“This lot will never make a club”
A friendly inter pub match had been arranged between the Arun View and The Britannia In Littlehampton. The date was The 27th Dec 1984 venue Littlehampton School, then back to The Britannia afterwards. Arun View fielded a team made up from Worthing and Azurians RFC’s, Britannia fielded a Bognor team with a few players on both sides who did not belong to a club, memorable among these were very young James Ayling (still with hair) and Paul Francis.
The game was duly played in a good fun spirit and both teams returned to the Britannia, it was during this session that I was approached by Ken Hancock at that time Landlord of the Arun View, ever the opportunist for business he asked me had I considered forming a team he had noticed the impressive consumption of beer and thought he’d have some of that, he offered to sponsor the team to the tune of kit as long as we were based at the Arun View, the seed was sewn.
The end of The 83/84 season came with it a lot of dissatisfied Worthing club members owing to the increasing cost of playing for that club and a bitter feeling among the lower teams that they were wanted only to fund a successful first team. One Lunchtime in The Smugglers Roost I was discussing this with Mike Pickthall who was also disillusioned with Worthing, he asked was I going to remain at that club I said I was unsure, he then asked what did I propose to do? Half jokingly I replied start a club In Littlehampton. A few beers later the discussion became more serious with ideas being thrown around as to how I could achieve this, Mike offered to join with me in starting the Club which I was glad to accept so we put the plan into action.
First on the list was a visit to Ken Hancock at the AV to ask him to make good his offer, unfortunately Ken had decided not to go ahead with us so we had to find another clubhouse. Mike and I drew up posters which we distributed around the area advertising for players, we also convinced ex Worthing, Bognor and Azurian players to join, we hijacked guys who were on leave from the forces in the form of the Gladstone brothers Colin Leightly and others who played the odd game. We had a core of guys who had never touched a rugby ball in their lives and others who hadn’t played since school. So we had a rag tag team, next we needed a strip, we managed through raffles at the Smugglers, begging, blackmailing and taking out a bank loan to buy a strip 20 navy blue shirts at an outrageous cost. My late mother in law Margaret Turner, bless her, sat for days sewing on the individual numbers by hand. While I was organising this Mike had approached the Sussex RFU with regards to membership, we were told that we would be put forward for membership to the RFU the following year if we were still going, meanwhile we made two important friends within the Sussex RFU structure, first Jack Wright President of Sussex RFU and Don Bradley President of the Sussex referees society and Secretary of the Sussex late fixtures bureaux. Both men took us under their wings and helped us through the pitfalls of starting a club.
Jack was also President of St Francis RFU and immediately offered us fixtures against his thirds and has since become a standing fixture between the two clubs every year.
Meanwhile the saga of a clubhouse was still going on, all the pubs wanted our business and the increased Saturday early evening revenue but none wanted to help with the cost of food and also wanted us to supply bar staff.
Out of the blue I received a call from Tommy Cooper then secretary of the Sportsman, he had heard through Littlehampton Cricket club members that we were looking for a base and offered us the Sportsman, the cricket club offered us a pitch for £1200 a year which in those days was impossible for us, so we settled for Littlehampton School f our home games however we accepted the offer and The Sportsman became our home. Club member’s wives offered their services and did the catering and so we were ready.
12 October 1985
The first game,
1.00pm : Team meet at the Sportsman, transport allocated off we all go 3.00pm K.O at Crawley. However due to very vague directions from the Crawley fixtures Secretary most of the team went to the college ground where we were meant to play, rest of us went to Crawley clubhouse so one third of the team were late for the k.O.
Needless to say we were stuffed 58-4 Paul Gladstone scoring our first ever try.
19 October 1985
This to me is one of the most memorable games in the club History, we were away at Crowborough playing their thirds, we had been beaten 28-4 our try coming from Simon Toon. We had started to gel as a team and although we had lost we felt we had made big advances over our first game.
The poignant moment for me was in the bar afterwards while waiting to be served, I overheard a conversation between a few old ex first team players and the comment was “This lot will never make a club”
There was nothing I could say or do, we went back to the Sportsman and I passed on that message to the team. Needless to say I’m sure that was the comment that gave us the determination to succeed.
We lost our next couple of games against Ditchling and Seaford and then on the 9th November 1985 we recorded our first win at Azurians playing their second team Mike Pickthall and Steve Chittenden scoring to give us an 8-4 win.
I received so many calls and e mails that night from the guys who had sponsored us in the RFU.
However our biggest success that season was sweet revenge on Crowborough, They came to us on January 25 1986.
The fact that this day was Colin Leightley’s birthday and we had two new members in the form Of Paul Best and Keith Abbott we ran out on the pitch in a party mood, looking for revenge. We ran out winners that day 40-0 and sent them home reminding them;
“This lot will never make a club!”
The rest is history. We were admitted as full members of the RFU on February 1st 1988. Arun has now become Littlehampton RUFC, we have had members who have served the club over the years Andy Sayers was there at the beginning and still with us 25 years later, we now have original players sons playing for us. Along the way we have sadly said goodbye to players we have lost, Simon Toon, Paul Dann, Mickey Laycock, Coach John Haddleton.
But we made a club!!