Although the first playing season of Luton RFC was 1931/32 there is evidence that a number of attempts were made to form a club in the town in earlier years. Indeed there is some indication that rugby was played in the town before the 1914 - 18 war. However, after a number of false starts the Club was eventually formed in 1930 by a small number of local rugby enthusiasts of whom the most prominent was Walter Crone. The rugby community of the town owes a debt of gratitude to Walter Crone and his friends for their initiative and his name is remembered each year when the "Walter Crone Cup" is awarded to the member who, over the previous twelve months, is judged to have made the greatest contribution to the Club.
The Early Years – A Nomadic Existence
In the early years the Club led a somewhat nomadic existence. Home matches were played in Farley Hill and with no social facilities of its own at various times the Club based itself in a number of public houses in the town. Despite this difficult situation the playing side thrived and in the years leading up to the start of the 1939 - 45 war the Club was acknowledged as the strongest in the area with a strong fixture list that included a number of first class clubs. At the onset of war the club was put into abeyance as the membership dwindled with the majority of the membership joining the armed forces; some to make the ultimate sacrifice.
On a sad note this period was marked by the death of a Luton player, Tommy Carruthers, from head injuries suffered during a match. His memory lives on to this day with the "The Tommy Carruthers Trophy" awarded each year to a Colt for outstanding playing achievement.
The Post War Years
The Club reformed at the end of the war but faced increased competition for players from other clubs in the area. Results were often poor during this period and the strength of the fixture list declined, albeit the list still contained most of the stronger clubs in Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and North London. However, despite the difficulties faced the club fielded three sides most weeks. The somewhat nomadic existence of earlier years continued with home matches being played in Stockwood Park and after match socialising taking place in a number of locations including a local hat factory.
A Glimpse of the Future
The use of the hat factory for socialising was generously provided by Joe Batty-Peirson who, having first played for the Club in 1933, is an Honorary Life Member and remains an active Vice President to this day. 1947 was notable in that it marked the debut for the Club of a youthful David Shane who was to be the outstanding personality in the Club for the next 60 years filling many offices, on and off the pitch,including, notably, 30 years of quite outstanding service as President. An honorary life member and Trustee, David Shane remains an active and enthusiastic member of the Club to this day.
Wood Meadow; A Turning Point
1960 marked a notable turning point in the fortunes of the Club. Thanks to the foresight of the committee of the day, and the generosity of a number of members who made the purchase possible, the Club was able to acquire a freehold site at Wood Meadow, off Rotherham Avenue, Farley Hill, with space for two pitches and a Clubhouse. The opening of Wood Meadow was marked by a match between a combined Luton XV comprising players from the three clubs in the town, namely Luton RFC, Lutonians RFC (subsequently to become Stockwood Park RFC) and Vauxhall RFC and a team raised by Budge Rogers, Bedford, who was later to become the most capped English international of the day. The late 60's and early 70's also saw the arrival of members such as Neil Foster, David Brown, Barry Smith, Clive Pearce, Pete Wardley, Phil Wilson and others of their generation who were to provide the backbone of the Club, on and off the pitch, for many years to come. The Clubhouse was subsequently enlarged in time for the Golden Jubilee celebrations which coincided with a very successful period in the Club's history. The County Cup was won twice including, in 1983, a memorable last minute win away in the final at local rivals Stockwood Park. The Colts team was also very successful during this period and the Club gained a reputation for winning Seven A Side tournaments.
Newlands Moving On
Thanks to the foresight of those earlier members in purchasing the freehold of Wood Meadow, an opportunity arose in 1987 to sell the ground for development and build outstanding new pitches and social facilities at Newlands Road, now known as "Newlands". A factor in the decision to move was that the pitches at Wood Meadow had become compacted with clay and as a result veered between being rock hard and extremely heavy and muddy. It had also become clear that even the investment of a huge amount of money, which the Club did not possess, would not necessarily improve them sufficiently. At the time the idea of moving was both momentous and difficult but with the enthusiastic support of the membership the decision was taken. With hindsight any other decision would have been catastrophic for the long term well-being of the club and the move provided the foundation for all the developments and progress made since. "Newlands" was officially opened in November 1988 with a match against a star studded England XV.
Youth & Mini Rugby
The move to Newlands also heralded the formation of the Youth & Mini Section. Rather late in the day compared to some other local clubs, the Club decided that the development of rugby both within the Club and the wider community would in future depend to a large extent on the Club's ability to introduce and teach the game to the youth of the town and beyond. Under the leadership of such members as Barry Smith and Steve Baker the Club set about establishing the organisation and structure to support teams from the age of six years upwards. From little acorns are great oak trees grown and from very modest beginnings in the early 90’s, the Youth & Mini Section has gone from strength to strength such that it is now the envy of many clubs in the area. More than 250 children from the age of under-6 upwards are registered to play for the Club and they are ably assisted by a great number of coaches, parental advisors and supporters. Good quality coaching and support is key to the success of the Section and it is managed by an active and enthusiastic committee.
Since for many of our younger members the Club is their first exposure to rugby, the Club has published its own Values & Standards that explains out the Club’s ethos and disciplinary code for players, parents and supporters alike that sets rugby apart from other sports. Some 16 teams are fielded on a regular basis and the Club also provides coaching support for many local schools. Many of our young players have played represented the Club with distinction at county & regional level. Annual overseas tours take place and give some of our older youth player early exposure to rugby in other countries. With the continued success of the Youth & Mini Section the future challenge is to continue the Sections development such that it is acknowledged as a centre of excellence and able to match high ambition with facilities, coaching and support of a similar standard.
Successful League Rugby at Newlands – Eventually!
