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, 2000/01 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 2002/3 season, alarm bells began to ring and cautionary tales recalled where teams have suffered from ‘the slippery slope syndrome’. Former Saracens captain and highly successful coach of the Manchester club, Alex Keay has been 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.
The season climaxed with an impressive trophy finding its way to Preston. At the fourth attempt of a Final success, ‘Hoppers defeated West Park in the Lancashire Cup Final. The journey had not been easy. Having to defeat Division 2 Fylde at Ansdell before despatching Manchester of Division 1. Alex Keay and his squad of players had achieved something that had eluded the club for over a hundred and thirty 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.
September 2005 saw ‘Hoppers “return from whence they came” with their return to the National Leagues, in Division III North after ending up Champions of the North I Division last season. Success wasn’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. Perhaps an excellent victory against a strong Sedgley Park team from National 1 less than a week before the final, was more of a Finale? This was to be the first of two cup-final defeats in 2004/5. “The Casuals” were to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at Tyldesley in the Inaugural Halbro Cup Finals, losing to Manchester Wanderers in the Trophy Final.
After spending twelve seasons in National 2 North and during which time Dave Baldwin, Michael Lough and Garth Dew acted as Head Coaches to the 1st XV, ‘The Hoppers’ were relegated into the Northern Premier Division only to emerge as Champions at the end of April 2018. Head Coach Paul Arnold steering the ship both on and off the field. However their newly revived position in N2N was short lived when they were relegated once again during the truncated 2019/20 season.
A regular Women’s XV was established in season 2002/3 and they currently play at level 4 of the RFU’s National Challenge 1 North West. The team was originally set up by Shirley Faragher, who having finished her UCLan playing career and wanting to continue playing, approached Hoppers about the possibility of establishing a women’s side. It is thought the first training session took place in either the October or November with the session taken by Phil Leck and Jonny Hutchins with the latter taking on the role of head coach in that inaugural season often assisted by James “Peachy” Roberts.
Having been involved with the coaching of the U16 girls section Ian “Eddie” Edwardson began assisting with training sessions and took over as Head Coach when Jonny was offered a role at Wasps. Eddie volunteered his time for a number of years and often co-opted other club members into assisting. In the early years we regularly had assistance from Mark “Hamish” Whelan and Craig “Bootie” Stephenson with Malcolm Alden and “Dad” occasionally joining us for a run out before Mike Jackson stepped into the frame and became our regular assistant coach.
In 2008 due to low squad numbers the team merged with Fleetwood Ladies and competed as “Floppers” for a few seasons whilst the player base was rebuilt and we were able to compete as “Hoppers” once again; which has continued until the 2022/23 season due to a host of dedicated coaches and players, of whom there are too many to name.
Low numbers during the 2022/23 season forced the Women’s XV withdrawal from the league but plans are afoot to rejoin the leagues in 2023/24 under new Head Coach Sam Cleaver.
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.
One of the four squash courts was converted into two-tear conference and hospitality suites during 2006 with the rooms being named the Leigh Gallery and Simons Suite in commemoration of Dick Leigh and ‘Pip’ Simons.
The 2016/17 season saw a major change to No.1 pitch when an RFU funded 3G AGP was laid in a deal which is to last thirty years. The first game to be played on this surface was against Scunthorpe RUFC who spoiled the party somewhat in stealing victory during injury time with a converted try winning by a single point. The last game played on the grass surface was a 2nd XV game versus Stockport RUFC.
The 2019/20 season was Preston Grasshoppers 150th anniversary since their formation in 1869 and before the season was curtailed by the Coronavirus Pandemic several major events took place. There was an exhibition of the club’s memorabelia in the Harris Museum, a commemorative club dinner at which the Lancashire RFU President Gill Burns MBE, Immediate Past President of the RFU Chris Kelly gave speeches before former England Captain, Hoppers Player and Coach Richard “Dick” Greenwood spoke of his memories at the club. A two day international rugby event was held on the AGP in which teams from Belgium, Italy and Holland together with a Women’s team from St Louis, USA competed with local clubs, Blackburn RFC, Thornton Cleveleys RUFC, Broughton RFC and the home club’s men and women’s sides.
With regard to other sports activities, the Squash Section is currently running four sides with the 1st team playing in Division 1 of the North West Counties Winter League and the other three playing in Preston and District Intermediate Summer League.
The Grasshoppers Cricket team was formed in 1994 primarily by John Chesworth and included other notable Hoppers rugby stalwarts including Joe Hindle, Mike Bailey, Martin Judge, Paul “Robbo”Robinson, Simon Mulholland, Tom Moore, Lloyd Bell etc.
Games were played at various venues due to not having their own pitch until an artificial wicket was laid in the winter of 1996/1997 and 1997 was the first year of playing cricket at Lightfoot Green. However Hoppers had joined the Boddingtons Village Cricket League (BVCL) in 1995 and were successful in winning the league championship at the end of their inaugural season in the league. Hoppers current record in the league is as follows: Champions 7 times, Runners up 7 times, Cup winners twice, losing finalists 3 times, 6 a side cup winners 4 times, League player of the year Matt James 1998, Cameron Berry 2000, Ally Murray 2014, Steve Kerry & Michael Lough 2015 as joint winners and winners of the Fair play trophy twice.
As you can see Hoppers have always been a competitive and successful team but always play with a sense of fun and have a terrific team spirit as you might expect considering the large contingent of rugby players in the team which has included many with first team experience.
The unofficial committee comprises of John Dewhurst Chairman-scorer, Ken Moore (1 not out) and deputy umpire/scorer, Keith Battersby (1 out) and umpire plus Malcolm Alden/Bill Kelly scoreboard operators.
The Shooting Club, whose membership was decimated by the banning of handguns, has proved ever resourceful and, as well as rifle shooting, have diversified into archery both in-and outdoors