The History of Streatham – Croydon R.F.C.

The first Streatham club was formed in 1871. The first recorded game was on 25/11/1871. 8 matches were played in the first season, 5 were won, none were lost and 3 were drawn. A number of matches were drawn at this time as only goals counted towards the result. Although Streatham were represented at the Rugby union meeting on 25/10/1876 they do not appear on the list for the meeting 28/3/1877 and we can only presume that the first Streatham club was among the many clubs that were being formed enthusiastically at this time only to survive for a few years.

In 1882 Thurlow Park rugby football club was formed by some schoolboys from Dulwich college. The club was called Thurlow Park because its first ground was a piece of land alongside Rosendale Road which is a turning off Thurlow Park Road in West Dulwich. In 1886 the club moved to Greyhound lane, Streatham. The club’s fortunes were at their peak in 1889-90 when not a single game was lost. In 1891-2 the club moved to Hyde farm, Balham, but this proved to be a bad move, for the changing accommodation was so poor that it was difficult to retain fixtures and members were leaving the Club.

Meanwhile in 1889 5 old boys of Whitgift grammar school had come together to form Lewin Rovers RFC, so called because several of the initial 30 members lived in Lewin Road, Streatham. For the first 2 years the club played on a plot allowed them by Streatham council which then administered the common. The players changed and held their meetings at the Pied Bull public house, having at their disposal a large room on the first floor. As was common in those days there was no large bath or hot water available, just tin basins of cold water in the backyard of the pub. By 1891 Lewin Rovers had grown considerably in membership, and having changed the name to Streatham Park, took a lease of the Greyhound lane ground vacated by Thurlow Park. Streatham Park continued to progress and were improving their fixture card steadily, but Thurlow Park were still strong enough to beat them soundly in 1892-3 at Hyde Farm. This match in all probability helped considerably in the subsequent development during the summer of 1893.

Around 1893 Alfred Mitchell, a member of Thurlow Park, had moved from Dulwich to Streatham and had become friendly with some Streatham Park members. He began to talk amalgamation with his old friends at Dulwich and his new friends at Streatham, believing that there was not sufficient scope for both organisations to function successfully. Mitchell arranged a meeting of six  members of each club which agreed to recommend the winding up of both clubs and the calling of a joint meeting of the members of the 2 clubs with a view to a formation of a new club. At a subsequent meeting on 11/12/1893 it was proposed that a rugby football club be formed called Streatham RFC. Streatham Park had worn black jerseys with a monogram in red, but the new club decided to adopt the Thurlow park colours of Cardinal. It is interesing to note that these colours were introduced to Thurlow Park by Laurie Goodall who became the first Captain of the new Streatham club. Goodall had seen the colours at Bedford school where he had been a scholar before coming to London.

The club used the Greyhound lane ground and began by running 3 sides. The team would practise interpassing on Streatham Common so they were capable of taking part in attacking moves, this being quite a revolutionary step. If moonlight was lacking the ball was wrapped in a large white handkerchief . Experiments were made with floodlighting but these did not prove very successful. The average weight of the team was only 10 stone 11 pounds, but speed understanding and fitness were made to compensate for this. Every Thursday  at 9PM there was a club run from the Pied Bull to Thornton Heath Pond and back and on Sunday afternoons there would be a club walk.

The first match against Charing Cross Hospital was won by a substantial margin and Streatham went on to win the Surrey cup. which was in its third season. Season 1894-95 saw the team score 447 points against 21 by their opponents and again the Surrey cup was won, as it was the following year also. The club’s achievements earned improved fixures but progress was slow.

Season 1896-97 saw Thornton Heath RFC, which played in Brigstock Road opposite the existing club ground, amalgamate with Streatham and 4 teams were now turned out each week. An additional ground was found at Woodfield Avenue, Streatham, for which changing accommodation was obtained at the Horse and Groom Hotel for use of the 2nd and 3rd teams. The 1st and A teams continued to use the Greyhound lane ground and change at the Pied Bull.

The only player to gain international recognition while at Streatham was W.V.Butcher who played for England against Scotland at Richmond on 21st March 1903. Butcher who was a Scrum-Half, gained six further England caps over the next two seasons, the next three while he was playing for Bristol and the final three while he was playing for Richmond. In 1904 he was partnered at Fly-Half for three England games by P.S.Handcock of Richmond, who had the previous season been his Streatham partner. Hancock’s move to Richmond to try to gain an international cap had been serverely criticised in the sporting press. Both Butcher and Hancock appear in the Streatham team photograph of 1903-04 along with J.T.Sharland, one of the clubs Surrey players who went on the DR Bedell Wright tour or Australia and New Zealand when 16 matches were won out of 19 played.

No matches were played during the First World War from 1914-18. With the cessation of hostilities in WW1 , in which thirty three members – one third of the membership in 1914 – gave their lives, those fortunate enough to return were eager to restart the club and play rugby again. But there were many difficulties in the way; both their grounds had been pressed into the all important work of growing vegetables during the war and were in a sadly cut up state. It was also feared that the new building programme would swallow the land, and plans had already been made to convert one of the grounds for this purpose. After an extensive search it was discovered that the old Croydon Cricket club in Frant Road, Thornton Heath (the existing ground) had become available and the lease of the pitch was arranged in 1919. Although the lease was renewed the following season the ground situation remained precarious until £6.00 was paid down on the option of buying the ground. This was done with the co-operation of the Streatham Cricket clubwhich had also lost its pitch, and the South Streatham lawn tennis club. A limited company was formed and an issue of shares was made. With the assistance of a loan from the Rugby Union the ground was purchased and when one considers the large numbers of clubs that were not revived after the War and the many which did not obtain security of tenure after their renaissance, one realises the great debt the club owes to the members at this time.

