Result: Rugby Town 1-0 Hinckley LR (FA Vase 2nd Round)
Venue: Butlin Road (Saturday 20th November 2021; 3pm)
As all the FA competitions continue to roll on unabated, it was once again the turn of the FA Vase to take centre stage. Having begun planning this trip with ex-pitchside pints man Paul a few weeks ago, it was only in the day before that we finally decided on our destination. Having considered a number of other games about the country – namely Atherstone Town, Loughborough Students and Carlisle City, we eventually made our choice. Rugby.
Now, don’t get overly confused; I hadn’t suddenly decided to become a lover of the egg-shaped ball game. No, indeed, we’d be heading to Rugby to watch the staple game of these pages – football. You know, the one where you actually have to JUST kick it. Anyway, I’ll stop there before I’ll never be allowed within a ten mile radius of Rugby for my own safety!
As it was, beginning the day at a touch before 9am, I headed into Warrington, before catching the train downwards towards Crewe. From here, I’d buy a ticket onwards to Rugby, saving a good £7 or £8 in the process – as opposed to buying a full return from in and around Manchester. As it turned out, I was saved a couple more quid upon my arrival in Crewe by the lady at the ticket office, who gave me a West Midlands Day Ranger at £19. As such, it was less than £29 return for me all in. Ah, the joys of the railcard.
With the return to normality in full bloom on the platforms and waiting areas at Crewe station, I joined the masses on the train down to Euston, though am still avoiding the silly mask-mandates down there for now. Thankfully, Rugby has none of that nonsense and still has most of its faculties intact! Anyway, I arrived at just before midday and swiftly navigated the streets from the station towards the town’s Wetherspoons outlet – the Rupert Brooke – where I’d meet up with Paul, who’d made it to the town bright and early.
After passing by a couple of other random picture takers in the streets of the town centre, I arrived at the ‘Spoons and after ordering a Punk IPA (£2.99), I was eventually able to locate Paul after much difficulty. The Rupert Brooke is a decent ‘Spoons, with a rather unique shape to it – though we would soon be departing for pastures new, namely The Windmill.
Upon entering, Paul’s not all that obvious(!) Scouse accent was picked up on by the owner at the bar and we soon got talking to both him and the local here on just what had brought us to Rugby and all things football…as well as a couple of bits of trivia about the town too. A really nice, traditional pub, the Windmill markets itself as a specialist real ale pub – and its line-up certainly won’t let you down in this regard! However, I fancied trying out the Lilley’s Tropical Cider (£4) again and it was absolutely spot on.
Eventually, it was time to move on again and after bidding farewell to the peeps here, we back-tracked a little towards the town centre – though with no clear ideas of where we were actually headed. At first, we came up with a plan to make our way towards the rear of the town centre and the pair of pubs there: the Rugby Tap and the William Webb-Ellis – both for differing reasons – one for the beer, the other for the name. However, I soon recognised that we were coming up towards the Black Swan, which was one I’d earmarked as a possible stop off and it didn’t take much to sway Paul into popping in!
Inside, the Black Swan is nicer than the rather garish colour scheme of the exterior might suggest. Beamed in many places, it gives off the impression it may have been a bit smaller at one time, before having been extended or generally refurbished at some point. Anyway, I opted for an Amstel (£4-odd) in here, though my first one was horrific and Paul was having none of that and went to get it changed on my behalf. I’m not too fussy, you see, but it just was near vomit-inducing. The second one was absolutely fine, so I guess it was just the first one out the tap, which can happen. Changed without issue and checked upon after the fact, the Black Swan is clearly a nicely run place and thanks to them for that.
Having come to the agreement that going to the aforementioned other pair of pubs was taking us too out of the way, we instead reconciled to begin heading a touch more ground-wards. As we’d soon discover, this was a moment of Einstein-like genius! But for the moment, the old coaching-house style Squirrel was our next port of call. Located on the corner of a town centre car-park which separates it from the Wetherspoons, we headed on in to find it quiet at the time, with only a couple of people within the narrow main room. Again, the owners were very friendly and chatty with us about the footballing reasons for our arrival, their live music timetables and the dreaded Covid. As the song goes that may have been sung later in the evening: “Two out of three ain’t bad”!
