On the 28th September 1869 a meeting was held at the Bull Hotel, Preston at which the following resolution was passed: ‘That a club be at once formed in Preston to play football with the Rugby Rules of the game but without hacking. That the club be called ‘The Preston Grasshoppers.’
This meeting took place a few months after the idea of starting a Rugby Football in Preston was conceived by five men who had attended rugby playing schools; A.C. Dickson, C. Threlfall, G.H. Dickson, J.H. Threlfall & Bamber They duly approached the Headmaster of Preston Grammar School, G.C. Tatham, and the idea of a good winter game for the pupils appealed him.
The result of this was that the Grammar School pupils were given instructions in the game under the leadership of Mr Dickson and his friends, making sufficient progress to induce them to challenge Lancaster Royal Grammar School. The game was played at Lancaster 27th February 1869, and the school, assisted by some of its instructors, received a good beating!
Subsequently, such progress was made, that in the return match, Preston lost by only a single goal.
Interest in the game had now been aroused and Mr F.C. Hulton drove the suggestion that a Rugby Football Club should be created.
It is recorded that the first formal meeting took place at the offices of Messer’s George Paley & F. Beesley in Walton’s Parade before the formation meeting at The Bull Hotel.
The name ‘Grasshoppers’ was chosen, as among the founders were several old boys of Cheltenham College. This school had a game ‘Fireflies v. Grasshoppers’ which is believed to continue to this day.
Historians tell us that Football was developed in the Public Schools, then Universities during the early to mid 1800′s. It moved from being unruly ‘Mob’ or ‘Street Football’ into some sort of order but with a variety of regulations. Consequently the schools had their own types of football, played to various rules, shape and sized balls. It wasn’t uncommon for a game between two teams to consist of different rules played in the same match. One half one set of rules, the second another. Frustrated, undergraduates at Cambridge tried to unify the regulations in the mid-to-late 1840s and those rules would largely be accepted on the morning of 26 October 1863. Representatives from 12 clubs and schools from the London area met to agree a code for the game. One of these, Blackheath, refused to accept the non-inclusion of hacking and walked out but the 11 others agreed to form The Football Association, Soccer. From this point the rugby game went one way with Blackheath and soccer the other.
Presumably Cheltenham College played the version ‘Hoppers adopted in 1869, with the first committee deciding to play rugby but without ‘hacking’. Once the Rugby Football Union was formed in 1871, Grasshoppers’ adopted the official laws of the game, which officially outlawed ‘Hacking’ & ‘Tripping’, although only applying to join the organisation in 1875. The Rugby Union Annual records of the time show that we were members in 1876 until 1886, more of this later. Hacking is best described as where anyone lying in a ruck was fair game, and could be kicked below the knee until retreat was the best option. The sketch below illustrates this most graphically, although it would appear a couple of unfortunate chaps have had their faces mistaken for shins!
Whenever a match was played against Rossall School, the game had to be played by their rules, which was an adaptation of The Eton Field Game. It was played with teams of 11 players, Goalkeepers were used and the result was determined by goals scored by the ball passing underneath the crossbar of 11′ x 8′ goal posts. Games versus Brookhouse, which when played in Blackburn were to the Harrow rules. This was a mixture of Association and Rugger, a very rough game by all accounts.
Once the RFU was formed in 1871 Grasshoppers’ adopted the official rules of the game, although they only applied to join the organisation in 1875. The Rugby Union Annual records of the time show that we were members in 1876 until 1886, more of this later.
The club’s early games were played at Winckley Meadow, before, in 1871 a move to West Cliff was made. This was the home of the town’s Cricket Club (who ‘Hoppers paid an annual rent of £4 for use of a pitch) as it remains today. A number of other clubs where in existence in the town including Preston Olympic, Preston Atheneum, Fishwick Ramblers, and Preston Rovers. A team called North End, who became the now famous Preston North End, played rugby and cricket during this era.
Four figure crowds often witnessed home fixtures, especially against Manchester and Liverpool. The admission price was 6d at the West Cliff end and 3d to watch from the South Meadow Lane end, Ladies free! There was even a newspaper advert for special trains to transport spectators to the ‘Hoppers away match versus Manchester in 1878. A Grasshopper’s match at West Cliff in March 1878 against ’20 of the Town’ drew 3000 spectators.
