HISTORY OF THE CLUB
In 1892, in the February edition of the University College School Magazine, a letter appeared with the signatures of John D Ely (UCS School 1885-1892) and RS Hall (Captain UCS 1st XV 1891/2) calling for the formation of a Football club and inviting Old Boys to join in. In October of that year following a meeting, the Headmaster HW Eve was appointed President, AGA Troughton to Captain and Hon. Secretary, and WG Lipscombe as Hon. Treasurer. A list of players numbering 57 was printed and the playing subscription was 10/- (shillings). The first official match was played on Saturday, 8th October, 1892 against Malborough Nomads at Surbiton and the result was a loss by 2 goals and 2 tries to nil. The original colours of the shirts were recorded as ‘black jersey with red collar and acorn badge worked in red’. The original constitution was formed and name of the club was established as Paulatim Football Club. It was to be another three years (1895) before the name of the club was changed into the one more recognisable today – UCS Old Boys (Old Gowers) Football Club. The motto of UCS School is ‘Paulatim sed firmiter’ and it is apt that ‘slowly but surely’ over the next few years the playing strength improved, and along with it the fixture list was built up to a high standard with games against London Welsh, Northampton, Harlequins, London Irish, Rosslyn Park, Guys, London and St Thomas’s Hospitals, as well as against Upper Clapton and Civil Service and Old Boys clubs such as Old Millhillians, Old Alleynians, Old Merchant Taylors, Old Cranleighans, Old Haileyburians, Old Blues and Old Whitgiftians.
Throughout its history UCSOBRFC has had many homes. A wandering side for the first two years (in 1893, all 23 games were away), the club found grounds initially at Gospel Oak (1894 -1896), then at Toleys Cricket Ground, Willesden (1896/7) and at Elms Farm (1897 – 1902). In 1902 the club moved to Osterley (Wyke Meadow) where the ground was described as ‘ a somewhat rough and uncultured field’, which was alternately hay and grazing ground – a popular spot for tramps!. Such were the ‘spartan’ facilities that Blackheath ‘A’ XV protested vehemently at being asked to play on a hay field. For a brief period in 1909 – 1912 the club moved to Greenford, due to increases in rent, but a return to Osterley in 1913 provided a springboard for the club and planning permission was gained for the building of a pavilion at Wyke Meadow, which was completed that same year. The club continued to thrive under the stewardship of John D Ely, one of the original founders and Hon. Secretary at the time, and Harold Wade. Despite the loss of many Old Boys in the First World War (1914 -18) the club remained strong through the early part of the last century, consolidating and building up post-war to become one of the stronger clubs in the country. Key figures in those early years were AE Yarrow (Captain), the Susskind brothers, COC Reilly, AS Young and CEK Menzies.
In 1922 the ground at Osterley was purchased for a sum of £6,600 with some generous donations, fund raising efforts and some help from the RFU in the shape of a loan. Debentures were issued to members of the Football Club and the Main UCS Old Boys Club. This led to the formation of ‘Sports Club Limited’, a company limited by guarantee and not having share capital, with the remit to: promote the issue of the debentures; hold the deeds to the ground; have as objectives’ the provision and maintenance of a sports ground for the use of Old Boys of University College School. Sports Club Ltd. still play and important role in the rugby club today, providing loans and grants for facilities and equipment, as they do for all the sports sections of UCS Old Boys. By the mid-twenties the fixture list was extremely strong with games against Gloucester and Plymouth (1926-7) and in the 1927-28 season versus Cardiff at the ‘Arms Park’ where the side lost narrowly (8-12). The 1928-29 season showed wins against Bedford and United Services and a narrow defeat by Rosslyn Park. During this period the Old Boys were often represented at Twickenham for the Middlesex 7-a-sides. BH Sutcliffe, TH Rowney, AH Bernard, CH Farmer and RT Cockman were all stalwarts of that era. In 1934-5 the title of the club changed again from UCS Old Boys (Old Gowers) Football Club, with ‘Rugby’ being inserted before ‘Football’. Still remarkably active during the thirties, John Ely (Club Secretary for 40 years) drove through the sale of land at the front of the ground at Osterley (to repay RFU loans) and then oversaw the building of a new pavilion and stand (with bar) which was at that time in 1935 the largest cantilevered structure in the UK!. He is quite rightly regarded as ‘Father’ of the Club’. The thirties side boasted high calibre players, the likes of EW Parkes, Derek Scott- Lowe, JJ Turnbull and EL Beverley.