With both of us settling in for a pint of 61 Deep, we were soon taken in by some horse racing and the possibility of a windfall for my good scouse friend (I hope he reads this for next time!!!). The first one came in good and it was looking good for now. In good spirits, we departed with a “thank you” from the landlady and continued on our route towards Butlin Road. However, a slight miscalculation en route delayed us a little and we had to horrific sight of a Covid testing place coming upon us. *Shudders*.
After regaining our bearings, we soon came upon the Seven Stars – a small-looking pub hidden away somewhat off the main roads of Rugby. A quick note for the nearby Alexandra too, which I’d seen prior to its opening, which I think is the only pub I’ve ever seen with an exploding Nuke as its pub sign!! Anyway, the Seven Stars is the quintessential rugby pub. All the walls, the floors and the ceilings were decked out in rugby paraphernalia and many of the staff and punters were in on the act too. Shirts aplenty were on show, clearly with many being out for the game a little later in the day.
Rugby is a market town in the eastern part of Warwickshire and is the second largest (by population) town in the county, as well as, unsurprisingly, the largest within the Borough of Rugby. Settlements were present in the area of the town in the Iron Age and the nearby River Avon supplied a natural border between the local Dobunni and Corieltauvi tribes. As such, it’s likely that frontier settlements were created on either side of the Avon valley as to aid in each’s defence. With Rugby being located upon a hill overlooking the valley, it was likely an important piece of the Dobunni’s front-line.
The small settlement at Rugby was taken over by the Anglo-Saxons in 560AD and it was later mentioned in the Domesday Book under the name of Rocheberie. There are several theories surrounding how this name came to be, with a popular one being that it was a phonetic translation of the Old English word Hrocaberg – meaning “Hroca’s hill fortification”. Hroca was an Anglo-Saxon man’s given name and was pronounced with a silent ‘H’ and the ‘g’ being an ‘ee’ sound. By the 13th century, the spelling had become a little more recognisable – Rokeby or Rookby – before it morphed into its current name in the 18th century.
During the 1100’s, the first mention of St. Andrew’s Church was made, back when it was a chapel of the mother church at Clifton-upon-Dunsmore. This remained the case until Rugby was established as a parish in its own right in 1221 and thanks to Henry de Rokeby, the town gained its market charter in 1255, which led to it developing into the market town it became known as. In the 12th century, Rugby was mentioned as having a castle at the location of what is now Regent’s Place – although it was more likely to have been a fortified manor house, rather than the castle you’d immediately think of.
Whatever the case may have been, the ‘castle’ was short-lived, likely only lasting, at most, a couple of decades before being demolished by the order of King Henry II, during a period of civil war known as ‘The Anarchy’. Apparently, the castle’s stones were later re-used in the west tower of St. Andrew’s Church. Moving civil wars, we come to the English Civil War and the fact that King Charles I and his Royalist troops passed through Rugby in 1642, whilst en route to Nottingham. With some troops allegedly resting there overnight and the locals were sympathetic to the Parliamentarian cause, they seemingly took umbrage at this and were disarmed by the Cavalier soldiers.
As such, Rugby continued to become staunchly Parliamentarian and in 1645, Oliver Cromwell and two regiments of Roundhead soldiers stayed in the town whilst in preparation for the coming Battle of Naseby a couple of months later. Despite this, Rugby was rather small and, in the grand scheme of things, unimportant up until the 19th century and its 16th century school was one of the only known things to give it any note. Its growth wasn’t aided by the better placed markets at Dunchurch and Hillmorton, but as Rugby school’s reputation continued to grow, so did the population, with many parents wishing to send their kids to the school but, being unable to afford the boarding fees, found it more affordable to just move and set up a life in Rugby.
But it was the arrival of the railways that really set the wheels in motion (couldn’t help that bit of a pun!) in terms of the town’s growth. Lying where it does, its geography made it an ideal place to become a meeting point of rail lines and the junction became one of the busiest and most important in the country by the mid-19th century. The first line had arrived only in 1838, via the London and Birmingham Railway, and this was later joined by the Midland Counties Railway junction with this line (1840) and then the Trent Valley Railway in 1847.
