One night in July 1967 a small group of rugby-mad locals gathered in the Onslow Arms in Cranleigh to talk rugby and drink beer. What bad can ever come of that?! And so Cranleigh Rugby Club was founded, there at the bar. Ron Thomas became the first Chairman, John Tilt Secretary and John Nicholas in charge of finding fixtures. Cliff Watson offered up his farmland for training, which began "immediately". Although I imagine a few more pints were finished before then.
On 9th September 1967 Cranleigh Rugby club played it's first ever game against a Guildford & Godalming XV. Cliff Watson led Cranleigh out and Tony Cambell scored the club's first try. The first season was a success on and off the field. Cranleigh won 25 games, drew 1 and lost 16. By the following season the Club were playing their home games on a pitch prepared in Knowle park, changing and having teas in the Cricket Club and yes, still drinking beer and talking rugby in the Onslow Arms.
Cranleigh's new kit was navy blue tops and shorts with red socks. The Crane "Forever Vigilant", the club's logo on the breast. The home games are now being played on farmland opposite The Boy & Donkey on Knowle Lane. Changing happens there too, saving valuable drinking time after the game. Huge efforts are being made with Ron Thomas lobbying hard as Chairman, to find a permanent home for CRFC.
With Willy Cassels, John Nicholas, Nigel Spong, Andrew Alexander, John Tilt, Ron Thomas, Gary Starbuck, Roger Alsford and Chris Fisher all throwing their professional and financial support into the building of the clubhouse, John Discombe (back row - second right) becomes 1st XV Captain. With him a new tranche of future Cranleigh legends arrived at the club from Broadwater school where he taught. Rex Harrison, another Cranleigh great, then takes on the captaincy (pictured here). Gwyn James becomes Chairman as Ron Thomas becomes President. A regular 2nd XV and occasional 3rds are now up and running. Things are building...
After much blood sweat and tears, the beers! The Clubhouse and importantly the bar is opened for the first time meaning that the club can increase it's revenue stream and secure it's future. A game against a Surrey Touring Team is played at the official opening day October 5th. It includes England Internationals Nigel Starmer-Smith and Bob Hillier.
Rex Harrison has forged a great rugby tradition at the club. New players flood in and the first internationals are played at Wildwood Lane with Manzat Touring here from France, for the first time in 1977. Rugby, hospitality and fun flow as tourists are billeted by club members and an entente cordiale is formed that will last for many years. Tours to Nave and Manzat continue until 1980 and the great touring tradition at CRFC has begun. Apparently the tour went off with no incident and behaviour was impeccable throughout. As was reportedly the case on every tour since....
The ultimate club man, Robin Williams starts a Minis section at the club, creating a production line of local talent that is still flourishing - with over 200 youngsters currently being coached at the club - some by Robin's early charges. In 1980, the player and teacher Derek Coward introduces rugby at Glebelands School with the support of transport, coaching and referees from the club. By the early 80's, the Mini's section is too big for the 2 pitch facility in Wildwood Lane and they expand onto a training site behind what is now M&S food in the village. By 1985, the first crop has matured and some of the Colts are picked for Surrey and London Counties. It is hard to quantify what the introduction of youth rugby at the club has achieved. Other than starting the careers of future international players, it also was the breeding ground for great Cranleigh players and clubmen alike. Robin passed the baton onto John Bailey, John Underhill, Mike Harrison, Paul Reed and on through generations of dads, who went on to help run the senior club, including our current Chairman and President.
First team legend Martin Harrop becomes first team captain and having arrived in 1975 as a player, Colston Herbert takes over coaching. Martin is the first of 18 captains he will work alongside. Harrop's laid back leadership combined with Colston's slightly less laid back coaching style takes Cranleigh to another level of success on the field.