Such was the popularity of the game. Around this time the club could boast four internationals in Albert Neilson Hornby JP CC (9 caps) and the brothers William Henry Hunt (4 caps), James Thomas Hunt (3 caps) and Robert Hunt (4 caps). The Hunt brothers were all products of Preston Grammar School and were no doubt involved with the early movement of the game in Preston. Such strength lead a sporting journal of the time to suggest that ‘The Preston Football Club has undoubtedly won the premier position this season in Lancashire.’ Whilst gathering ‘caps’ under the ‘Hoppers name (apart from Robert Hunt) they all they had strong links with the Manchester Club, who, starting with the game in Dublin of 1878, were credited against the players name. A strong allegiance with Manchester was a necessity at the time, as they and Liverpool selected the County teams. The best then graduated to represent the North of England in ‘North v South’ matches, which were in fact the trials for the England team. In later years they, along with ‘Hoppers other better players played for and toured with The Manchester Club, only participating in major games with Grasshoppers’.
During 1870 A.N. Hornby, nicknamed “Monkey” & “The Boss”, from the Brookhouse Club, (a team formed from the Hornby family’s group of mills in Blackburn) was invited to become a member by Alan Dickson and play for ‘Hoppers, although he still captained his former club against Preston, the following season!
Brookhouse played a game to the Harrow rules and so Hornby was quite at sea when playing the new game to him for ‘Grasshoppers. So much so that it is recorded during a game versus Manchester, with the famous A.C. McLaren charging towards him, he was heard to cry “What am I to do?” – “tackle him” was the retort, but not knowing how to do so, he charged him heavily with his shoulder knocking AC spinning over backwards!
He was equally as capable at cricket as rugby, being one of only two people captaining Lancashire and England in both sports, the other being A. E. Stoddard. During 1882 he captained the England rugby and cricket teams. Versus Scotland at Manchester with the elliptical ball and Australia at the Oval with the smaller harder one! He then became County President for the rugby game from 1884 until 1914 and Lancashire County Cricket from 1894 ’til 1916. He was still captaining the cricketing side of the county into his fifties, whilst acting as President and Chairman. On top of all this he was on the Committee of the R.F.U. in the mid. 1880′s, was associated with the M.C.C. from 1873 until 1898 and refereed major rugby matches after he retired from playing. It was reckoned he would have been equally as successful at the Association game had he not preferred rugby as he played a number of games for Blackburn Rovers, in particular, their famous opening game at Alexander Meadows versus Partick, the New Year game of 1878. He was born on the 10th February 1847, in Blackburn, schooled at Harrow and died at his home in Nantwich on the 17th December 1925. This was after complications from an operation for internal trouble resulting, it is believed, from his horse falling and rolling over him on his way home from hunting a year or two previously. It is said that riding ‘The Hunt’ was his most favoured sport. He even sacrificed a tenth rugby cap for England against Scotland because it interfered with this particular love.
W.H. Hunt represented the club at a meeting to form a County Committee in 1881. Sidney A. Hermon (the club captain in 1870/1) whilst playing for Lancashire v Yorkshire at Whalley Range, Manchester, at the end of that season, became the first ‘Hopper to represent his County. The same Mr Hermon proposed in a committee meeting later that year to have the name ‘Grasshoppers Club’ dropped, and the club be called Preston Football Club. The motion was withdrawn.
The Association game swept through the area like a plague during the early 1880′s and soon the numerous rugby players were converted to soccer with ‘Hoppers leading lights playing for Manchester permanently. Consequently, what had been an area with around fifty rugby clubs was decimated, and part way through season 1885/6 reports and results of the once leading club in the area vanished from the printed press. The ‘Football Field & Sports Telegraph’, an early version of the ‘Bolton Buff’ Saturday evening newspaper, recorded a special meeting of Preston Grasshoppers was held on Wednesday 25th November 1885 when it was decided to cancel the remaining fixtures for the season. A brave statement, informing the public that ‘there were no intentions of dissolving the organisation’, was issued but this was only a forlorn hope.
