Bad blood between Wolverton and Bedford Rugby Teams

In the late 19th century the Wolverton Rugby Football Club (known then simply as the Wolverton Football Club, played several teams who would now be considered superior – Northampton Saints, Warwick, Coventry, St Thomas Hospital, London and one game only against Bedford.

Bedford’s football club in the 19th century played for some years under both codes. One week they played under Football Association rules and the next week using Rugby Union rules. This seems very quaint now and was recognised at the time as being unsustainable, so in 1882 the two codes parted company and set up separate teams. The rugby team named themselves Bedford Swifts and the club is still going today and plays in the East Midlands league.

On November 28th 1885 Wolverton travelled to Bedford to play against the Swifts and the game ended in a rancorous draw, with ill feeling on both sides. Letters were written to Croydon’s Weekly Standard (later known as the Bucks Standard) and I reproduce them here to perhaps tell the story.

First the Wolverton account:

Sir – Having been questioned by several persons as to the reason the Bedford Football Club refuse to play the return match with our club, I should be obliged if you would allow me to inform those of your readers who take an interest in our club, the grounds on which this refusal is based.We journeyed to Bedford on the 28th ult. (November) to play our first match of the season with this club. When the teams faced each other, it was evident that the Wolverton team was at a great disadvantage, their opponents being much more strongly represented, yet the game, which at first appeared an easy win for the home team, resulted in a draw. During the first half-time Bedford obtained a try, and, in the second half, both teams played a fast game, but, about one minute before time was called, the Wolverton team, contrary to the expectation of their opponents, succeeded in obtaining a try. It was then that the Bedford captain, finding that their chance of victory was over, time being called, appeared terribly agitated, and objected to the try being obtained by Wolverton.I wish to state the facts as they occurred. The ball was run in, and the umpires appealed to. Both decided that the try was fairly obtained, but the Bedford captain, contrary to the rules of football, disputed the decision of both umpires. Last week I received a letter stating that, after what occurred, the Bedford Club would not meet to play the return match. I can only say that if members of this club are so lost to fair play, their refysal to meet again reflects discredit upon themselves only.On behalf of the Club,I remain yours faithfully,Alf. E. AbbottHon. Sec. Wolverton FC.Wolverton, December 17, 1885.

This letter appeared on December 28th. On January 9th 1886, Croydon’s Weekly Standard was able to publish this reply.

Sir—I was surprised to see in your last issue a letter from the hoin. sec. of the Wolverton Football Club alleging reasons for our discontinuing the connection wish his club.  As perhaps he may not be satisfied with an unqualified denial of those reasons, I may as well state our objections to again meeting his club are their ungentlemanly conduct and language, which were such as are expected only from the roughest of roughs, and which ought to be altogether foreign to the game of football. I am sorry to say that such notice was taken of it by the lookers on, that those who had not already left the field in disgust greeted the retirement of the Wolverton team with a storm of hooting. As to the remarks on the terrible agitation and unfairness or our captain, 1 can only say Mr. Abbott’s power of perception must be wonderfully keen, for no one has ever observed those qualities before, although the gentleman in question has been paying football for years. I am, Sir, yours faithfully, A. F. DUDLEY. Hon. Sec. Bedford Swifts Football Club40, Adelaide Square, Bedford. 

133 years later it is difficult to say who was at fault. Words were obviously spoken and not forgiven and relations were poisoned forever. Bedford, as far as I know, never played against Wolverton, although there have been games played between Bedford and Milton Keynes – so to that extent, the hatchet has been buried. This can be contrasted with Northampton Saints, whom Wolverton played several times at the end of the 19th century.  In the early years of the re-formation of the Wolverton Rugby Club, Northampton Saints were kind enough to send a team to Wolverton to help to promote the game. By that time the Saints were among the top clubs in the country (as indeed they are today) and relations remained cordial, although they had been competitive in the 1880s and 1890s.

Wolverton Rugby Club – 1958

In 1958, largely due to the activism of John Cawthorn (right, back row in the photograph), re-formed for its first game in almost 50 years. Cawthorn, then only about 16 years old, managed to persuade men such as Bill Tompkins and dr Coster to get behind the project and the Wolverton UDC provided a pitch and goal posts at the Top Rec. A program of fixtures was organised and from very certain beinningthe club grew in size and strength, eventually acquiring its own club house and pitch. Once Milton Keynes came into being the club changed its name to Milton Keynes Rugby Club.