Many notable Old Boys and gifted rugby players fought, and lost their lives in the Second World War – in total 32 members, their names commemorated on a plaque at West Hampstead. John Turnbull a stalwart of the rugby club in the thirties, survived and was decorated, as was Major Richard (Dick) Rubenstein who was awarded the Military Cross and the Croix de Guerre for his leadership of the Special Operations Executive Jedburgh Team in France. He was also decorated for leading a guerrilla offensive in Burma, during the conflict against the Japanese, and right up until his death in 2005, was still an active (though slightly less confrontational!) member of the Gower Club (the committee that run the clubhouse and facilities at West Hampstead). It is satisfying to know that UCSOBRFC (along with many other rugby clubs who were represented in the conflict), in small part, contributed to the success of the war effort and the liberation of Europe. The club struggled to rebuild after the war and it was not until 1961 that the strength was back up to six playing sides. During the period between 1946 and 1965 the fixtures were not as strong as previously enjoyed but the core was against traditional Old Boys sides and the club continued to thrive. Key figures in this rebuilding of the club after the war included, HG (Fairy) Loxdale, JR (Slim) Cowell, Eric Day, John Lindridge and Dick Rubenstein, and later Mike Hull and Tommy Richard who were instrumental in building up the number of teams. It was during this period that UCSOBRFC proudly announced the selection of Ronnie Thompson on the wing, for the Scotland national side. The latter period between 1953 and 1965 saw the Old Boys regularly fielding more than six sides each Saturday, a tribute to the organisation and commitment of Mike Butterfield, Hugh Alderslade, Alan Cantrell, Roger Lane, John England, John Tripp, Andrew Wood and David Houghton and others. However, over the next fifteen years the backcloth against which rugby was being played was beginning to change. Many players work patterns included Saturday morning, there was the beginning of an exodus from London of professional and skilled workers to the ‘new’ towns in the provinces and demands on individuals time was increasing. These factors contributed to the decline in playing numbers and status of the club and by 1979 it was becoming increasingly difficult to recruit Old Boys to play at Osterley, despite excellent facilities. During this time the club produced some very talented players including, Roger Taylor, Gerald Smart, Mike Page, Adrian Paterson, Alistair Anderson, Bob McGillivray Harry Sargent, Ray Pickering, Malcolm Luck, Paul Cattermole (represented Notts, Lincs and Staffs), John Sharpe, Mike Meacock, the Bobroff brothers, Paul Gee, Tim Hardy, Mark Motyer, Simon Rubenstein, Tim and Gareth Lewis, Barry Adams and Micky Harle, many of whom represented Middlesex and in the late sixties the club qualified for the Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham.
In 1979, following an extraordinary meeting of the rugby club in May 1978, the Main Club of UCS Old Boys, with regret, supported a move to West Hampstead after more than half a century at Osterley. The Headmaster of UCS School, Alan Barker, was in favour of relocation, and in a complex agreement, the ground at Osterley was acquired by UCS School in return for, the granting of a long term lease (50 years) for the Old Boys sports sections and the building of a clubhouse at West Hampstead, Ranulf Road, on the UCS School Playing Fields. In the early days at West Hampstead the fixture list continued to reflect the position that Old Boys rugby held at the time, with those school Old Boys clubs, including UCSOBRFC finding it difficult to compete with the growth of the ‘town’ sides outside London. The inception of League rugby in the mid- eighties provided a further stimulus to the game and the ‘rewards’ associated with this were embraced by non-Old Boy clubs with some vigour. Some Old Boys clubs decided to amend their constitution and became entirely ‘open’ in membership in order to compete, others including UCSOBRFC continued to retain a strong commitment to supporting Old Boys rugby and a number of the older traditional fixtures were retained. Spanning the end of the ‘Osterley’ era and the new dawn at West Hampstead, were some key figures who helped ensure continuity, notably Adrian Paterson, Paul Gee, and Tim Lewis who both captained and coached the club up until moving to Sussex in 1989. Other key figures in the early period at West Hampstead were, Leigh Adams, Tony Portsmouth (UCS Teacher), Geoff Boxer, Andrew Wiseman, Alan Ross, Jonathon Nowell, John Lawrence, Andrew Sparrow, David Harvey, Piers Johnson, Andrew Mears, John Wann, Ian Tate, Jon Mann, Chris Carabine, Frank Butterworth, Gideon Bard, and later on Sean Quinliven and David Brandt (a Cambridge Blue). Of course, special mention must be made of Paul (Plod) Gee, who after more than forty years with UCS as a pupil and a UCSOBRFC rugby player, and as Hon. Treasurer and Hon Secretary of the rugby club, sadly passed away prematurely in 2004. Without his efforts the club would not be in the healthy position it is today. His life in rugby is commemorated by the giving of an annual trophy, for the most improved rugby player at UCS School and a Memorial Fund in his name continues to raise funds for charity and to support deserving causes at UCSOBRFC. This season, on September 