An article in the ‘Pastime’ weekly sporting newspaper of December 2nd 1885 stated:
“The Manchester and Preston Grasshoppers fixture at Whalley Range fell through owing to the collapse of the Preston Club, an event which was foreshadowed by the wretched results of their matches this season.“
The previous week’s edition recorded:
“The Free Wanderers beat Preston, at Preston, by the ridiculous score of eight goals & four tries to nil”
This was the end until 1900.
These troubled times lead to a great number of Northern clubs ceasing to play Rugby Union. The formation of The Northern Union in 1895, left only eight Rugby Union clubs represented at the Lancashire County meeting.
From Left to right: J.McNicoll, F.F.Stileman, A.Bell, F.Linell, J.S.Kearns, J.Toulmin, J Furness, J.O.Morris, S.H.Smith, J.B.Cardwell, K.V.Brierley, H.Parker, R.H.Furness, S.Threlfall(Captain), F.W.H.Stileman, H.W.Bonney
This picture was taken at the entrance to the Park Hotel, Preston, by the photographer Arthur Winter, in a storm of wind and rain. The date was Saturday the 2nd of March 1901 previous to playing Heaton Moor. This was the day of Mr H.T.Parke’s Presidential Dinner, in commemoration of the resusituation of the Preston Grasshoppers.
When in 1900 the club was reborn thanks to Roy H. Furness C.H. Plant and William F. Ascroft, (later Sir William, the long serving President) they were the only representatives of Rugby Union Football in the north of the county. Playing their home games alongside the River Ribble between the two Railway Bridges. The start of their final season at Ribbleside saw the first match action photograph in the local newspaper, versus Heaton Moor during early October. In 1909/10 they once again shared the cricket ground at West Cliff before moving to a ground just over the Old Tram Bridge. Changing accommodation was in the Bull Hotel (later the Bull & Royal Hotel) and the players then walked through Avenham Park and across the Tram Bridge to a pitch on the other side of the River Ribble. Hoppers gained strength, and once again were able to field two sides most weeks and drew players from a wide area as the Vale of Lune only came into being in 1901 with Blackburn and Fylde following after the First World War. It is worth mentioning at this stage that members of Preston Grasshoppers had a great deal to do with the formation of the Fylde, Furness, Blackburn and Vale of Lune clubs. The playing record was excellent with a steady stream of players winning county honours and John Arthur Scholfield, who captained Cambridge, winning an England ‘cap’ in 1911 scoring a try in Swansea versus Wales. Also in that era Harold Parker played for Lancashire versus the original Springboks at Fallowfield, Manchester in 1906. Another ‘Hopper’ playing against an International XV was E.A. Bryning who represented Lancashire against The Wallabies during 1908. Season 1910/1 saw Preston chosen as the venue, for its first county fixture, versus Cumberland. With many players joining the armed services, all activity ceased during the First World War.
With regard to the colour of the player’s shirts, it is unclear when the club adopted its distinctive colour and style. The earliest evidence, is a photograph of the second team wearing the White and Blue irregular hoops in the 1912/3 Season, although the official colours at this time where a plain Scarlet top. Therefore it might have started its days as a change or 2nd XV shirt? As for the idea of the style: there’s a photograph of ‘Bowden Smith’s House’ team of Rugby School from 1871 in the Rugby Museum at Twickenham with the same configuration of hoops. Although the dark colour cannot be determined as it is a black and white photograph, an enquiry made to the school’s historian confirms the dark colour of the hoops and shorts are indeed, Navy Blue. Sir William Fawell Ascroft, one of the Preston Grasshoppers resurrection committee of 1900, and later Club President for over twenty-five years, was educated at Rugby School from 1890, but was a member of School House, which had the same style shirts but with red in place of blue. Was he inspired by the style but chose the Navy Blue to match the Town’s colours?
Going back to 1869, the records show it was agreed at an early committee meeting, on green shirts. This may have changed however, as before the first game was played, a number of blue shirts with red caps were purchased. ‘Alcocks’ the RFU Handbook of the day first mentioning our club for the 1871/2 season, states that Preston Grasshoppers played in blue with a red cap until season 1873/4 mentions blue and white stripes (probably describing hoops), before broad regular hoops then plain Scarlet from 1880 until 1914. It would appear to have been a custom for players to turn out in a variety of coloured shirts in the early years, possibly their college colours. Early team photographs show some players wearing their international and county tops. Hence a motion was passed in committee when the Scarlet shirts were adopted, ‘that members playing in club matches play in the club uniform’.
