CHARD RUGBY CLUB A BRIEF HISTORY
Chard RFC was formed in 1876 and is one of the oldest established clubs in Somerset.
The earliest team photograph we have found was taken in 1898 and people who know Chard will no doubt spot that it was taken outside the old library in Boden Street which at the time was the social club for the mill.
The onset of World War One saw the Club virtually close and it was not reformed again until after the Second World War in 1946.
Not many towns of our size can boast that their side played against the All Blacks but on January 3rd 1946 D.R Gents XV took on the mighty side that had beaten England at Twickenham a few days earlier. This game actually took place at the cricket ground and the programme can be seen in the clubhouse. There is also an original programme at Chard Museum. It is also the reason why a kiwi appears on the club badge.
The Club gradually grew and in September 1964 to promote the game in this area a Chard side played against England fly half Richard Sharps XV at Taunton Rugby Club.
The Club were playing their games at the current site and occasionally at the old school ground at Forton. The old war time washrooms at the main ground served as the changing rooms and the clubhouse activities were held at the Choughs Hotel until 1968 when the club members purchased an ex army hut for the princely sum of £1 and erected this adjacent to the ground.
With the number of players increasing Chard began to run three senior sides and a Colts XV and were in desperate need of additional pitches. In the late 1970s the Club purchased the Crewkerne Road site from the owner of the George Hotel …..now the Phoenix…and this still serves the Club well for mainly 3rd XV, Colts and Junior matches.
In 1983 the Chard Mini section was started by Phil Mead, Mark Saunders, and Ray Lees and has grown into one of the most dynamic mini and junior sections in the south west. Many of the current senior players have come right through from the mini and juniors.
On 17th April 1988 local MP Paddy Ashdown opened the Graham Mear Memorial Changing rooms and the Club at last had the changing facilities it deserved.
The Clubhouse put up in 1968 lasted for about 25 years It was demolished in 1993 and a few months later on the 19th September the present building was officially opened by the Somerset President, Mr Fred Ellison. The Club staged a day of rugby for all ages from minis to veterans and future world cup final referee Mr Ed Morrison officiated the 1st XV and veteran matches.
The Chard pitch had been infamous for its slope (Hell Fire Corner) and its mud and in 1995 major work was done to level the pitch and to install floodlights.
The new pitch was officially opened on September 1995 when a Chard invitation side hosted an England Classicals XV made up of former International players.
Chard has always had strong links with Holyrood School so it was appropriate that when the first games under the new floodlights took place on Friday 13th October 1995 the club invited the Holyrood U14 and U15 teams to play two games against their Heathfield School Taunton counterparts. Both games were refereed by Mr Mel Hillman and a large crowd enjoyed two excellent matches with Holyrood getting narrow wins .
In 1995 the Club U13 team toured Hong Kong and ten years later the U16 squad had an equally successful tour to South Africa.
The club celebrated its 125th anniversary in 2001 and legendary Wales and Lions player Cliff Morgan was the guest of honour at a dinner superbly organised by Tony Cole.
For reasons not known Chard chose not to immediately join the leagues when they were first formed and as a result when they did apply they had to start at the bottom in Somerset division three( which is were the current 3rd xv now play!)
Since the introduction of League Rugby the Club 1st XV won the Somerset Division 3 title in season 1991/2, The Somerset Division 1 title in 1995/6 and again in 2002/03. The 1st xv were runners up in the Somerset Premier league in 2010 and 2011 and although losing a play off match at Cirencester in April 2010 they went on a year later to beat Old Richians from the Gloucester Premier League before a crowd of over 500 to win promotion to Western Counties North.
The success of the 1st xv continued and the team won the Western Counties North Championship in season 2011/2012 and won promotion to South West One to reach the highest playing level in the clubs history. The 2nd xv also won their league to gain promotion to Somerset Division one a division in which the 1st xv had competed only ten years earlier.
In its first season at South West One level the club finished 4th.
In season 2013/14 Chard had a remarkable run of victories in the final few months of the season and finished in runners up spot in South West One.
The reward was a trip to Towcester in Northamptonshire for a play off match to decide who would get promoted into the national leagues. Well over 100 hundred Chard supporters made the trip and a last minute try sealed a close but thoroughly deserved victory for Chard which would mean promotion to National league three (South West) and was a remarkable achievement for the club.
With trips to Oxford, Bracknell, Reading, Brixham, Bournemouth, Cheltenham ( Old Patesians) Weston (Hornets and Weston super mare), Newton Abbott, Gloucester(old Centralians), Exmouth, Bristol (old Reds) and Barnstaple it would be quite a step up.
Chard lost a number of games by just a few points but were relegated back to South West one the following season .
After two more seasons in South West One Chard are currently playing in the Western Counties West Division which is made up of teams mainly based in Devon and Cornwall with just Wellington and Wiveliscombe being regarded as local derbies.
In recent years current senior squad players Benn Mainwaring and Gab Riley have been selected to play for England Colleges and Emile Szydelko has played several games for the Polish under 21 team
Programmes/pictures mentioned in this brief history can be seen in the lounge bar at the club
Chard organise rugby for all ages with rugby available for players and supporters from minis, juniors, Colts and three senior Xvs and ladies/girls team teams
Ladies rugby was played in the 90s but this was relatively short lived and it was not until a few years ago that the Ladies/girls section was reformed and it has quickly grown with the Ladies team now playing regularly League rugby in the South West Division.
Indeed at the end of the 2018/19 season two of the ladies team Natalie Roach and Zoe Winlow were selected to play in a competition at Twickenham and Kirsty Carlos was called up to represent the England deaf team.
Chard is a tremendous community club which has something to offer everybody whatever age, standard, player or supporter.
Glyn Hughes. August 2019