Sandal Trip for 1st XV

Date: 16 March 2016

Sandal vs. Preston Grasshoppers – Kick Off 3.00pm

Hoppers take to the road again this week and after three fruitless home games will be determined to get back to winning ways once again. Saturday’s opponents Sandal are also in need of a success, so the game will be a crucial one for both sides to keep the barking dogs at bay.

Last weeks results didn’t help either team with all the chasing teams who played their rearranged games picking up valuable points in the effort to avoid the drop and at the same time closing the gap between themselves and both this weeks combatants.

Many Hoppers supporters will remember the last visit to Sandal’s Milnthorpe Green when a first success at that particular venue confirmed promotion for the first time in their history after a number of “Bridesmaids” occasions. A repeat of the thirty six points to eleven scoreline would be welcome this Saturday, but I’m sure Garth and his charges would be satisfied with a win by any margin.

The final day victory at Sandal on that occasion turned out to be crucial as failure to win would have opened the promotion door for Hoppers closest rivals Stourbridge who needed to win and close the forty eight points difference gap. In the end the trouncing of Lichfield by seventy four points to nil proved fruitless in this the Midlanders final game of the season.

Some of the Hoppers side that day are active members within the club and many others remain familiar faces at Past Players Lunches and other occasions. The team sheet that day read; 15. Martin Emmett, 14 Iain Bruce, 13. Rob Smith, 12. John Chesworth, 11. Gary Monaghan, 10. Michael Lough, 9. John Bleasdale, 1. Karl Fenton, 2. Chris Evans, 3. Richard Spicer, 4. Josh Williams, 5. Michael Bailey, 6. Ian Ashton, 7. Andy Roberts, 8. Neil Ashton. The bench consisted of Paul Bleasdale, John Kirkpatrick, Kieron Chadwick, David Chadwick, Glyn Dewhurst and Mike Sword. With a squad of that class, it’s no wonder we were promoted. Celebrations back at Lightfoot Green went on well into Sunday and beyond for many of the above and their supporters.
Interestingly, Hoppers final game of the season was a Lancashire Cup tie at Liverpool St Helens from where our Head Coach for the first taste of National 1 rugby Brian Wellens plus Martin Boyd and Chris Glynn joined us, and at a later date Simon Worsley.

After a quite a remarkable beginning to this season the Yorkshire side surprised many with a four match unbeaten start before faltering at Huddersfield’s Lockwood Park. Recovery didn’t take long though as they lowered the then league leaders Sedgley Park’s colours for the first time this season just a week later. A win on the road at Chester was followed by a rather surprising reverse to fellow promotees Sale the following week.

Since their reverse at Lightfoot Green back in mid November, the Yorkshire side have only tasted success on three occasions from thirteen outings. Those being at South Leicester whilst they overcame Huddersfield and Tynedale at Standbridge Lane by a single point, and similar to Hoppers they’ve been defeated in their last four games.

Sandal’s last visit to Level 4 rugby ended in 2002, the same time Hoppers lost their National 1 status. Following Sandal into the various Level 5 leagues were Morley, Whitchurch and West Hartlepool, with only Morley making a short visit for a couple of seasons before our visitors became the next of this group to rising again to this level in the league system.

The first meeting between Preston Grasshoppers and Sandal took place just over twenty years ago with a club fixture taking place at Lightfoot Green on the 3rd of April 1993 when Hoppers ran out the victors by twelve points to the visitors three. A return fixture was made for the following season over in Yorkshire where the home side ran out narrow winners by four points in forty four.
The clubs didn’t meet the following season but came up against each other for the first time in league action on the 21st of October at Sandal where the home side won on the day by sixteen points to five.

All told there have been ten meetings between Hoppers and Sandal with ourselves having the advantage by one victory thanks to the win at Lightfoot Green earlier this season and one match drawn. Amongst these there have been six league matches in which Hoppers have won four to Sandal’s two plus the thirteen all drawn encounter.

An interesting fact regarding our opponents is noted in Malcolm Crane’s book, “The Rugby Clubs of England” with reference to how they decided on the colour of their shirts. Malcolm writes that initially the club played in green and white hoops, but changed to their current maroon gold and white in 1930 when at a meeting to decide on these particular colours the committee sat at a table covered in a maroon cloth on which was placed a gold and white packet of Wills cigarettes!

A copy of this most interesting book which reflects the history of numerous rugby clubs around the country can be purchased from the Hoppers Club Shop.

Photo by kind permission of Mike Craig – Try scorer Pete Altham leads the charge last Saturday against Macclesfield.

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