Chesterfield Rugby 100 Years

This coming season sees the Chesterfield Panthers Rugby Club achieve it’s Centenary, with many events being organized in celebration of all they have achieved in that time.
Words:Graham Bell – Hon. President CPRUFC
Images: Chesterfield Panthers

The Briefest History

15 November 1919 Mr J.T.Todd of Blackwell and Mr W.Walton Pitt set about establishing Rugby Union in Chesterfield, what followed was a meeting in the Portland hotel on the 6 December 1919 when a Rugby Club was formed.

18 Men of widely varying backgrounds and social standing came together and the first firm plans were made for Chesterfield Rugby Football Club.

Founder Member Harold Webb recalled “We didn’t have a shirt, a pair of boots or a ball between us and what’s more we didn’t have a rugby field to play on”. Early games and practice were played at various venues including an area of ground at Highfield and then Brampton on fields which are now Brookfield School. The players changed at this time in stables at the Terminus Hotel and bathed in two halves of a beer cask.

The First Match Report (13 MARCH 1920) from the Derbyshire Times. “The Chesterfield and District club’s debut at Blackwell on Saturday against Burton-on-Trent ‘A’ side was a good start.

The Chesterfield team did just as much as could be expected of them. That Burton won by 14 points to 3 points is not a discouraging result. The homesters led at the interval with a try by Colin Linathan, a Blackwell youth.”

In 1923 the club split with Blackwell, to become Chesterfield Rugby Union Football Club. Many family names from those early days still support the club today.

Thanks to the work of the Charles Shentall, J.W.Thompson and the Redfern/Short families the club acquired the grounds at Stonegravels for the princely sum of £1200 with the first match being played at Sheffield Road on the 8 October 1927.

The club flourished during the late 1920s and until suspension due to the 2nd World War in 1939.

During this period two former Chesterfield players progressed to play for England, Firsly, Prince Alexander Oblensky, whilst at Trent College and secondly Clarence Gilthorpe who played for Chesterfield before going on to play for Wasps, Royal Air Force, Coventry, Oxford University and England between 1938 and 1946.

After the war years the club re-established its self in 1946, playing in plain red shirts, the hooped shirts previously worn could not be purchased because of rationing.
The club obtained its first clubhouse on the ground in 1953 with two tennis courts added in 1955.

The club purchased a second pitch and training area in 1961 for the sum of £1250, once again the Short family connection made this possible.

The club continued to grow with the 1970s being the most successful period in the club’s history to date. Floodlights were installed and became the envy of many other clubs.

Having started in the late 1950s to encourage rugby coaching in local schools by the mid-1980s junior rugby was established with sides playing other local club juniors on Sunday mornings. The club now has more than 300 Mini and Junior members from 7 to 19 years of age.

The Ladies Rugby Team, formed in 1993, will this year celebrate 25 years of Ladies Rugby at Chesterfield. This section has grown with the introduction of girls’ rugby from junior level where boys and girls play together up to the age of under 13.

The club now boasts junior and girl players representing the club at Notts, Lincs and Derbys and Midland Division at Junior level.

With the juniors have come mums and dads, and grandmas and granddads.

The investment in youth has led to the formation of “The Panther Cubs” for 3 to 6-year olds.

This growth of the club required more and better facilities and this was achieved with the move to Dunston Road in 2012.

The club was able to buy the Dunston site from Chesterfield Borough Council in 2010, after realizing the asset value of the Stonegravels site. After more than 20 years of negotiations and protracted planning issues the club finally sold the Stonegravels site for residential development to Miller Homes Limited.

Today

The club now regularly field 2 senior sides, a ladies side, a girls side, mini and junior sides from Under 7’s to under 17’s. In addition, the “Panther Cub’s” (3 to 6-year olds) are enjoying the Sunday morning use of the new clubhouse and surrounding pitches.

The community sports pitches forming part of the development at Dunston have now become the home of “Espial Football Club” and regularly host soccer matches each weekend.

The club continues to improve and add to the facility at Dunston, this year floodlights were installed to pitch 2, car parking extended, and pitch-side paving added.

The club encourages and welcomes use of their excellent new facilities by community and corporate groups. This use varies from NHS, teacher and business training to wedding receptions and childrens parties.

As part of the “Centenary” an exhibition of the club’s history is being held at Chesterfield Museum from October to Christmas 2019. If you have a story to tell or memorabilia for display at the exhibition the club would love to hear from you.