However, it didn’t stop there and by 1850, there were no less than five lines meeting at Rugby and with more than sixty trains passing through a day, Rugby became a railway town and the rail workers arrived in their numbers to take up residence. A cement works later added to the workforce of the town, as well as corset-makers and later heavy engineering, attracted by the ease of access to the town and its connections around the country. The main pair Willans and Robinson and British Thomson-Houston had both set up shop by the early 1900’s and were in direct competition with each other – creating steam engines, motors, generators and turbines – until both were absorbed into the General Electric Company – whose signage still remains visible on the way into Rugby.
Also around these times, in 1848, Rugby saw its first local health board come into being, which set about building and implementing paved roads, street lighting and clean water and effective sewerage systems. This was later converted into an urban district council in 1894 and then a municipal borough in 1932. As such, its boundaries were expanded to take in many surrounding villages, all of which are now suburbs of the town. In 1974, the municipal borough merged with the Rugby Rural District to form the current Borough of Rugby. In more recent years, its junction history has continued with the M1 and M6 merging close to the town.
Of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention the town’s main claim to fame – Rugby! Its invention was credited to William Webb-Ellis (whose name is carried upon the Union World Cup trophy), a pupil of Rugby school, who apparently broke the existing rules of football and went about picking up the ball and pegging it. Unfortunately, there’s little evidence to add credence to the story, though the school is credited with the coding and popularising of the sport as, in 1845, three pupils produced the first written rules of the “Rugby style of the game”.
Another claim to fame was the first jet engine prototype was built and tested in the town by Frank Whittle and Holography was also invented in the town by Hungarian inventor Dennis Gabor – who went on to be awarded for the Noble Prize for Physics for this. Other notable people from Rugby include wrestling and judoka siblings the late “Gentleman” Chris (who trained the likes of “Stone Cold” Steve Austin) and Olympian Neil Adams, England cricket legend Ian Bell, actors Arthur Bostrom (‘Allo, ‘Allo) and Tim Piggott-Smith OBE (Gangs of New York, Quantum of Solace, V for Vendetta), musician James Morrison, paralympian Sam Ruddock and scientist Norman Lockyear (discoverer of helium).
Opting for a pint of Snail’s Bank’s Fruit Bat cider in here, the Seven Stars definitely had a cool atmosphere to it, being busy, but not overly so. Alas, our stay would only be fairly brief, as the time had come to make our way over to the ground. We decided to give ourselves a little extra time to secure a programme as well…but this extra time instead aided in just helping us get to the ground at all! With Maps giving two pointless ways that were pretty much non-existent, I called that we just follow the road around and at least have the security of knowing we’d get to Butlin Road, if a little later than planned.
As a result, disaster was averted and we arrived with around five minutes to kick-off. Upon entering, Paul made a beeline to the bar, before the players headed out onto the field. The ground itself is a very impressive, with all four sides featuring cover. Both sides of the ground feature seated stands (the far side, older one being flanked by a couple of, rather ugly, rooves over the immediate terracing on either side), with the ends being home to covered terracing. Betwixt each stand is open terracing, giving a real “big game” feel to the clash at hand. But, before we get there, let’s have a look at the story of Rugby’s “proper” footballing side…
Rugby Town Football Club was founded in 1955 and were originally named as New Bilton Juniors. However, after just the one season under this title, the club changed their name to Valley Sports – from which they continue to take their nickname: The Valley – and they entered the Rugby and District Football League’s Division 3 for the 1956-’57 season. They would be promoted to Division 2 at the end of their first season and followed this up with a runners-up placing in Division 1 two years later.
This preceded a move into the Coventry and North Warwickshire League in 1963, with Valley Sports playing in the Division 2. After four years there, they achieved promotion to Division 1 and 1968 saw the club lift their first silverware in the form of Rugby Hospital Cup – defeating Wolvey Amateurs in the final by 2-1. After a mass exodus from the league in 1969, the club eventually joined the United Counties League – after having initially been rejected membership.
