Rahul Sharma (Editor)

Leighton Buzzard R.F.C.

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Chairman  Gordon Fletcher
2015–16  9th
League  Midlands 1 East
Captain(s)  Euan Irwin
Founded  1934
Ground  Stanbridge Road
Leighton Buzzard R.F.C. httpsuploadwikimediaorgwikipediaen111LBR
Full name  Leighton Buzzard R.F.C.
Location  Leighton Buzzard, England
Coach(es)  Andy Micans Alban Turney

Leighton Buzzard R.F.C is a Rugby Union club based in the English town of Leighton Buzzard in the county of Bedfordshire. They play at Wrights Meadow on Stanbridge Road.

Contents

From the inception of the RFU Leagues in 1987–88 they competed in the Midlands Division until they were switched to the South West Division for the 2014–15 season. After two seasons they have returned to the Midlands Division and in 2016-2017 they will compete at the sixth level of the national English rugby union system in Midlands 1 East,

Early years

The club was founded in 1934 with the enthusiastic support of the town's Cedars Grammar School with which it has always maintained a close support. The club flourished during those early years, playing its home matches at the Cricket Club's Bell Close headquarters, but like many others, was disbanded with the outbreak of World War II. Many of the founder members did not return from the hostilities and probably in consequence the club was not reformed until mid-way through season 1948–49. Several successful seasons followed, with the club supported by local schools and locally based service personnel, but fell into decline and was disbanded at the end of the 1955–56 season. Rugby during this immediate post-war period was played at the Capshill Meadow on the Hockliffe Road which is just big enough for one pitch.

The club of today arguably owes its existence to the enthusiasm of a 19-year-old Howard Ansdell who initiated the reforming of the club in time for the 1958–59 season and to local businessman Geoff Wright who steered the club into erecting its first clubhouse in 1962, and in 1965 to the purchase of the Capshill Meadow ground. Proceeds from the sale of the ground in 1973 established the splendid facilities we now enjoy. The move to Stanbridge Road occurred at a time when the Town was expanding and with many new players available to the club, was able to attract much stronger fixtures for its Senior XV. The transformation of Cedars Grammar to a comprehensive did not stop the flow of good rugby players to the club as rugby remained the primary winter sport at the school. Thanks to Cedars, Leighton was always able to punch above its weight for a club from a relatively small town. Each of the club's six sides would always have a good representation of Old Cedarians.

The slow build (1960s and 1970s)

Admirably fed by a regular intake of players from particularly the Cedars but also the Vandyke Schools, Buzzards grew in stature so that by the 1970s they had a strong fixture list and almost always finished a season with more wins than losses. During this time the club built a strong bond with the club from Leighton Buzzard's French twin town Coulommiers in the Seine-et-Marne department in the Ile de France region. On one memorable occasion the club also stepped in to host top Romanian club CSA Steaua București when bad weather had forced the cancellation of one of their tour matches. At that time Romanian rugby was a force to be reckoned with and if not close to acceptance into the then Five Nations Championship, then they ought to have been as they would score reasonably regular victories over France, Wales and Scotland.

Years of success (1980–1995)

The club's golden period could be traced from the early-mid 80s to mid 90s. Prior to the RFU's implementation of a national league structure, the only measure of success for junior clubs like Leighton were the cup competitions of the RFU constituent county bodies. Winning the County Cup enabled a club to gain entry to the following season's National Knockout Cup and the chance to have a tilt at one of the big clubs. In Leighton Buzzard's case this came in the shape of the East Midlands Cup for clubs based in Bedfordshire and Northants. In 1985–86, Paul Whiting became the first Buzzards skipper to lift the Cup when Peterborough were beaten in the final. The draw for the following season's National Cup, then called the John Player Cup, saw them paired with Birmingham, at the time a club on the cusp of first class status who were later to become Birmingham & Solihull R.F.C.. Led by David Yirrell, Buzzards produced the upset of the round winning 20–11. Buzzards fell at the next hurdle to Lichfield but with confidence brimming the season culminated with the retention of the East Midlands Cup when Northampton Trinity were beaten at Franklin's Gardens.