Club photographs show a change to regular hoops was made for a short period after World War II. This was only due to the original style being unavailable.
In 1921-22 the club belatedly became fully active again after requests from the newly formed Fylde and Blackburn clubs to delay resumption, giving them the chance to get off the ground. By 1922 the walk from the Bull & Royal had become a thing of the past with a wooden hut being added to a sweet shop at the riverside. Two baths were also obtained but could only accommodate two people at a time. A second team and then a third team became active before the next move took place. The number of playing members increased steadily and coinciding with the fixture at Maudes Meadow versus Kendal in January 1924, for the first time in its history, the club fielded four teams.
In 1924 a lease was taken on land at Farringdon Park next to Preston Cemetery. The ground had at one time been the home of an Amusement Park and Cycling Track.
This proved to be an unfortunate choice as far as the soil was concerned. Thick mud was everywhere and it did not smell too nice either! Even as early as the first season a game against Sefton had to be moved to Leyland Motors. Despite this, the fixture list improved with an exhibition game against Liverpool and new opponents in Skipton, Bradford, Wilmslow, Otley and Hull & East Riding were founded. Much work was carried out on the ground, so much so that in 1929 a County Trial game was held there. Although there was no clubhouse, the willingness of a nearby landlord to ignore the licensing laws meant the social side flourished and a covered stand for 150 spectators was erected for the start of the 1925/6 season. During this period the season finished and sometimes started with a 7′s competition, ‘Hoppers were the victors at Manchester in 1927.
Club is fortunate to have rare action photographs of games played during the period of residence at Farringdon Park, and most interestingly it can be seen that squad numbers and playing mits are nothing new. Two of the matches feature Sale ‘A’ and Blackburn with Hoppers seen playing in their black change shirts.
In 1929 the club’s financial status was enhanced when it agreed a sub-tenancy with a syndicate (Preston Speedway) who wished to operate a Dirt Track and meetings began Good Friday 1929.
Although the syndicate folded after three years it had given ‘Hoppers the chance to consolidate and be in a position to contemplate the next move. In 1932 another syndicate arrived with a proposal for Greyhound Racing. Their offer of £2000 (a vast sum at the time) to buy out the remaining three years of the lease could not be refused. So, once again the club was homeless but this time it had money in the bank. Two years were spent in a nomadic existence playing on pitches borrowed at Leyland Motors, Whittingham Hospital, Balshaws Grammar School and Wellington House Leyland. Whilst various sites were investigated and deemed unsuitable. In 1934, 10.6 aces of agricultural land was acquired at Lea close to Greaves Town Lane, behind The Plough Inn on Blackpool Road, for a sum of £1400 with a further £600 expended in levelling a pitch. A clubhouse cost £1400 and on September 28th 1935 the first fixture was played, Furness doing the honours. Sadly, much work and expense was required over the following years in solving the drainage problems of the site.
The introduction of rugby football into the four local grammar schools was encouraged and led to a steady stream of talent arriving at the club as a result. The fixture versus Hoylake was played at Kirkham Grammar School in 1924 as an exhibition game, only soccer being played there at the time. Season 1936/7 saw Old Huttonians merge with Grasshoppers, bringing with them many names whom would spring to prominence as the years progressed.
The Second World War caused the suspension of many regular fixtures, but the club kept going by offering club games to individual servicemen and arranging fixtures against Service Units in the area. The fixtures against Fylde, Waterloo, Blackburn, Wigan Old Boys, Broughton Park and Furness managed to survive also. As the area was widely used as camps by the various services, many famous players donned the blue and white jersey, Humpish of Hampshire, Kenneth Fyfe who captained Scotland against England and Gray a Scottish International forward, being examples. During the war years it was customary for Inter Service Internationals to be played. Keith Dryden who’s father Norman, of Thomas Dryden Electrical Manufacturers, was England’s reserve outside half versus New Zealand Services at Twickenham: 24 November 1945. The pavilion at Lea was commandeered by the Special Constabulary Force and also used as an Air Raid Wardens Post. A newspaper article from an early date in the hostilities, noted that almost the entire Preston Grasshoppers Rugby Football Club recently joined in a body, The Duke of Lancaster’s Own Yeomanry. Upon the cessation of hostilities, a total of twenty members had lost their lives in the conflict.
