It is rumoured that West Hartlepool Technical Day School Old Boys Rugby Union Football Club is the longest club name not only in the RFU but also in the world of rugby union. Whether or not this is the case remains to be seen but to the majority of our supporters and indeed loyal regulars who visit the club for social purposes we are known simply as Tech. This nickname certainly makes cheering the lads on from the touchline an awful lot simpler, with regular cries of “come on Tech” far easier to utter in one powerful breath!
The club was formed in the mid twentieth century in 1953 by old masters at the now extinct West Hartlepool Technical Day School from which our club’s present day name originates. This school was situated on Lauder Street. The site is currently occupied by the police offices.
The school was dominated by football and, as such, our founders initially struggled to pick up players for the rugby union team. However persistence is a priceless asset in any walk of life and slowly but surely players began to make themselves available. As a direct result the club began to make progress as a Junior club in the Durham Rugby Football Union, one of many constituent bodies of the RFU.
Like so many other new clubs at the time Tech had no permanent headquarters. Various locations were used as a result, one such location being the Nursery pub off Hart Lane. This pub is still there providing good service with a great atmosphere for local residents.
In 1985/86 the club took a huge step forward with the building of the current base at Grayfields. With a permanent station now at the club’s disposal, the future continued to look bright for the young Hartlepool club.
Pre 1986 the game of rugby union around England were based on the old “merit tables”. Clubs would organise games between themselves and, with regards to who played who, much depended on the so called “stature” of the clubs involved. As a result many of the junior clubs around the land would never get to play local teams who had senior status. This elitist attitude was, and arguably still is, one of the more unsavoury aspects of rugby union.
But in 1986 leagues were drawn up to allow teams to compete against each other based on ability and ability alone. Being a junior club Tech started out in the lower echelons of the game in the old Durham and Northumberland 3 division.
Steady progress was made up the leagues and in 1990 Tech achieved promotion to Durham & Northumberland Division 1, having being promoted along with Division 2 champions Guisborough.
Tech were to remain in this league for a further 5 seasons until the 1996/97 season which saw an historic promotion for the club
Having opened up the league campaign with a 66-5 win at Grayfields over Guisborough, Tech went on to clinch promotion with a game to spare. On the 19th of April 1997, champagne was cracked open as Tech defeated Bishop Auckland 45-15 on a glorious day at Grayfields to clinch the honours.
Those two victories were part of an 18 league wins out of 18, many as emphatic as the ones over Guisborough and Bishop Auckland. Their nearest challengers that season were old friends Ryton who Tech saw of 43-16 at home and then 20-18 in an epic tussle at Bar Moor. Trailing 18-17 with mere moments to go, Graham Southern converted a tricky penalty to put the visitors 20-18 up and effectively seal the destiny of the Durham & Northumberland 1 title.
This promotion saw Tech advance into the North East Divisional set up incorporating team from Yorkshire to go with Durham and Northumberland. Starting in Division 3 Tech’s first game in this new league saw them travel to Sunderland where they went down 10-7. Although Tech experienced bitter disappointment that day the Hartlepool club did not let it affect the rest of their season. Tech proceeded to win their next game, their first ever home game in the North East leagues, with a 15-14 success over Pocklington. An excellent campaign followed which saw the club finish fourth. A highly creditable finish in their first season.
A good league campaign was not the only highlight of this eventful season. It also saw Tech’s first and, to date, only appearance in the Durham Senior Cup final. The journey to that historic meeting with Darlington Mowden Park provided moments that will live long in the hearts of Tech’s loyal support. The first came in round 1. Having escalated to the more lofty heights of league rugby union, at the time they occupied Allied Dunbar Premiership 2, West Hartlepool had long withdrawn from the county cup competitions. However, in 1998 they decided that they would make a return to the competition they had won on several previous occasions. The draw dictated that they and Tech would meet on the 3rd January 1998 at Grayfields. All who gathered did so in anticipation of an easy West victory. But, in front of a large crowd, including West’s ex-All Black coach Mike Brewer, who had played for New Zealand in the 1995 World Cup final against South Africa, Tech turned in a storming performance to oust their visitors 31-22. Boozy celebrations followed in the clubhouse!
Having seen off a feisty challenge from Durham University in the next round the draw for the semi-finals was made in Tech’s clubhouse after the game and orchestrated by Durham County RFU Secretary Chris McLoughlin. The draw saw Tech paired with Blaydon, who had easily disposed of Ryton in their second round match. However, a subsequent investigation revealed that Blaydon had utilised an illegible player during that game and, as a result, were expelled from the tournament with Ryton taking their place. And so the scene was set for another game between Tech and Ryton at Bar Moor. Tech began the game like a steam train and led 20-0 after just 15 minutes of play. But Ryton, largely thanks to a strange display of refereeing by Mick Lyons, clawed their way back into the game with seven John Holmes penalties putting them 21-20 in front with only minutes to go. But, as in the league game the previous season, Tech were to have the last word. A good scrum on the Ryton 22 saw the ball played back to Brendan Baggs who calmly slotted a fine drop goal to win the day for Tech 23-21. Cue massive Tech celebrations. They were in the Durham Senior Cup final and, as a result, had qualified for the Tetley’s Bitter Cup. Rugby Union’s equivalent of the FA cup.
The final proved a hurdle too steep for the valiant Tech team as Mowden Park, who were themselves beginning their rise up the leagues, won 23-10. But this was not before Tech had given their opponents a really hard time and had in fact led 10-7 at the break.
The 1998/99 season saw yet more history made by the Hartlepool club. Their first serious game of the season came in the Tetley’s Bitter Cup with a preliminary tie away to Lancashire club Aspull. Being in North West Division 1 at the time, 2 levels higher than Tech, Aspull proved to be too strong. Although Tech lost 46-13 it was a proud moment for all involved to see the club participate in a competition that at the time was highly prestigious.
But more joy was to follow for Tech as they went on to enjoy another promotion season, reaching their highest ever league position to date of North East Division 2. Having negotiated a tricky opening game away at Bradford Salem 13-6 it quickly became obvious that Tech were one of the strongest teams in the league. A 7 game unbeaten streak was enjoyed until Tech stumbled 20-14 at Selby, the eventual champions of the league. It was during this season that the friendship with Selby was really forged and the final day victory over them, 18-16, was enjoyed by all who attended. The season also witnessed the club’s first ever game with Durham City first XV. Tech triumphed in this friendly by 27-15, a victory made all the sweeter as it came at Hollow Drift, home of Durham City.
More history will be added soon. Watch this space!