’ festive venue for those who travelled home for Christmas to reunite with old friends and former teammates.    

The playing of rugby or ‘football’ on Boxing Day has been a tradition throughout the country since before the formation of either the Football Association or the Rugby Union.

The earliest games would have been between teams made up from within the same town or neighbouring villages each playing according to their own unique rules.

The first record of a Boxing Day game played in Sidmouth appeared in an article in Letheby’s Journal of January 1, 1875, nine years before the Rugby Club was formed.

The game was played on the Coburg Field, where: ‘a good few players entered heartily upon the game for two or three hours.’

In 1884, the year the club was founded, Sidmouth visited Chard on Boxing Day. The following year Chard were due to play at Sidmouth but cancelled.

However, and at short notice, a game was arranged between married men and those who were single.

In 1888, Sidmouth fielded three teams on Boxing Day. The first team played Honiton at home while the 2nd XV travelled to Exeter Oaks and a third team played at Honiton.

By the end of the 19th century, touring teams, usually from Wales, were providing the opposition.

In 1904, Cardiff Macintosh were the opposition for matches on both Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, losing 0-3 and drawing 3-3 respectively.

The Welsh side clearly loved Sidmouth as they returned to play on Easter Monday, winning 3-0 to level the series!

This continued until 1950, when Salisbury became the last Boxing Day tourists. In 1951, in the absence of a visiting side, the president Tommy Sanders assembled an invitation team, TS Sanders XV.

The President’s XV match has continued ever since. 

* We are indebted to Terry O’Brien for this article. Terry is without doubt the sort of person ‘every’ club needs! His knowledge of club rugby, and, in particular, all things Sidmouth RFC, is, quite simply, second-to-none. We look forward to bringing you more articles written by Terry in the coming months.

Stephen Birley

Related post