For a long period of Fylde’s history, the Boxing Day fixture against Preston Grasshoppers was legendary. It attracted big crowds at both the Woodlands and Lightfoot Green and for many it was the highlight of the season. Whilst there are no specific records of attendances at these games, crowds of over 2,000 were routine. And the competitiveness on the pitch between these local rivals was unmatched – these really were special occasions!
The establishment of National League rugby in the late 1980s and the associated substantial fixture lists in the early 1990s heralded the end of traditional ‘friendlies’ between clubs. Fylde and ‘Hoppers have met many times in league fixtures since then up to the current day but these have never been on Boxing Days or quite recreated the special seasonal and ‘holiday’ atmosphere of the past. Nothing except fierce pride was at stake.
The last Boxing Day game between the clubs occurred on the 26th December 1994 at the Woodlands. Both line-ups that day included a host of well known and local players. Fylde were skippered by England B hooker Mike Dixon, ‘Hoppers by lock Phil Crayston. The home club won by 28-7.
Fylde scored four tries through their backs – Andy Parker, Paddy Seed, Steve Gough and Greg Anderton – with one converted by Gough who also kicked a couple of penalties. ‘Hoppers’ try was scored by their no 8 Mike Bailey, now the Club’s Chairman of Rugby, and it was converted by Julian Lamb.
In what was a generally good season for Fylde (incl three victories over Coventry a double v Moseley and their first ever capture of the Lancashire Cup), only the performances in a strong Courage League 2 were rather disappointing – eight wins, ten defeats. Crucially, despite looking clear for a mid-table finish, Fylde lost their last league game at home to Wakefield and a freak set of results saw them relegated to level 3 in the RFU hierarchy. In two seasons they were back amongst the 24 top clubs in England in a new era of professionalism.
Back on the Fylde v ‘Hoppers Boxing Day theme, in our immediately accessible records from 1977 (the earlier material is held in the Lancashire Archives HQ in Preston), there were 16 matches up to 1994-5. Fylde had the better of these exchanges with 11 wins, 4 to ‘Hoppers and 1 draw. ‘Hoppers take the prize for the biggest victory when they hammered the visitors by 33-0 in 1983-84 at Lightfoot Green.
What did the Boxing Day (and indeed any!) fixture between the two clubs mean to the players?[Steve Rigby] “The Boxing day fixture at Lightfoot Lane in 1989 was my first involvement in this local derby, as a replacement and touch judge – those were the days! I witnessed how much it meant to both teams that day and I would be very surprised if it is any different nearly 30 years later. The intensity was, and will be, tremendous, and even the ‘friendlies’ were eagerly anticipated in the week of the game. The quality of players who have played in this game over the years from both sides has been a credit to both clubs.” [Johnn Chesworth] ““When I started playing in 1990 the Boxing Day Fylde Derby drew the biggest crowd of the year, there were 2000 people in my first one at the Woodlands … Whatever happened on the pitch the players always had a beer afterwards and I still have many friends at Fylde who we faced on the pitch.”