The following season, 1987–88 the inaugural season of league rugby, saw Buzzards placed in Midlands Division 2 (East). They also made their second appearance in the John Player Cup as a result of their County Cup win. Again they conquered higher ranked opposition in the first round when Derby, then of National Division 4 (North), were beaten 10–7 in a close encounter at Stanbridge Road (the name Wright's Meadow was still to be coined). The second round draw paired them with first class opposition in the form of nearby Bedford Blues, again at home. Led by John Orwin who was to captain England later that season, and also including former and future Buzzard stalwarts in Pete Ellam and John Davidson, Bedford had to work hard to subdue a spirited Buzzards effort. Buzzards conceded just one try in a 24–6 defeat in front of probably the largest crowd to assemble at the ground. Later that season their attempt to land a hat-trick of East Midlands Cup wins was dashed at the last when they fell to Stockwood Park in the final. A fifth place in their first league campaign was a disappointing return for a season that had started with such promise. However this disappointment was tempered slightly by the RFU's decision to expand the entry to the following season's National Cup, now to be called the Pilkington Cup, meaning that Leighton would be included as East Midlands Cup Runners-Up.

In 1988–89 with John Fraser now installed as skipper, the second season of league rugby was a successful one as they finished as champions of Midlands 2 (East) to bring about what became a five season stay in Midlands Division 1 (now named National League 3 Midlands). At the time this was the fifth tier of the National League structure. Their National Cup heroics didn't quite reach their previous heights as they made an 18–12 first round exit to Hereford.

In 1993–94 the club suffered their first relegation dropping back into what was now Midlands Division 2 (the East/West split having been discarded for 1994–95). In terms of silverware the Club now embarked on probably its most successful season. Under the captaincy of Ian Smith, the league title was secured with a win in the last-day winner-takes-all clash against Broadstreet at Wright's Meadow. Not only was there the league success but the Bedfordshire Cup was regained and the East Midlands Cup won for a third time with local rivals Stockwood Park vanquished in both finals.

60th anniversary and beyond

There followed the club's 60th anniversary season which began with celebration matches against Aylesbury, who had been the club's first opponents in 1934, and a London Wasps XV. The East Midlands Cup win of the previous April had also given them another Pilkington Cup excursion. Again they were paired with Birmingham & Solihull. Though this time they had home advantage, history was not to be repeated and their campaign faltered at the first hurdle as they went down 29–11. By now, with the league system having taken deep root very quickly, a club's position within the league structure was now seen as all important with the Pilkington Cup now seen as a diversion, albeit a pleasant one with some kudos if early rounds could be successfully negotiated. Buzzards achieved their primary aim in their first season back in Midlands 1 by consolidating its place with a 10th-place finish in the 13-team table.

The club's most successful league campaign came in the 1997–98 when Carl Siddon led them to a mid-table finish in Midlands Division 1. The following season however saw a sharp decline in playing strength and performance and inevitably relegation followed. The club have not been at Level 5 since.

Today, the club fields four senior adult senior sides, in addition to this the club also field; Veterans (over 35's), a Colts XV and since 1995 a Ladies XV. The club relies heavily on developing players from within its own ranks and is very proud of its long established Mini/Junior section which currently boasts a membership of approximately 200 children aged between 5 and 17 years. Never having had a large benefactor may have meant that Buzzard's league position has slipped, but it has meant that the club still belongs to the town and the members and retains the "club feel". The 1st XV starting line up and subs for the side's last home League match of the successful 2013–14 season contained 11 players whose fathers had also played for the club.

Signs that their star may be in the ascendent once more came in 2006–07 when the Colts XV swept the board winning the East Midlands League and Cup competitions along with the Bedfordshire Cup. The side was captained by Ryan Fraser emulating his father John in lifting silverware in the name of LBRFC. It is hoped that a majority of those Colts players will filter into the senior setup and possibly bring on another era similar to that of the late '80s and early '90s. Back then however, rugby union was an amateur game. Buzzards only had to contend with Northampton Saints and Bedford to keep their players. Now in the "open era", the pendulum of playing strength and more tellingly, financial muscle, has swung so that Luton and Ampthill for long the subordinates, are now also potential predators.

Still, from those humble beginnings in 1934 LBRFC now provides a sporting centre with which the town has every right to be proud. However, as an organisation, fully aware that standing still is not an option, the club's committee are actively looking at ways of improving the facilities for the playing of sport and enjoyment of associated social activities.

2015−16 season

In its second, and for the moment last season in the 14 team South West Division 1 (East) Buzzards finished in 9th position.