11th 2010, the fund donated a cheque for £10,000 to the Child Victims of Crime (CVOC), a charity that was dear to Paul’s heart, having been a long-serving Metropolitan Police Officer. On the same day a plaque to the memory of Paul was unveiled in the clubhouse. Since the move to West Hampstead, the social side of the club and our relationship with other Old Boys rugby clubs has continued to thrive. We have ‘boxed’ now five times in the last 26 years (1984 – 2010) against Old Millhillians – each time as a special evening event to promote social interaction and fund-raising, Peter Jones (prop forward and stalwart of the club from 1973 – 2003) being the initial key driver. The last boxing match was held on June 5th 2010, and was brilliantly organised by Gideon Bard, an event which saw some 350 guests supporting the event held at Ranulf Road. In addition, there are links with the Old Merchant Taylors RFC, through Jerry Birch (ex-Middlesex Captain), who played for both clubs during a long and illustrious rugby career (UCSOBRFC 1984 -1994). The club celebrated its Centenary in 1992-3 season, playing a match against Combined London Old Boys, losing by 3 tries to 7 (19-43), and a black-tie ball was held at HAC (London), attended by 150 people.
The move of Rugby Union to professionalism in 1995 and towards a seamless game brought about huge changes. During the period between 1995-8 on the back of this wave of optimism in the game, the club started to move forward again with a crop of talented players arriving from the School, Russell Yam as 1st XV Captain, Mark Alden, Matt Peccei, Richard Barker, Paul Shattock, Simon Dickinson, Richard Milton and Adam Bloch were key figures as the club reached the southern semi-final of the lower level National Vase losing 19 -11 to the eventual winners Beaconsfield, in front of large crowd. The side also boasted the talents of fly-half, Chris Mahon (Teacher at UCS School and now a Master at Sedburgh School) and Dan Sibson (ex-Durham University and England Students) who was in the words of Will Greenwood (England) – “possibly the best second row that I played with never to get a cap”(Daily Telegraph – 14/1/06). The side was expertly coached by Tony Roberts, Senior Master (UCS School) and Director of Rugby, who also coached the County’s Youth side and has now since retired. In season 2004-5 the club continued its rise by winning the Middlesex Sevens Bowl, at NEC Harlequins Ground (Stoop), the squad including Dan Stewart, Brendan Dyer, Dan Sadler, Ben Preston, Jeremy Innes, Ben Harding, Jon Harper, Rob Austen, Dan Chapman and Jonno Friend, and captain, Tom Brandt. The club today, enjoys its highest position, since leagues were established, and today resides in London & SE Division 2 (NW). Facilities are excellent and the pitches are the envy of many clubs, their condition being the result of the hard work over many years by the UCS School groundstaff, led by Kevin Reilly. The club remains committed to a ‘School Old Boys’ ethos and strongly encourages alumni of UCS School to join the rugby club and the club constitution demands a UCS Old Boy playing membership of fifty percent. UCS has recently appointed a new headmaster Mark Beard, who replaces the retiring Kenneth Durham, and Mark has strong drive to develop the School’s sporting prowess whilst maintaining the key standards of respect and behaviour that rugby engenders in its players and spectators. We look forward to the stream of UCS leavers joining us at the Old Gowers Club. The position that the club enjoys in West Hampstead (London), of course, attracts many transient workers, students and visitors, and rugby players from both the UK and overseas. As such the club today is a rich blend of UCS alumni and their friends, students in higher education and established players from New Zealand and Australia and some from the far-flung reaches of Europe, from Bosnia & Russia. Indeed the club can boast amongst its more recent members ex-All Black Captain Taine Randell, who after a distinguished professional career in NZ and later with the English Premiership side Saracens, played socially with the club from 2007-9. Another ex-All Black Captain Anton Oliver also played for the club in a fixture at the beginning of the 2011-12 season. Dan Stewart (an exceptional full back) who has played for the club since leaving UCS in 1999, gained a full Middlesex County cap in 2011 and continues to play for the 1st XV. We have said goodbye to a group of UCS stalwarts in the last few years. Casey Mee (1st XV scrum half) and ex-Otago Province, NZ, is working and coaching in Singapore. Dan Sadler, Stan Bradbrook and Brad Wheeler have returned to New Zealand and Allan Glen is in Australia. They all played a big part in the club’s recent progression. One of our overseas players that deserves special mention is Chris Harris, also from NZ and hailing from the same town as legendary All Black, Ritchie McCaw, Chris has given huge service to the club over the last ten years as a 1st XV player, innovative skills coach and an excellent social organiser. The Club have had two players recently gain International honours. Damir Jovanovic (Bosnia) and Merts Zabci (Turkey). They, like many others at UCSOBRFC recently have benefitted from the excellent coaching of Carl Bradshaw (ex-Loughborough, Ealing and Cambridge player), who played for the Club from 2011-2014 before retiring from playing to pursue his RFU Level 3 coaching award, which he gained in 2016.