The immediate post-war years saw the club, field a very successful side, but once again drainage problems were requiring considerable effort and expenditure. For a while during this era an annual fixture took place on New Years Day or Boxing Day between the Public Schoolboys of Preston and Fylde, alternating between Ashton and Ansdell. The introduction of rugby football to secondary modern schools brought another source of talent and soon the first Colts side was fielded. ‘Hoppers can take particular pride in this area of the game as a succession of dedicated committee men and coaches have ensured that the record of our Colts side will stand comparison with any in the country. The harvest, which the club has reaped in young men who have moved on to first team football, has been enormous.
In 1961 another team began to use our facilities when the Lancashire Constabulary began to field sides. More later of the benefits that liaison was to produce.
Our first hosting of a county fixture since the Cumberland game at Ribbleside and earlier final trials in 1929 & 1938, occurred in the 1964/5 season. The improving fixture list meant that the better players were able to demonstrate the level of their skills leading to a number of County Championship appearances.
In 1969 the Centenary season was celebrated with a testing fixture list including a game against the Old Cheltonians. The wanderlust was in evidence again, however, fuelled by increasing vandalism at Lea and perhaps recognition that the growing demand required a bigger site to allow more pitches.
1973 saw the first games at the current site at Lightfoot Green after a land swap with a development company. History perhaps repeats itself with a former duck farm not producing the most pleasant of odours and the problem of drainage again to the fore. Some difficult seasons were experienced but patience was rewarded and both the pitches and the playing record improved. Bar turnover was a key factor in the financial calculations with a full time steward enabling the thirsty to be satisfied every day of the week. Men like our past presidents, George Thompson, Leslie Anson and the late Pym Simons take a great deal of credit for keeping the club going and preventing it falling too far down the ladder when times were tough.
The late 1970s saw Hoppers branch into other sports with the development of four squash courts and a shooting range. There was also a change for the better on the playing side with two significant developments. The coaching side was strengthened with, first the arrival of Stan Liptrot and, later J.R.H. (Dick) Greenwood. The playing strength also benefited from the links with the Constabulary. County standard players Alan Wyllie and Mick Parker were playing for the club at weekend and the Constabulary in midweek and a certain Wade Anthony Dooley was gradually being persuaded that rugby union was a game he could take to. With a splendid prop in the form of Brent Horton returning and gritty back row Roy Dransfield starting a road, which would take him to 500 first team appearances, Greenwood had the materials, which he would mould into a pack to match the best. The early eighties produced exceptional playing records and representative appearances for Wade Dooley leading in 1985 to, the first of his 55 England caps.
In 1988 a grandstand improved the lot of spectators and lead to the club again being asked to host county games. More recently, the establishment of new pitches has enabled the thriving mini/junior section to flourish. A steady development programme has seen the opening of hospitality/conference facilities in the Wiseman Room and the extension of the main (Dooley) Lounge and the Members Bar. A medical room and a weight’s room have also been added.
League rugby was greeted with open arms and the 1869 Club came into being to focus the activities of rugby supporters in the club. Paul Grayson was persuaded to give up soccer in favour of rugby and went on to gain an England Under 21 cap before continuing his development elsewhere and obtaining a full England Cap. Another England International, Will Greenwood, also briefly wore a Hoppers shirt and Patrick Sanderson, spent his formative seasons at Lightfoot Green. Preston is fully committed to Youth Development and continues to produce quality players, including recent England Internationals, Iain Balshaw and Steve Borthwick (who captained his Country) plus Alex Sanderson who also captained Sale. The under 19′s have won the Lancashire Senior Colts Cup seven times and been runners up once. Their Pride and Joy was the National Plate, which was won in the Millennium Year of 2000 at Northampton’s Franklin’s Gardens. 2003 almost saw the feat equalled, but they were defeated in the final.
The 1996/7 season saw a record attendance of 3000 at Lightfoot Green as Hoppers progressed for the first time to the fifth round of the Pilkington Cup and a meeting with first division Northampton. April 1997 saw the club host the England v. Scotland (18 Group) schools fixture and also saw the first game of cricket played on an artificial wicket in one of the far corners of the grounds.