The early eighties saw a gentle changing of the guard at Wildwood Lane. Whilst Harrop (pictured) handed the captaincy to the likes of Phennah, Bonne & Macey, he carried on as a pivotal player in a career that saw him and Wayne Davis turn out for the 1sts for over 10 years. As legends retired, future legends cemented their place in the first team. Names such as Edwards, Macey, Maxted, Warzee, Tilt, Dangerfield, Williams and Gartland became regular first picks. Many of them forming the pack that would be the bedrock of future success. It was also the first time the much loved, quartered shirts were seen.
Ron Thomas in his 12th year as President of Cranleigh RFC and is honoured by Surrey RFU by being made a Life Member of Surrey RFU, for his contribution to rugby in the county. "Your endeavours on behalf of Cranleigh RFC are well known throughout Surrey", they report. Nigel Spong is now Chairman of the club, a role he will fulfil for decades to come. He too will be made a Life Vice President Of Surrey RFU in due course.
With Toby Newson now first team captain, this season was Cranleigh's most successful yet. The 1sts recorded a record number of wins and as a club we were running 5 senior teams, an occasional Vets and a healthy Mini & Youth section. With a desperate need for more pitch space and the advent of league rugby next season with Cranleigh entering Surrey League 1, the wind of change was blowing across the pitches of Wildwood Lane.
The Simon Campbell Memorial Ground became Cranleigh Rugby Club's this year. With the Mini & Youth section outgrowing their training ground and senior playing numbers the highest ever, the extra pitch capacity was essential. Tireless fundraising efforts, numerous grants and personal debentures were gathered to raise the money to buy the ground. Notable donations were given by founder member Tony Campbell. The ground was named after his son Simon, a former player, who had died a few years previously in a tragic road accident.
What a season for the Cranes. Paddy Dangerfield breaks the club's try scoring record, narrowly beating Chris Williams's tally and the first team is blessed with the services of a young future British Lion, Simon Shaw. Simon came to the club to play with team mates from the Colts team he met at Godalming College. One of them, Paul Futter, has gone on to play England Students at U21 level. By the end of the season, Simon is paying for England in the U18 5 Nations. Cranleigh are crowned Champions of Surrey 1 and are promoted into London SW3.
Cranleigh RFC clubhouse and grounds transformed into a place of fun to celebrate 50 years of rugby at Cranleigh Over 200 guests attended a fantastic night to celebrate our half century. The clubhouse and ground was transformed into a spectacular venue, fitting of such an occasion. Former members mixed with current players, members of our club and our affiliated clubs and a host of guests including England and British & Irish Lion Brian Moore. Other guests included Nigel Heslop, Surrey RFU Chairman, Peter Vernon Surrey RFU Development Officer and Netani Talei, ex Harlequins and Fijian International. Other events were held throughout our 50 season.
Cranleigh 2nd XV reached the final of the League knockout for promotion against London Irish amateurs. Narrowly beating old rivals Guildfordians RFC in the semi-final. Cranleigh Lost in the final but gave a brilliant match until the final whistle.
Ex British and Irish Lion, England and Cranleigh player Simon Shaw came down to see the future England stars at Cranleigh Mini and Youth Training session. Once a Crane, always a Crane, Simon has donated balls from his Simon Shaw Rugby organisation and stays in touch with the club from his base in France.
In March 2020 the 2019/20 season was cut short for Cranleigh RFC and the rest of the nation, due to the International pandemic that is COVID-19. This was the first time in the club's history that we had to shut our door to rugby. But we stayed together as a community, trained together when we could and apart, on Zoom or via WhatsApp challenges when restricted from doing so. Cranleigh RFC is more than Rugby after all.
During the Covid-19 pandemic, Cranleigh RFC has donated £1,500 to local community causes to help them through the COVID-19 pandemic. The donations have been used on a range of items from Chromebook for pupils that have no access to a computer at home to school meals for pupils that receive food vouchers to resources for key stage 1 pupils that require additional support in the nurture room. The local causes that Cranleigh RFC has donated to are Cranleigh Food Bank, Glebelands School, Cranleigh CofE Primary and Park Mead.
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