Even many local people do not know the origination of the word ‘Fylde’. In fact, it dates back to Saxon times and means ‘low lying ground between two Estuaries!’ Equally, the story of the Fylde Rugby Club is very interesting as back in July 1919 the Fylde Rugby Club was born literally on the toss of a coin. On July 25th Manchester businessmen met at the Ansdell Institute to discuss the formation of either a rugby or football Club. A coin was tossed and it fell in favour of rugby. From such small beginnings, Fylde grew and after 95 years it is a nationally respected club and a strong brand name in English rugby.
It was in May 1920 that the present Woodlands site, although not in its present state, was used for rugby. In those days the admission was 5d and the first yearly gate receipts amounted to just over £57. In 1922, Harold Brooks was elected President and through his efforts Fylde progressed. He also generously provided the present stand. As far back as 1924 we were represented in the Lancashire team by many famous names such as ‘Ham’ Neville, who was capped 33 times, and ‘Pop’ Ogden, who was classed as the greatest kicker of the time. He was the originator of the ‘round the corner’ style of kicking now used by more or less all kickers worldwide. The Club was strengthened by the merger with Blackpool Old Boys in 1934/5.
Unfortunately, during the 2nd World War, Fylde had to close (as did many clubs) as the Army took over the ground. In 1946 the President, Mr Parkes, welcomed back members from the Forces and the 13 acres of the Woodlands Memorial Ground was purchased (for £7,000!) and named in honour of the members who had given their lives during the six year period.
In the 1950’s, the dressing rooms were erected and Pop Ogden was elected President of Lancashire. Arthur Bell and Rothwell Bamber were given life memberships for their work with the Club. Arthur actually served 34 years as the Honorary Secretary.
It was in 1964 that the second England trial was held at Fylde and Sir Laurie Edwards opened not only a clubhouse extension, but presented the Club with a Rugby Union shield. 1969 was Fylde’s Jubilee, when they were then fielding six or seven teams every Saturday. In 1970 the North West Counties played the Fijian Tourists at the Woodlands and attracted a record gate of 7,600.
The Club’s two most famous players were home grown. Malcolm Phillips, a product of Arnold School, Blackpool, won 25 England caps at centre between 1958 and 1964. He was President of the RFU in 2004/5 and served on the International Rugby Board for a number of years. He continues to give wise counsel to the Club and is actively involved in its administration.
Bill Beaumont was also a one club man having joined Fylde as 17 year old in 1969 and staying with the Club until injury forced him to retire in 1982. His father played for Fylde and he wrote to the Club suggesting that his son be given a trial. His first game was in the sixth team as fullback. When they looked at the size of Bill and saw his 6’3” height, he was very quickly made into a forward to play for the 1st team. He earned 34 times England caps, 21 times as Captain. This included leading the side to the Grand Slam in 1980, as well as skippering the British Lions in South Africa. In retirement he has remained in the public eye as broadcaster and columnist. He is still a regular face at Fylde and much respected throughout the Club.
He has also made in major contribution to rugby administration in the UK and internationally as IRB Member, with the RFU and was Manager of the British Lions touring party to New Zealand in 2005. He is the current Chairman of World Rugby (previously the IRB) and therefore leads the global game. His eldest son Danny played for the Fylde 2nd team, his middle son Sam notched up over 200 1st team appearances including three years as skipper before retiring through injury, and younger son Josh, who also came up through the Mini-Juniors, is now a rising star of English rugby and a fulltime contracted Sale Sharks and England squad player. Both Sam and Josh have also earned representative honours for the Barbarians.
In the same era as Bill, a young Roger Uttley, subsequently skipper and then manager of England, and Brian Ashton, one of England’s leading coaches, also wore the claret and gold. Other more recent internationals associated with Fylde include England wingers Tony Swift and Simon Smith, who were capped in the 1980s after leaving the Club, and locks Steve Bainbridge and Wade Dooley, established internationals who won further caps whilst with Fylde. England ‘A’ winger Mark Preston, who subsequently starred for Wigan RL, had a fine strike record scoring 98 tries in 131 appearances. But this achievement has been smashed by Oliver Brennand who has over 200 tries in some 220 appearances.
