Let's start at the very beginning - a very good place to begin...
The idea of forming a rugby club at Grove was conceived at 16, Bosley's Orchard by four Welshmen, John Fisher, Joe Corrigan, Gwyndaf Evans and Eurof Thomas during the 1971-72 season. Eurof Thomas was a Technician in the Power Supply Department at Rutherford Laboratory Harwell, while the others were all teachers. It was decided to call a meeting to see if other players in the area felt that there was a need for a club at Grove. Posters were made by Mrs Pauline Evans and these were displayed in shops and pubs at Grove and Wantage.
An informal meeting was held in the Bell Public House in Grove which 14 people attended. Whilst not all of these were able to play rugby they were able to support the club and did so for many years, amongst them Stan Lewis and John Evans. The first official meeting was held in John Fisher's classroom at Millbrook School courtesy of the Caretaker Mr Dearlove. At this meeting Alan White was proposed and elected as Chair, Gwyndaf Evans was elected Secretary, Pete Tunley as Coach and Roger Williams as Captain. There was no nomination for Treasurer. Sometime later Eurof Thomas approached Fred Fleming, manager of the Barclays Bank branch at Grove and asked him if he would take on the responsibility of club treasurer and he accepted.
The acquisition of a playing field and changing rooms was the next big problem but Mervyn Shaw, a local Parish Councillor, met with Gwyndaf Evans and a field was allocated at Cane Lane Recreation Ground. The cost of showers proved to be too expensive and, in order to improvise, the urinal in the changing rooms was bricked up and became the bathing area for 30 players and the Referee!! The water was heated by two Baby Burcos. All this work was carried out by Eurof Thomas and the late Mr Brain his next door neighbour. New players were also recruited to the club, several being teachers - Roger Williams, Neil King, John Kent, Ron Hursey to name but a few of the early ones.
The first ball used by Grove Rugby Club was donated by Cwmllynfell RFC Eurof Thomas' former club. Eurof played for Grove for two seasons, the second as Captain, before returning to Wales to live in 1974. Paul Corrigan and John Fisher played for the club from the outset, while Gwyndaf Evans was Club Secretary for a long period and lately the Club President. In the late 70s/early 80s John Fisher coached the club and set up the first Colts rugby teams and ran two successful 7-a-side tournaments with visiting teams from Wales taking part.
Compiled by the founder Members
That first team
The first game ever to be played by a Grove team was against Oxford Marathons RFC, in the 1971-72 season, at South Parks, Oxford. The side lost 21 - 19 in a close match.
The team for this was made up of some rugby players and extras. One player (a prop) had no real rugby boots and started the game in 'Hush Puppies'. Needless to say, he lasted about 15 minutes and was replaced by Alan Lewis, an under-age player who was supporting the team on the sidelines. The following are players confirmed as playing this inaugural match:
- E Thomas
- A Lewis
- J Saveall
- J Riley
- A White
- J Fisher
- K Russell
- G Evans
- P Tunley
- P Corrigan
- J Homer
- I Greenleigh
- R Hursey
- R Williams
- N King
- J Kent
- B Mack
And later on...
One of the consequences of the coal-mining era in South Wales was the determination to educate the youth of the South Wales Valleys to achieve something better. As a result, a number of Welshmen, many of them teachers, arrived in the Wantage area around 1970. At first they were content to play for rugby clubs in the local area, such as Harwell RFC, Didcot RFC and Witney RFC.
However, they soon realised that a club was needed in the Grove/Wantage area. A meeting was called in "The Bell" in Grove which was attended by around 30 people and it was decided to play two trial games - against Oxford Marathons RFC and Oxford Old Boys, both of which were lost. However, it was obvious that there was a basis on which to build, and Grove RFC was born. With the help of Grove Parish Council who allowed us to use the Recreation Ground at Cane Lane, a Welsh family who owned a rugby ball and a local builder, an Irishman named John O'Hara who bought us a set of shirts, we were ready for our first season in September 1972. Playing in scarlet shirts, white shorts and red socks, and predominantly Welsh accents, we were known as Grove Welsh by most clubs. A second team was soon established, as was a Colts Team and a mini section.
Following the game the after match hospitality was held at "The King Alfred's Head" in Wantage and then, a few years later, at "The Woolpack". Thanks to Oxford Instruments, we were given four old terrapin buildings which arrived on a crane, at midnight in a thunderstorm! This was soon converted into our first, very leaky, clubhouse and was our home for the next ten years. In 1990 we moved into our present purpose built, non-leaky, clubhouse thanks to help from the Vale of White Horse District Council, Bass Brewers and a very generous membership. A floodlit training pitch soon followed with the club now running three senior teams, a Vets side, and junior sides from under 6 to Under 18.
With the advent of leagues, Grove RFC soon climbed the divisions into Southern Counties where they remained for three years before tumbling down to the depths of Berks and Bucks Division 2. However, in recent years, due to an excellent youth structure, they have, again, climbed the divisions.
The club are now well established in the Southern Counties North League and are an essential part of life in Wantage and Grove and are respected for the type of rugby we play, the standards we set and the contributions we have made to the local community.
Happy times, lovely people, great memories.
Roger Williams (ex-Chairman, Grove RFC)