A house ajoining the ground at 159 Brigstock Road was bought in 1921 and transformed into a clubhouse, complete with tea-room, bar, bath and showers- a very great improvement on the changing accommodation which had been in use at the Prince of Wales public house in Brigstock Road for the first two years.

Electric flood-lighting was first installed at the Frant road ground in 1933 and the school holiday matches begun in 1930 were begining to bear fruit in the form of useful talent coming into the club. During the second World War 1939-45 it was not necessary to abandon Rugby altogether. The club was able to keep one side going during the hostilities and many a serviceman was permitted a game while on leave, one of the team standing down if necessary. This effort was well rewarded, as it made possible the rapid recovery to six fifteens by 1947. This year also saw the birth of the club’s interest in colts Rugby, when special training and playing facilities such as were first organised.

Another important landmark in the history of the club was reached in 1957, when a splendid stand with new changing and bathing facilities was erected. The next year, the old clubhouse in Brigstock Road was completely reconstructed and modernised and that most important of places the bar, was expanded for the fifth time since 1920. It was only through the magnificent support, both physical and financial of the members of the Rugby and Cricket clubs that the new mortgage from the RFU was kept as low as £1,800.

In 1964, at the instigation of Bernard Utting (a long standing member) the Club changed its name from Streatham RFC to Streatham – Croydon RFC with a view to strengthening its links with the developing borough of Croydon.

During the later 1950’s the Club was increasing in members by about 1 team a year. Thus in the season 1956-57 there were 8 XV’s and by 1961-62 there were 12, 9 senior sides and 3 colts (under 21’s) sides. A decision was taken, mainly for reasons of administration, to limit the number to 12 and for a period there was some restriction on acceptance of new members. Throughout the 1960’s the club continued to run 12 teams (9 senior and 3 colt) until 1969-70 when there was a reduction to 11 (8 + 3). After a few years at that level a serious decline in members started in 1974-75 (10) with a reduction by 1983-84 to 6 XV’s without any under-age sides. The club held steady at that number for several years until further declines in the 1990’s ultimatley led to only 2 sides. This pattern was not peculiar to Streatham – Croydon but was widespread among Rugby clubs. During the last half of the 1970’s schoolboy teams at various age limits were run successfully by Bill Crozier.

For several years an annual contest was played between the 12 sides of Streatham and those of Esher for a trophy (Skull and goalposts) to be held by the club that won most matches.

From the point of view of playing results the club had some very successful seasons in the early 1950’s but these were not fully compariable with later seasons because, before the advent of leagues constant effort was being made season by season to improve the fixture list. Another successful period between 1945 and the introduction of leagues in autumn 1987 was the earlier 1960’s. A notable feature during much of the pre-league period was the relative success and strength of list of the second XV (under various titles): it played several 1st teams and the second teams of many of the leading clubs of the day such as Leicester , Bristol, Northampton, Wasps, Saracens, London Irish, London Welsh, Richmond, Rosslyn Park and Blackheath.

1971 saw the club’s centenary, culminating in a fixture with the John Players cup holders, Coventry. Streatham – Croydon won the Surrey cup in 1973-74 and 1974-75, beating Esher in the final on both occasions. Although Streatham  – Croydon reached the final in 1980-81 and 1988-89 it has not won the cup since.

Prop Jeff Probyn played for Streatham – Croydon for nearly four seasons at the end of the 1970’s before representing England for the first time six years later at the age of 31 while a member of Wasps. A distinguised captain of the club was Dudley Wood (1957-58), (1964-65), an Oxford blue 3 times over, who later became secretary of the RFU for many years

The tennis club had ceased to function during or before the war, in 1977 the Cricket club moved to a ground in Dulwich,.in 1980 Squash courts were built next to the stand, but the sqash section proved to be unsuccessful. In 1990 a steel fence was installed around the ground to replace the wooden fence that had partly blown down in the great storm in 1987. Earlier the plunge baths were replaced with showers for health reasons.

On the field of play the Courage league structure was introduced in the 1987-88 season. Streatham – Croydon were placed in Area league south ( later known as Jewson division 2 south). Unfortunately the club were relegated in the first season without winning any of their ten league matches. Streatham – Croydon then stayed in London division one for the next seven seasons, finishing 5th and 4th in the first two seasons but also needing to win the final match of the season to be certain of staying in the division. Streatham – Croydon were relegated to London Division2 South at the end of season 1994-95 where they stayed for three seasons before being relegated to London Division 3 South West at the end of 1997-98 ( a disastrous season in which no games were won at first team level). Another poor season in 1998-99 saw Streatham – Croydon win just one league match and at the end of the season were relegated to Surrey Division one. A further relegation to Surrey 2 was incurred for season 2001-2002.