Pictured here are the pioneers of that first team:

Back Row l-r: Mike Sullivan, ?, Dicky Ratcliffe, Paul Homes, ?, Derek Haycock. Jim Thomas, Ron Williams, ?, John Cawthorn.

Front Row l-r: Reg Wright, Norman Brazell, ?, Trevor Bates, Ron Parrot, ?, Peter Hempstead, Jeff Capell.

Boys at front l-r: ?, Roger Haycock

(Photo kindly supplied by Roger Haycock)

Wolverton Rugby in 1890

A Wolverton Rugby Club was re-formed almost 60 years ago, and I was part of it. We had no facilities. We changed in the Wolverton Baths along the Stratford Road, made our way to the Top Rec, where we played our match, and then back to the Baths to clean ourselves up. Sandwiches and more than one pint of beer at the Craufurd afterwards. Often we had barely enough bodies to make a 15 and there was more than one occasion when we had to “borrow” a player or two from the opposing team.

The story was not dissimilar in 1890, when Wolverton’s first rugby club was making its way in the competitive world of its day. As can be read in this newspaper report from the Northampton Mercury of 4 January 1890, Wolverton was short of players. However, here they are, playing Northampton at Franklin’s Gardens. Northampton is now one of the mightiest teams in the land and it boggles the mind a bit that Wolverton was once thought to be on a more-or-less equal footing. Two week’s later, they travelled to Warwick.

In 1890 Wolverton Rugby Club played on a pitch marked out beside the canal, in the field between the Galleon bridge and the blackboards bridge, now of course a housing development.

In the article below the Wolverton umpire was Mr. F. Swain, a keen sportsman in his day, and the man who founded Swain’s sports shop at 48 Church Street.

A combination team of Wolverton and Oluey footballera, at Franklin’s Gardens on Saturday aftemoou, were beaten by the St. James’s representatives with a try to four minors. The fixture was Nurlhamptou v. Wolverton ; but several of the latter’s men could not play, and so the Oluey Club was drawn upon to fill up the vacancies. Then  Wolverton were a man short. The Northampton team, about half-an- hour after the match should have commenced, looked like numbering about twelve players. Eventually, however, by getting several unselected men to play, It was made possible to put a full, although weak, home fifteen in the field. The Wolverton men, with their backs to the lake, started a somewhat poor game—which cost spectators 6d. to witness—something after three o’clock. Williams did some good forward work for Northampton; Allinson made a short run and a useful boundary kick, and Hough—who failed to play up to his previous day’s form—put in a little sprint, but was soon collared. This play was at the home end, where a maul took place later on between Robinson and Hilton, the former proving the stronger, and touching down for his side. On the re-start, Dunham and Hooton tackled well, and the latter, picking up after a dribble by Moring, was promptly pulled down by Golding. A. Farrer. by a long kick, returned the leather to Northampton’s 25, and Allinson had again to touch. Almost immediately Hough nearly scored, but dropped the ball on the line, and only a third touch was credited against. Northampton at half-time. Moring a minute or two later received from a line-out and kicked, but Smith made a pretty return. Shortly after there was a dispute. The ball was kicked over Northampton’s line, and Ruff, who was off-side ran in after it. From the presence of a number of people around the goal line, it was impossible to say what followed. Robinson claimed that be touched down; Ruff that he scored a try by touching the ball after it was handled by Robinson – but it was still in motion. Each umpire, J. Roseblade, (Northampton) and F. Swain (Wolverton) stood by his respective side and eventually the visitors gave way. Hardly was the ball again rolling than C. Stanley got hold and showing the Wolverton backs a clean pair of heels, scored a try, amidst cheering, for Northampton. Moring took the kick, a difficult one, and tailed, and the game shortly after concluded.
Wolverton.—Back, G. Inns ; three-quarter backs, Smith, Hough, and Hooton ; half backs. Gallop and Hllton ; forwards, Ruff (captain). A. Shaw. J. Gardiner, A. Farrer, T. Farrer, W. Cooke, J. Biginton, G. Covington, (one short).

Northampton.—Back. A. Robinson; three-quarter backs, C. Stanley, C. J. Allinson, and A. Orton ; hair backs, W. Moring and T, Phipps ; forwards. C. Phipps, T. Stanley, J. Ayers, A. Dunham. Golding, Drsge, Williams, C. Parr, and W. S. Godfrey.