As the clubs facilities continued to expand they attracted interest both on and off the pitch but if there was one thing missing from this tale of continued development it was the elusive goal of promotion. 17th April 1999 saw that put right. Hoppers travelled to Sandal needing a win to ensure promotion from Jewson National League Two North. A 36-11 victory was achieved and the celebrations began. To round off a tremendous season, Australian fly half, Michael Lough, was named the league’s player of the season at the presentation dinner at the Belfry.
The first year in Jewson 1 (level 3 or the top 40 clubs in England) saw Hoppers finish a creditable 8th from a league of 14 in season 1999/2000 after an even more promising start.
2000/2002 provided some cause for concern halfway through the season when the Club was anchored near the foot of the table with the prospect of three clubs being relegated but a run of 6 wins from the final 8 brought about a 7th place finish. The loss of a couple of influential players and a forbidding injury list played havoc in the following season and after several games were lost early on by fewer than three points, the squad lost confidence and embarked on the Club’s longest ever losing sequence involving the last 16 games. This resulted inevitably in a return to Division 3 North after just 3 years in the higher echelons.
After a poor start to 2002/03 season, alarm bells began to ring and cautionary tales were recalled where teams have suffered from ‘the slippery slope syndrome’. Former Saracens captain and highly successful coach of the Manchester club, Alex Keay was brought in to stabilise things on the playing side and to lay the foundations for the future development of semi-professional rugby as well as supervising the continued production of talent from the buoyant Mini Junior Section. Hoppers also formed a partnership with Myerscough College to promote a Rugby Academy, which has an exciting future and is already showing benefits to both parties.
The season climaxed with an impressive trophy find its way to Preston. At the fourth attempt at a Final success, ‘Hoppers defeated West Park in the Lancashire Cup Final. The journey had not been easy; first Division 2 Fylde were defeated at Ansdell before Manchester from Division 1 were demolished 60-12 at Lightfoot Green. Alex Keay and his squad of players had achieved something that had eluded the club for over 130 years.
After a promising start to season 2003/4, following on from the previous season’s brand of stylish running rugby, results quickly went into decline, ending with the clubs first relegation out of the National Leagues. Despite an easy early National Cup win over League newcomers Longton, events began to follow a depressingly familiar pattern. After 8 League games, only two wins had been achieved although the fact that Hoppers had twice scored 4 tries away from home and lost and still enjoyed a positive points difference reflected the closeness of the results. Even more worrying was the early onset of injuries, particularly to key players, none more so than No.8 Richard Morton who was to miss most of the season. If the following seasons points scoring system for the league had been in place, ‘Hoppers would have avoided relegation due to the closeness of many of their defeats and the number of times they scored four or more tries in a match.
Floodlighting to the main pitch was installed during the summer of 2004 with a pre-season practice game involving the Senior Squad players and improved drainage between the duck-pond and Number 1 pitch was carried out.
September 2005 saw ‘Hoppers “return from whence they came” with their return to the National Leagues in Division III North, this after finishing Champions of the North I Division. Success didn’t to come easily however, with the chasing pack of the two Hull teams, Chester and West Park taking our season to its penultimate game at Sheffield, when a comfortable victory clinched promotion. It was hoped that icing could be applied to the cake with a second Lancashire Cup Final victory, but West Park were to prove a more determined outfit on the day.
The club have remained at Level 4 of the league structure ever since, and the beginning of season 2010-11 saw Alex Keay and his coaching team make way for Dave Baldwin to take the Head Coach’s position. Dave was ably assisted by Karl Fitzpatrick the former Salford City Reds Super League and Irish RL international with Michael Lough as backs coach also managing the 2nd XV on match days.
There were a couple of historical events during the 2011/12 season when Rugby League legend, Sean Long joined the playing staff and Dominic Moon scored a League record seven tries by a forward, equalling the all time record in the demolition of Otley near the end of the season.
After Dave Baldwin moved on to coach the forwards at Championship Club Leeds Carnegie, Michael Lough moved up to take his place during the Summer of 2012. Former Hoppers player John Young took ‘Luffys’ place in coaching the Seconds and Alan Holmes joined the coaching staff to overlook the forwards.
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