By David Wilkinson
In 1960 Club President of, Macclesfield Rugby Club, George Proctor wrote: “a history of the Club should be completed for record purposes and to bring to the notice of its members the achievements of the past and its proposals for the future. The gradual, but successful strides of the past have been an accumulated effort in which all members took part.” These words are as true today as they were in 1960 and as they were from the very start of rugby in Macclesfield. George’s words encapsulate the situation today at Priory Park, as the members continue to strive to make Macclesfield one of the most successful Clubs in the country.
Football/Rugby Football was being played in Macclesfield back in 1873 by the 8th Cheshire Rifle Reserves, as well as other assorted clubs in Macclesfield. In 1874 matches were arranged with Crewe, Congleton and Stockport consisting of 20 players per side (today’s 15-a-side game came much later). The first game took place at Boughley Lane on 14th January 1874; since Boughley Lane eventually became Victoria Road, this game probably took place on the ground that is now Macclesfield Cricket Club. The game was under the command of H. Frogatt of the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers (CRVs) Athletic Club and local match rules stated that ‘hacking’ and ‘tripping’ were allowed. The next game against Captain Brocklehurst’s Yeomanry was a long one, lasting 2 hours 15 minutes (a small battle or perhaps they took tea). Another club playing the game was the Olympic Cricket Club and in 1876 the two amalgamated and in the winter months alternated between rugby and soccer. Gradually Macclesfield Town Football Club emerged, still alternating between Rugby Football and Associated Football and in 1891 they moved to Moss Rose where they still are today. At this time JWH Thorp was Macclesfield’s first rugby star, he often also played for Manchester as well as the County, considered to be one of the Counties strongest Forwards; and in 1893 he was elected as President of the RFU.
Whilst occasional rugby matches will have continued in Macclesfield, there was a 36 year gap before the formation of Macclesfield Rugby Union Football Club. In 1926 WJ Siggins, a soccer player at the YMCA, gathered enough interest, for a meeting to take place in the Majestic Café on Mill Street; training took place on Saturday mornings before their usual soccer in the afternoon. Much practice was needed to fulfil the arranged matches in the New Year, the first game being against Davenport. As a relative late-starter ambitions were realistic, leagues in rugby football would not start for another 56 years, so all games were so-called ‘friendlies’ against local clubs like Stoke, Leek and Wilmslow.
And so, it started, numerous grounds would follow as the Club grew to what it is today, a Member’s Community Rugby Club of 20 different teams, c.500 players and a membership approaching 2,000 people. It’s taken 93 years to get to where we are today and it’s been anything other than plain-sailing. The early years were built around the ‘social rugby’ scene, both on and off the pitch, with the Club becoming a major part of social lives; many would-be wives were met at the regular Club dances. The ‘change-agents’ of Mini/Junior Rugby, the leagues and professionalism would all have a lasting effect on the Club, some might say not all for the good. In 1985 the Club was turning out seven senior sides on a Saturday but as the Leagues took over rugby, at all levels, and substitutes were introduced, squads became bigger and teams were lost. When the game went professional in 1996 Macclesfield had already become very progressive in their approach to the game, their entrepreneurial committee having already attracted experienced players from senior clubs like Dave Cusani and Steve Burnage. The professional game required a professional approach, through coaching and management, with Club stalwart Bill Roberts becoming the first full-time General Manager. Sponsors were attracted to help fund the Club’s climb through the leagues into the higher echelons of national rugby. Success builds success and the introduction of Geoff Wappett as Director of Rugby took the Club to Twickenham in 2010 for the play-off for National Two champions. The win against Barking put Macclesfield into National One, the third tier of rugby and finishing third that season would place Macclesfield 27th in England, an amazing achievement for a community club.
The following seasons would see National One rugby become even more professional, as playing budgets, with the majority of opposition clubs, increasing year-on-year. It became obvious to the Executive Committee, then led by Peter Harper, that rugby at this level had become financially unsustainable; and after several years of yo-yoing between the leagues, Macclesfield dropped into the North Premier. This, combined with the rejection of the Rugby Club’s Planning Application, had sparked a significant refocusing of the Rugby Club’s core values. The One Club ethos was born (One Badge, One Club, One Voice) and everyone bought into it. The ‘Blues’ badge was buried and the new identity of: ‘Rugby for all since 1874’ would be the new mantra for the membership.
Work on the ‘tired’ clubhouse was much needed, and a rallying call was answered in a way not seen for forty years, since moving to Priory Park. Two members formed the cornerstone of working parties that would transform the Clubhouse, making it more attractive and accessible for the community at large. Even through the pandemic, the Club has become more galvanised, improving facilities with the introduction of beer garden facilities and a Petanque Piste! The new playing squad is raring to go with competitive Ready-4-Rugby being planned for the weekend of 12th September. Plans are in hand for the announcement of a new strategy at Priory Park to create a variety of sustainable income streams – and you never know, perhaps a return into the top echelons.
146 years on and rugby in Macclesfield has never been in a stronger position, let’s hope that the original club at Moss Rose has much happier days to come too.