Fylde make the short trip to Lightfoot Green to take on Preston Grasshoppers on Saturday (ko 2.30 pm) in the latest in a very long history of games between the neighbouring clubs. This is especially poignant as it’s ‘Hoppers 150th season and Fylde’s 100th.
Fylde cling on to 2nd place in National Two (North) despite losing at Sheffield Tigers last weekend. ‘Hoppers have had a tough season to date and sit in 15th place in the division following three home wins (48-24 to Scunthorpe, 10-9 Sheffield Tigers, and 20-17 v Stourbridge), two draws (24-all at Fylde and 0-0 at Otley) and ten defeats. A strong September saw them win two matches and draw at Fylde but then slump to nine losses in the next ten games. After suffering a glut of injuries to a number of 1st choice, experienced players, these are now returning to action with the likely improvement in results that this will bring.
We’re unsure of how many matches have been played at 1st XV level since Fylde was established in 1919-20. But we do know [thanks to Mike Forshaw at ‘Hoppers] that the first game between the two was played in Ansdell on Boxing Day 1921 in which the home side ran out winners by eight points to nil. The return fixture in Preston was played at the Ribbleside Ground on the 4th of March 1922 which Hoppers won by thirteen points to three. This was the first full season of rugby for the Grasshoppers after the war.
Up to the start of league rugby, initially the Northern Merit Table, then the formal RFU league hierarchy and to the start of professional rugby in 1995-6, games between the clubs were ‘friendlies’. That word hardly described many of the fierce battles between friends and neighbours wearing the distinctive ‘Hoppers and Fylde shirts.
Since 1995, both clubs have spent significant periods at levels 3 and 4 in the RFU hierarchy. Both have had ups and downs but still have important roles and represent strong brands in Lancashire, North West and English rugby.
Reliable and publicly available RFU league data earlier than the introduction of professionalism is hard to locate other than at clubs themselves. Games since 2003-4 have been as follows:
|2003-4||Fylde||24-15||Preston G||2008-9||Preston G||14-12||Fylde|
|Preston G||12-28||Fylde||Fylde||41-25||Preston G|
|2005-6||Preston G||47-13||Fylde||2009-10||Fylde||32-10||Preston G|
|Fylde||12-3||Preston G||Preston G||10-38||Fylde|
|2006-7||Preston G||18-10||Fylde||2010-11||Fylde||48-17||Preston G|
|Fylde||21-9||Preston G||Preston G||20-27||Fylde|
|2007-8||Fylde||25-18||Preston G||2018-19||Preston G||18-15||Fylde|
|Preston G||8-17||Fylde||Fylde||33-17||Preston G|
Last season’s games typified the competitiveness of this tradition, with ‘Hoppers winning 18-15 at Lightfoot Green and Fylde coming out on top 33-17 at the Woodlands. Both were excellent to watch for the large crowds who attended and were played in the very best spirit. The 24-all draw at the Woodlands in September was equally compelling, with Fylde establishing a 17-3 lead in the 1st half but ‘Hoppers battling back to draw with a converted try minutes before the final whistle.
‘Hoppers were promoted as champions of North Premier at the end of the 2017-18 season and had an excellent first season back at level four in National Two (North) when they finished in 7th place, one behind Fylde.
There have always been players who have moved between the two clubs and this brings its own interest and competition. For ‘Hoppers, Paul Arnold had a distinguished seven seasons as player and coach at the Woodlands, and former Fylde players such as Peter Altham, Matt Lamprey and Oli Trippier are now playing important parts in the current Hoppers squad.
This summer’s recruitment saw another two players added to that roll when Fylde youth product Toby Harrison moved to Lightfoot Green whilst Jordan Dorrington signed up to bolster the ‘Hoppers ranks after a couple of seasons at Vale of Lune following his departure from Fylde at the end of the 2016-17 season. Fylde stalwarts Connor Wilkinson and Tom Grimes are notable products of the ‘Hoppers youth system.
‘Hoppers strengthened their squad with some shrewd recruitment during the summer. Apart from Toby Harrison, Jordan Dorrington’s brother Ben (formerly at Vale of Lune) signed up too. Hooker Christian Taylor has joined from Sale FC and a third Vale recruit was Sam Wallbank, also from Vale.
Established and influential players in the ‘Hoppers squad include forwards ex-Wharfedale prop/lock Adam Howard, former Oxford Blue and prop Noah Miller, lock Ally Murray, South African backrow Ryan Carlson and no 8 Matt Lamprey.
Amongst the backs there is the young England Counties centre Sam Stott, versatile Scott Jordan, centre Alex Hurst and pacey winger Tyler Spence. First choice halfbacks last season, scrum-half James Gough and fly-half Tom Davidson, have been missing through injury for most of the current season but are now back in harness.
Fylde make two changes in their starting line-up, both in the backrow. David Fairbrother has recovered from injury and resumes at no 8. At openside flanker is England Counties and Lancashire’s Phill Mills, on loan from Rossendale RUFC to cover the injuries to various backrow players. ‘Millsey’ came up through the development systems of Burnley RUFC and then Preston Grasshoppers. He joined Fylde for the 2015-16 season and has been at Marl Pits since 2017.
15 Connor Wilkinson; 14 Tom Carleton, 13 Chris Briers, 12 Scott Rawlings, 11 Tom Grimes; 10 Greg Smith, 9 Adam Lanigan; 1 Elliot Horner, 2 Ben Gregory, 3 Adam Lewis, 4 Nick Ashcroft, 5 Olli Parkinson, 6 Jacob Conner, 7 Phill Mills, 8 David Fairbrother.
16 Drew Stephenson, 17 Matt Ashcroft, 18 Ben Vernon/Ben O’Ryan, 19 Tom Forster, 20 Lex Botha.
Photo above by Chris Farrow: Fylde players acclaim final try v Preston Grasshoppers a year ago at the Woodlands