As with so many famous clubs outside the Premiership elite, attendances at home matches have fallen somewhat in recent years. Thirty years or so ago, 2,000 spectators watched local derbys with Preston Grasshoppers on Boxing Day and as many as 5,000 attended the wonderful 1982 game with Bill Beaumont’s XV versus Lancashire staged when he unfortunately had to retire from playing rugby. But the Club can still stage big fixtures, illustrated by the 2,500 crowds for the England v Scotland U’19 international in January 2004 and for Jason Robinson’s debut for the Club in September 2010, and 1,500 for England Counties v Scotland Club XV (March 2015).
Today, the teams still go onto the field wearing the colours of claret, gold and white, which were really the colours of the Huddersfield Old Boys. For some reason, this mystery has not been resolved and the colours have not changed.
Recent seasons have seen Fylde move up and down between levels 2, 3 and 4 in the RFU league hierarchy. The Club ran up significant debts in trying to compete at level 2 in the years 1997-9 and had to sell a small portion of the Woodlands grounds in order to re-establish financial health. With the receipts of the sale, a period of re-development of facilities of all kinds at the Woodlands began in January 2005. The splendid Clubhouse, housing some 400 people, opened in October 2005, has been a huge success in the following decade.
The next phase of ground development occurred during the summer of 2008 with the construction of a floodlit 3G (rubber crumb) all weather pitch and the installation of floodlights on the main pitch. A totally refurbished gym was also completed in 2008/9.
There was an innovative link up with Blackpool Panthers RL club for a couple of seasons which saw the semi-pro Panthers playing at the Woodlands and sharing the excellent facilities there. This ended when the club went into administration in 2010. Fleetwood Town have used the Woodlands as their training base since 2010.
The Club finished in 5th place in National Three North (level 4 in the RFU league hierarchy) in 2006/7, 3rd in 2007/8, 4th in 2008/9 & 9th in 2009/10. The 2010/11 season was a revelation for everyone at the Woodlands. The summer of 2010 saw the arrival of rugby legend Robinson and former England Head Coach Brian Ashton returned to join the coaching team under Head Coach Mark Nelson. Both of these individuals made huge contributions to galvanise the Club on and off the pitch. Fylde had a superb season and won the Championship of N2N at a canter.
More important than the results was the style of attacking rugby adopted which simply overwhelmed most of the other clubs in the division. Attendances and membership soared as a result. On their return to National One (level 3), the club has thrived against very tough opposition, most with far greater resources at their disposal. Travelling long distances in a fully national division dominated by South Eastern & Midlands clubs is challenging but the squad has punched well above its weight with finishing positions of 4th, 6th, 3rd and 4th in the seasons from 2011/12 to 2014/15. The last two seasons have been more a struggle with 10th & 12th places.
As the leading club in the North West outside the Premiership’s Sale Sharks, the squad has attracted a mix of accomplished, experienced senior players from the region and outside and highly promising youngsters. This has been recognised with representative honours for many players over the past five seasons. England Counties international selection for Sam Beaumont, Mike Waywell, Nick Royle, Chris Briers, Gareth Rawlings, Scott Barrow, Chris Johnson, Oliver Brennand & Adam Lewis, Evan Stewart, Jordan Dorrington and David Fairbrother.
Also since 2010, there have been Barbarians honours for Sam Beaumont, Josh Beaumont, Paul Arnold, Gareth Rawlings and Ryan De La Harpe, the first Namibian ever to play for this globally famous club. De La Harpe earned a number of full caps for his country of birth including on their European Tour in late 2014.
The Club is entering another phase in its coaching development with the appointment of Warren Spragg as 1st Team Head Coach ahead of the 2017/18 season. Spragg, currently an Academy Coach with Sale Sharks and also the Lancashire Backs Coach, has selected a Fylde coaching team which includes Alex Loney (forwards coach) and Dan Orwin (Skills Development & Fylde Hawks Coach). Former England & Bath Head Coach Brian Ashton continues to act as a consultant and advisor as well as running occasional training sessions.
Like so many clubs, Fylde is trying in this professional era to maintain a balance between a members club, based on traditional local community values and structures, and a professional outfit able to compete for players, regionally and nationally. The Club has reasserted itself as a community-oriented, members club, basically amateur, bringing together experienced players in the locality and region, together with nurturing considerable local talent. The Club currently fields 10 mini/junior sides, a Colts squads and four senior sides.
Fylde is a family club where everybody is welcome.