Preston Grasshoppers passing through their seventh Guild
With Preston Guild week approaching, one of the oldest sporting clubs in Preston looks back through their archives at previous Guilds. Formed in 1869 Preston Grasshoppers RFC is about to celebrate its seventh Guild and history shows that the Guilds have tended to coincide with high points for the club. By the time of the 1882 Guild, Hoppers already had three England international players within their ranks. The three Hunt brothers, products of Preston Grammar School, had 11 caps between them. However, they were outdone in Guild year by another ‘Hoppers player AN Hornby, who captained Lancashire and England at both Rugby and Cricket!
Between the 1882 and 1902 Guilds, Preston Grasshoppers went into a slump. The attraction of professional football and the Northern League (Rugby League) decimated union clubs and ‘Hoppers struggled to raise a team and became dormant. However, by the time of the 1902 Guild they had been resurrected. Playing by the river Ribble between the two railway bridges and changing in the Bull and Royal Hotel, they hosted their first County game against Cumberland.
With the outbreak of the First World War, activities at the club ceased and the local paper reported that “almost the entire Preston Grasshoppers Rugby Football Club recently joined in a body” enlisting to the Duke of Lancaster’s Yeomanry. At the end of the hostilities, 20 members had lost their lives. It was not until the 1921-22 season and their next Guild year that the club began playing again. After giving newly formed Fylde and Blackburn time to establish themselves, ‘Hoppers began to flourish again. The club had a number of homes during this period ranging from Faringdon Park, near the cemetery to Leyland Motors, Whittingham Hospital, Balshaws Grammar School and Wellington House Leyland. Finally a plot of land was bought at Lea and a permanent home established.
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 the 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.
After celebrating their centenary in 1969, they played their final fixtures at Lea in the 1972 Guild year, as they had decided to move again. Growing demand lead to the club purchasing their current home at Lightfoot Green which soon lead to the establishment of their highly successful mini-junior section. The second player from the left on the team photo in 1972 is Keith Brierley. Affectionately known as Dad, Keith now in his seventies, still regularly turns out for one of the Hoppers teams!
By the time of the 1992 Guild year, Preston Grasshoppers most famous player Wade Dooley was at the height of his powers. At 6ft 8in, the “Blackpool Tower” played 57 times for England and twice for the British and Irish Lions. He kept playing for ‘Hoppers despite the lure of more glamorous southern sides and the Preston Grasshoppers distinctive name became famous across the world. The squad of the time was by no means a one man team, the vast majority of the players were home grown through the successful Colts set up. Continuity at the club is key to the on going success, many of the 1992 side are involved with the running of the club or have children or nephews or nieces in the current junior set up.
As the club approaches its 7th Guild, it has embraced the professional era. Established in the fourth tier of National Rugby the club has completed a highly successful season by finishing third in the League and winning the Lancashire Cup. It also holds 5 other county titles at different age groups. Again boasting an international player in their ranks in Rugby League legend Sean Long, ‘Hoppers embark on a new season in Guild week with high hopes of promotion and cup success. To celebrate the Guild, the club have a float in the community procession. The theme is Preston Grasshoppers passing through its Seventh Guild. Behind the float they will attempted to break the World Record for consecutive passes of the ball.