Playing in the Division 3, Valley Sports moved from their initial Thornfield home to a new ground at Hillmorton Recreation Ground, with Thornfield being redeveloped into a sports centre. However, 1970 saw them granted permission to grant a lease on derelict allotment land on Butlin Road, where they’d go about building a new home. Their only season at Hillmorton and in the United Counties League was a success, with the Division 3 Cup won.
But, for the next season, the club moved into the original Rugby Town’s home of Oakfield and became Valley Sports Rugby, winning promotion to Division 2 as runners-up in 1972 and played in the final season of the FA’s Amateur Cup – 1973-’74. The club moved into their current Butlin Park home in 1973, accelerated by the fact Rugby Town had folded. In 1975, the club was invited to take the move into the West Midlands League, an invitation which they accepted, and this led to the club’s next name change, this time to VS Rugby. They also made their debut appearance in the FA Cup the following year, a run in which they reached the 1st Qualifying Round.
In 1983, VS Rugby managed to lift the FA Vase by overcoming Halesowen Town, 1-0, in the final at Wembley and this preceded a move up into the Southern League for season 1983-’84. This success continued, as the club won the Southern League’s Midland Division in 1986-’87, before they added the league’s League Cup in 1990 and the Birmingham Senior Cup, twice, in both of 1989 and 1992. A fine 1988 FA Cup run to the 2nd Round was another highlight during this period, with VS Rugby eventually bowing out, after a replay, to Bristol Rovers.
In 1991, the club entertained Manchester United in a testimonial match at Butlin Road, which they won 1-0. This game celebrated VS manager Jimmy Knox’s 10-year anniversary, aided along by the fact Knox’s brother, Archie, was Sir Alex Ferguson’s assistant manager at United at the time. However, Knox would depart the club the following year and this tied-in with a decline in on-field fortunes for the club. Despite a second FA Cup 2nd Round appearance in 1992-’93, they suffered relegation and put into receivership.
However, a supporters’ group rescued the club and after manager Ron Bradbury stayed on, he guided the club to an immediate promotion back to the Southern League, finishing runners-up to Rushden and Diamonds. That season also saw another “proper” FA Cup appearance, this time in a First Round loss to Brentford. In 2000, VS Rugby changed their name to Rugby United and were promoted to the Southern League Premier Division in 2002 after non-league restructuring. before taking on the Rugby Town name and returning it to the footballing pyramid in 2005.
In 2010, Rugby were relegated from the Southern League’s top division after a seven-year stay and so returned to the Division 1. In the Central division for 2012-’13, Rugby narrowly missed out on promotion twice in the same season. Having just lost out on an automatic promotion spot, the club then lost out in the play-off final to Biggleswade Town, despite having home advantage. The next year again saw Town in promotion contention on the final day, but this again would end in disappointment via the play-offs, Slough Town this time being the conquerors of the Valley.
For 2015-’16, the club was moved into the Northern Premier League and a number of swift managerial changes both seemed to help and hinder the club during the year. This continued into the following campaign; however this time the help bit didn’t return and relegation into the Midland League was suffered come the season’s end. More managerial changes would follow, including a short second-stint for the manager during their play-off disappointments, Dave Stringer, before current boss, former Stratford Town manager Carl Adams, was installed into the hot-seat in May of 2018.
This has seemingly paused the merry-go-round for the while, although this will only be (all being well) the second full season under his management, after the two intervening seasons were cut-short due to some well-publicised reasons! However, they look set for a good season as it currently stands, with Rugby sat nicely in the upper reaches of mid-table in the United Counties League’s Premier Division South.
We got going with…well, there wasn’t much of anything to highlight on the pitch. However, the early highlight was provided by both me eye and Paul’s vocal chords. A guy exited the clubhouse and was the actual spit of ex-Formula 1 driver, Nico Hülkenberg. Now, Paul doesn’t care for F1 and knew nothing of this man but, having shown him, he swiftly agreed and couldn’t help but holla out a “Yes, Nico!”, to which our new German friend responded. By the law of the land, that clearly means it was him. Two celeb sightings in two weeks! I told you Manchopper brings out the stars!