Touring has always been a feature of the clubs end-of-season, and although the club for more than thirty years, returned annually to Torquay, Devon, playing the likes of Paignton and Teignmouth, after 1979, destinations became more exotic, the club travelling far and wide to play fixtures in France, Holland, Italy, Spain, Greece, Poland, Lithuania, Malta, Germany, Slovenia, Croatia, Czech Republic and Bulgaria. At the end of the 2014 season, which although saw the 1st XV relegated for the first time in many years, the Club boasted a tournament win in the Hendon Sevens, for the first time in 50 years! We congratulate the victorious squad of: Tom McAviney, Tom Bamford, Jack Boulden, Nathaniel Breakwell, James May, Dan McAviney, Dom Rollo Walker, Alex Turton, Charlie Mortimer, Daniel Cole and Jack Burrows.
Like many clubs in the modern era, we are indebted to our sponsors without whom we could not maintain the necessary infrastructure and standards for training and playing. But, we are fortunate also to have many individuals who support the club avidly, demonstrating a vigor and enthusiasm with which John Ely, our founder, would be proud. Marc Waterman and Joe Samuel (Vice-Presidents), Gideon Bard (Chairman), Trever Turton (Honorary Treasurer), Ben Myers and Chris Pope (both occupying the role in recent years of Honorary Secretary), James Boyde, Matt Jacobs and David O’Dwyer (recent ex-1st XV Captain), Daniel Chapman (2nd XV Captain), David Myers (Fixture Secretary), Geoff Boxer (Director of Rugby), Ricky Cohen (Team Secretary), Adam Hirschovits and David Cohen (as recent Club Captains) with Ryan Ovens and Richard Thorpe (Social Secretary), have all worked tirelessly for the club in recent years. They have been aided by a vibrant committee of willing volunteers, ensuring that UCSOBRFC is in safe hands. We were especially proud this year at the Club Dinner to honour Nick Cook who for the last 10 years has been the club’s photographer and whose images from games are posted on the website galleries each week and are seen in the Hampstead & Highgate Express alongside reports of the 1st XV matches. Lastly, the modern age requires staying in touch with Club members through electronic media communication, via the Club’s website and other digital platforms. Our thanks go to the Club’s recent Webmasters, Andy Martyn, Oliver Bisgrove, and Chris Stickle who currently occupies the role.
Since 2016, UCS Old Boy Nick Gourlay (ex-Loughborough University Student and Saracens Professional Rugby Club Inclusion Officer) has taken over the Head coach’s role and has overseen a period of transformation during which the Club has played away from West Hampstead whilst the redevelopment of the UCS Playing Fields has been going on. That redevelopment, recently named the Kantor Centre after its major benefactor, comprises the establishment of brand new pitches with a modern drainage system, a state-of-the-art large new pavilion with refectory and function rooms, and other new facilities including groundsmans buildings, a high tech medical room, new changing rooms and comfortable bar and lounge for socialising. The completion of the redevelopment in April, 2019 at a cost of £10.5M will provide the School (UCS) and the UCS Old Gower Sports sections (rugby, cricket, soccer and tennis) with some of the best facilities in North London and will allow the rugby club to put in place a development plan for the next decade with the aim of returning to the higher levels of rugby within the RFU league structure. In 2018, in line with this new vision for UCS Old Gowers rugby the Club changed its name to UCS RFC and with 1st XV Captain, Chris Bean, at the helm the future looks very bright.
UCS OLD BOYS RFC – Centenary Magazine (1992-3)
London’s Oldest Rugby Clubs – Author, Dick Tyson (2008)