The move in 1988 to the superb new facilities at Newlands was, coincidentally, closely followed by the introduction of league rugby. Based on results over the previous three seasons, each Club in England wishing to participate in league rugby (99%) was placed in a league at a level appropriate to their playing standard. For the first time fixtures were based not on “closed shop” type agreements between fixture secretaries as to who should play who, but on Club’s actual playing performance.
Possessing outstanding playing and social facilities the envy of clubs throughout the East Midlands and beyond, the Club saw this sea change in the organisation of rugby union as an opportunity to improve fixtures and rugby. The start of league rugby saw the Club placed in a Midlands Three (level 7) league. However, the assumption at the time that the availability of new, much better, facilities would lead naturally to better rugby, proved to be mistaken. In the early years of leagues the Club struggled such by the mid-90’s we languished in East Midlands/Leicestershire One (Level 9). The Management Committee of the day decided drastic action was needed if the inexorable slide down the leagues was to be reversed. The arrival of Paul Alston from Northampton Saints in 1996, albeit for one season only, provided the catalyst for change and promotion was gained in 1996/7 when all 15 matches were won (at that time leagues comprised 16 teams with no home & away fixtures). The league title was settled on the very last day of the season at Newlands against a strong Oakham XV, and after trailing 23 – 5 at half time, the Club won a thrilling match in injury time 27- 26. This proved the turning point in the Club’s fortunes and with the arrival of a number of a number of talented players of whom the former Bedford Captain Steve Harris was perhaps the most notable, during the next seven seasons three further promotions were gained. In 2002/3, following a promotion play-off match against Derby, a place in Midlands One (level 5) was gained; the highest level attained in the history of the Club.
Due partly to a failure to replace a number of senior players who had either retired or moved away, the Club was not able to sustain this level of rugby and relegation back to Midlands Two followed the next season. However, this exposure to a higher level of rugby, albeit painful at the time, had wetted appetites for playing at the highest sustainable level. Important lessons were learnt and major changes, on and off the pitch, were put in place. Chief among them was the return of Paul Alston in the new appointment of Director of Rugby. Under his direction a major overhaul of the senior playing and coaching structure took place and the next three years were the most successful in our history.
The arrival of a number of new players with experience of playing at higher levels ensured promotion back to Midlands One was gained at the first time of asking. Second time around the Club was much better able to cope with the challenges of Midlands One. After a season of consolidation when the Club finished fourth, season 2006/7 – our Golden Jubilee season – proved to be the most successful in our history when Midlands One was won and promotion gained to the National Leagues - National Three South (now known as Level 4, National Two South); the first Club in the area to reach such heights. Unfortunately that promotion proved a step too far and the Club was unable to cope with the challenges of playing national league rugby week after week.
The strength of the league that season is best illustrated by the fact that it contained clubs such as London Scottish, Rosslyn Park, Barking & Cinderford who have subsequently gone to gain promotion to Level 3 National League 1 level.
Onwards & Upwards
This harsh exposure to the realities of playing at the highest level in our history, painful though it was, has not daunted the Club and served simply to reinforce long term ambitions. The ability to deal with setbacks, learn harsh lessons and move on remains a strength of the Club. The ambition to play at the very highest sustainable level remains.
The arrival of Denis Ormesher from Bedford Blues as Director of Rugby in 2009 saw a refocus on the coaching structure required to be successful and an increase in the emphasis on developing more local players through our Development XV.
After a single, moderately successful, season in London & South East One (now National Three London & South East) meeting old friends and making new ones, season 2009/10 saw a second level transfer back to National Three Midlands. A challenging but enjoyable season under the outstanding leadership of Matt Allen, the former Northampton, Cardiff Blues & Bedford centre, saw the Club finish a creditable third. The season also reinforced our reputation for playing attacking and entertaining rugby. The season ended with a place in the East Midlands Cup Final away at Peterborough where, with injuries and unavailability’s taking their inevitable toll, it was necessary to field a largely youthful and inexperienced side. After playing a full part in an entertaining final, sadly, not for the first time, the greater power of the opposition pack eventually decided the result and meant that a long season ended on a disappointing note.
"Season 2010/11 saw Matt Allen step up to Head Coach, albeit while remaining a player for one last season. Mixed results in National Three Midlands led to a mid-table finish; despite good performances against strong sides like Longton, Sheffield & Bromsgrove overall a lack of consistency put a higher league place out of reach.
However, the season ended on a successful note when the East Midlands Cup was won for the very first time. After losing in the final the previous season, the cup was won with an emphatic win in the final against Bedford Ath at Bedford's Goldington Road ground in front of a large crowd. An appropriate way for Matt Allen to bring the curtain down on a long and illustrious playing career"
At the beginning of the 2012/13 season Luton Rugby saw the arrival of Paul Allen to the fold as Director of Rugby. Paul has developed a new coaching structure across the adult section and with a new coaching team the 1st XV finished 5th in a tough London 1 North league. The 2012/13 season finished off with the Luton reaching the final of the East Midlands Cup final for the second consecutive season against local rivals Ampthill. Although the Luton team showed great spirit and fought “tooth and nail” with their opposition on the night they were beaten into runner up position. Luton Rugby received a large number of applauds for taking Ampthill to the wire considering their higher position in the league.
Following the groundwork in 2012/13 Paul and his team take on the challenges of the 2013/14 season having yet again been level transferred to London ! North, at some stage we may return to our home of East Midlands!
Building a Club for Future Generations
Experience over recent seasons indicates that at senior level it should be possible to sustain national league rugby; indeed the long term potential remains to reach level four or even three. In parallel the challenge for the Youth & Mini Section will be to continue to provide a friendly, social environment for the youth of Luton to learn and play the game. Also, for them to develop their skills in order to provide the 1st XV with an increasing proportion of home grown players.