Honours

1st XV:

  • East Midlands Cup winners (3): 1985–86, 1986–87, 1994–95
  • Midlands Division 2 (East) (Level 6) champions: 1988–89
  • Midlands Divisions 2 (Level 6) champions: 1994−95
  • Midlands 2 East (South) champions: 2013−14
  • Colts:

  • East Midlands Referees Cup (Colts County Cup) winners: 2006−07
  • East Midlands Colts League champions: 2006−07
  • Notable players

    The following players all had top level experience either before or after representing Leighton Buzzard.

    'Matthew Barnett-Vincent Joined the club as a 16 year old England age group international Hooker and made several appearances for the 1st team, splitting his time with Bedford Blues who he made his 1st team debut for aged 17 years on Boxing day 1992. Matthew played representative (up to Colts) and club rugby with Bedford for the next few seasons and was highly thought off-forging a impressive front row partnership with future England internationals Phil Vickery and Phil Greening (playing at prop)the game at this time was still amateur and after becoming increasingly disillusioned with the sport Matthew quit playing to concentrate on building a career in his Fathers engineering company. Several years later Matthew became a semi professional motorcycle racer enjoying some success at National level in the UK. He returned to the game and played the 2007/8 season with Pataya Panthers in Thailand alongside several ex international Australian and Kiwi players, on his return to the UK Matthew once again returned to Leighton Buzzard and on his retirement had represented the club a total of 43 times.

    Stuart Maxwell joined following a stint with Bedford having played previously for New Brighton and Richmond. Brother of Andy, who won 7 England caps between 1975 and 1978, Stuart notched up some notable achievements of his own. In 1972 he scored two tries for the North-West Counties in their historic 16–14 win over New Zealand at Workington, the first time an English regional side had beaten the All Blacks. In 1975 having moved on to Bedford, he bagged another touchdown against international opposition when representing the Southern Counties in their match against Australia during the latter's 1975−76 UK tour. He was also an accomplished Sevens exponent having been a member of the Richmond side that won the Middlesex Sevens in 1974 and 1975.

    John Surguy joined the club having completed two spells at Northampton Saints. He continued his prolific points scoring habit displayed at Franklins Gardens and previously at junior level for nearby Bletchley. Through his time at each club, Surguy had lived in Leighton and his town club was grateful he eventually made his way there. He featured prominently in the East Midlands Cup wins of 1986 and 1987. He also represented East Midlands in the Mobbs Memorial Match against the Barbarians whilst at Northampton.

    Chris Gibbons, though never leaving the Leighton Buzzard club did score the achievement of representing East Midlands on more than one occasion in the annual Mobbs Memorial Match against the Barbarians. At the time it was extremely rare for a player outwith Northampton Saints and Bedford Blues to be invited into the East Midlands side for the match, especially if that player was plying his trade at a junior club. Gibbons was one of the very few to buck the trend.

    Pete Ellam spent a number of seasons at Bedford and was a regular during the latter's Centenary Season of 1985–86. He returned to Buzzards and was 1st XV captain for 1991–92 season.

    John Davidson arrived from Bedford in 1988−89 for the season following the Buzzards v. Bedford John Player Cup clash. An England 'B' cap, Davidson had been a stalwart with Moseley for whom he played in the 1982 John Player Cup Final at Twickenham when they shared the trophy with Gloucester following a 12–12 draw after extra time.

    When it comes to international representation the club can point to recent 1st XV skipper Bert Yirrell who when a member of the club's Junior section represented England at Under-16 level.

    Neil Wise is the club's only player to win senior international recognition. Having moved to the Grand Duchy with work in the late-'90s, Wise represented the Luxembourg national side on a number of occasions including Rugby World Cup qualifiers.

    Henry Peck was selected for England Schools.

    George Messum represented England Students whilst studying at Loughborough University. He also played for Northampton Saints and Bedford before winning a Blue for Oxford University in the 2014 Varsity Match when the Dark Blues scored their record win (43−6) and in doing so notched a fifth consecutive win for the first time in the fixture. He was elected OURFC captain for the 2015−16 season but was prevented from taking part in Oxford's record sixth consecutive Varsity Match victory owing to new eligibility rules surrounding degree courses.

    References

    Leighton Buzzard R.F.C. Wikipedia


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