A Short History

By Dave Picken - April 29 2010
A Short History Founded in 1881 ... and still playing ...
A Short History of West
Hartlepool has a unique rugby heritage. The game took hold at the end of the 19th century as workers flocked to the area to dig the docks, and build the railways to the Durham Coalfield. Many were from Wales and Yorkshire and they brought the game with them forming a couple of dozen clubs of which West and Rovers became the best known outside the area. Clubs in the early 1900's included the Seamans Institute, Hartlepool YMCA, Heortensians, Throston Wanderers and Elwick Rd Old Boys.

West Hartlepool Rugby Football Club was formed in 1881, which ought to mean that we are on course for our 130th anniversary in 2011, but the more pedantic may point out that the club actually stopped playing in 1908. The committee switching allegiance to the round ball game forming a club called Hartlepools United to play on West's Victoria Ground! The rugger remnants briefly formed a club called Greatham before reforming as West three years later.

Captain of England

Before that three year blip the club had produced its first international in Sammy Murfitt, originally from Humberside, followed by our most famous international - Jack Taylor. He captained the side for 10 years including the famous defeat of the Barbarians in 1902. During that season we also beat Leicester, Northampton, London Welsh, Hawick and Lansdowne. Crowds were in the region of 10,000 at that time.

These were golden times capped, quite literally, when Taylor captained England against Wales with fellow "Westies" Duthie and Bradley alongside him. It was also the the time when West and Rovers teamed up to take on the mighty New Zealand tourists. Legend has it that this was the game when a newsagent's mis-spelt sandwich board gave the side the moniker of the "All Blacks." It is said he should have used the words "All Backs" to reflect the open running style of the whole team.

But that was before the collapse of 1908 and the rigours of the First World War.

Better times came when the timber trade led to the town being one of the busiest ports in the country. The Aarvold family arrived and adopted West with young Carl going on to play for England and the Lions and to become a judge. Brother Brian remained in town and continued to play for the club.

Amalgamation

We amalgamated with the original Tech Old Boys in the 1920's and adopted Gordon Arthur who was better known as Rootie - presumably it had different conotations then! And so began a long and continuing connection with the Arthur family.

The club continued to play at the old Greyhound Stadium alongside the Victoria Ground [now the site of a Morrisons superstore] with the club, and changing accommodation, close by in Raby Road almost next to the Hartlepool ;Mail Office and the Engineers boxing ring.

Nothing spectacular happened to the club before, or immediately after, the Second World War except that a lot of players had a jolly good time of a winter's weekend.

Then came 1970 and the National Knockout Cup - a brave step into marketing for the game! We qualified by virtue of winning the Durham Cup promptly claiming a big scalp in Headingley who had John Spencer and Ian McGeechan in their side.

Suddenly some of the bigger boys thought we were worth adding to their fixture list, and it appears to be true that the better the opposition the more you improve. Our move to Brierton Lane coincided with those better fixtures where the foundations of success were laid by prudent management, both on and off the pitch.

The Mighty Whettons

In 1982 the famous Kiwi twins the Whettons join the club to prove that big lads can run very quick. Nobody at West was surprised that they went on to become World Cup winners.

Two years later saw us win the newly set up Northern Merit Table, and the next season we narrowly went down to Bristol in the quarter final of the cup.

Heady days indeed, and the seeds were sown for more success when the National Leagues finally arrived. We started in League Three, won promotion in 1990, moving up to League One for season 1993-94. But the thirteen teams were cut to 10 and we were one of those to lose out.

We quickly made amends and spent three happy years in Division One until the advent of professionalism. We enjoyed a brief flirtation at the highest level but went down only to return, under the stewardship of World Cup finalist Mike Brewer, whose team of pros beat London Scottish in a memorable "winner takes all" game at Brierton Lane. That squad was made of Australians, Italians, Frenchmen. Kiwis, Welsh, plus a couple of local boys, who all quickly adapted to life in Hartlepool and who stay in touch. Of course, Kiwis Brett Cullinane and Jamie Connolly are still in the town.

But there was a big price to pay as we fought to keep up with the millionaire backed clubs with Brierton Lane the sad casualty. Our last season in the Premiership, as it was now called, was back at our first home - Hartlepool United's Victoria Ground - by now renamed Victoria Park.

Statistics from this era can be found by searching here .

Rovers Take Us In

It wasn't the happiest of seasons. Financial constraints, the imposition of stewarding and lack of social facilities, didn't suit those who had enjoyed the family atmosphere of Brierton Lane. Almost inevitably we were relegated and, without a home of our own, we were "taken in" by our old rivals Hartlepool Rovers for a season. True to tradition many Westies refused to set foot in the New Friarage while some Rovers members tore up their memberships in annoyance!

The professional club was disbanded and John Stabler, one of our most talented fly halves, came back to bale out his old club. One week before the start of the season in National One he had nine players, but somehow we got through the season and actually won at Orrell which was a remarkable achievement.

There then followed a succession of relegations as the club struggled to pay off the debts of professionalism.

Brinkburn

Now a new chapter is being written at Brinkburn - the former home of West Hartlepool Grammar School for Boys which provided so many players for West. It is now the home of Hartlepool Sixth Form College who are our partners in dveloping sport on the site.

As a result the club has stabilised. We have four senior teams, a social side and are busy forming a women's team. The Minis and Juniors are also doing tremendously well at Brinkburn winning a host of County honours.

We’re also still producing top class players with Micky Young, the Leicester and England Saxons scrum half, the most recent.