Anyway, on the pitch, there was still little happening to get the pulse racing, bar a close call as Liam Read’s low shot was kept out by the foot of the Rugby stopper Ashley Bodycote, and so I took up most of the time being a ball boy for a little ‘un and watching Paul’s horse race end by the slimmest of margins. Was it a winner? Were the beers being got in?
ABSOLUTELY!!!! The liquid was soon flowing once more as we obviously had to celebrate the win and Rugby soon followed our lead, a free-kick by #3, James Hancocks, ricocheting up into the top corner off the Hinckley ‘keeper, Will Highland’s glove and giving the hosts a surprise lead. The opener had arrived just before the half-hour but, unfortunately, it didn’t give much extra energy to the game.
However, one clear chance did arrive, when a poor back-pass almost allowed Hinckley in for a leveller just before the break, but Dom Brennan spurned a great chance when all-but one-on-one with Bodycote. The whistle arrived for half-time shortly afterwards and after a swift visit to the food bar for a portion of chips and gravy, it was back to it once more. However, we would soon be joined by another groundhopper – and self-proclaimed FA Vase super fan – Alex, who, perhaps fittingly, was at his very favourite competition.
The three of us watched pretty much the rest of the game from up on the terrace in front of the clubhouse, watching Hinckley striving to get back on level terms. However, Rugby never looked in any extreme strife and the visitors only real chance came when a free-kick by Danny Jenno (who actually scored the only goal in a very similar game at Hinckley LR in the derby earlier in this competition) was deflected just wide of the upright.
Indeed, as I headed off on a late lap of the ground and to get some pics from under the Butlin Road lights, it was the Valley who nearly doubled their lead:- Edwin Ahenkorah seeing his initial close-range effort blocked, before then being denied by the GK. However, I did get back around in time to enjoy a surprise shot of the blue Sourz (no idea what the flavour is – blueberry, perhaps?) and for Alex to point out the large moonrise across the way. Lovely stuff…though maybe that was the Sourz getting to me?!
Despite the usual late barrage, the whistle blew and the sun had set on Hinckley LR’s run in this season’s FA Vase. After the game, us three headed back up the road and, after occasionally being distracted by the odd classic car, arrived at the pub at the top of the street – the Clifton Arms. In here, I was soon in possession of a pint of Madri, with our main conversation being just what the Roman numerals over the fireplace meant. As it turned out, Alex’s partner has some experience with these figures and swiftly returned the verdict of “nonsense”. So there we had our answer!
Alex would soon have to depart on his way back homewards, whilst Paul and I had one planned stop to go, as to catch the Liverpool-Arsenal game. We’d earmarked The Bank as the one most likely to screen said game and this may have been a good call…could we actually navigate our way anywhere even close. Eventually, Paul cut his losses near to the station and opted to grab a few cans for the train back, as well as some chips and curry. As for me, I thought I’d try and seek it out, only to end up doing a lap of the darkened streets of the town and finding my way back where I started before too long.
I soon followed Paul’s lead and decided that Rugby town centre clearly no longer existed in this realm and so headed for the station – grabbing a couple of pics of the large rugby ball model thing outside the station which I’d been alerted to the existence of, having somehow missed it on my arrival earlier on in the day. For some reason, I then couldn’t find my way to the platform, despite there being a set of steps like RIGHT IN FRONT OF ME. Sometimes I really do despair at myself and lack of awareness!
Anyway, we were both safely back at the station and awaiting our train back northwards. San Miguel’s popped open, these served us well for the journey up to Crewe, where I left Paul to continue onwards on said train through to Liverpool, whilst I headed off for Warrington once more. The walk through between the two stations was undertaken and the train back home successfully caught to end off what had been a long, but highly enjoyable, day out.
All in all, it had been a good trip. The company was great as per, especially so with the late, short but sweet, addition of Alex to the party. The game wasn’t the greatest, but the fact the result was up in the air and ended up in quite the upset kind of makes up for that. The ground, as I’ve already said, is quite the venue – a nice mix of older and new parts and being as built-up as it is adds to the experience. A special mention to the people of Rugby – friendly doesn’t really cover it. Honestly, that makes it all the more memorable and I’ll certainly be heading back for another visit in the future. As for the near future, well, I’m at the behest of Arwen…
Value For Money: 8