RUGBY AT THE MOSS ROSE

By Bob Jenner

Recent Macclesfield Rugby Club news has included support for the Town’s Football Club and also tales of competitive games at the Town’s Cricket Club. The relationship between the town’s three major sports clubs is longer and deeper than many realise. Back in the late 1800s the Football and Rugby clubs were actually the same entity whilst meetings and games were regularly held and played at the Cricket club’s Victoria Road grounds. Hence the rugby club’s recent messages of support for the football club are actually an extension of a long tradition born of the fact that Macclesfield is a sporting community first and foremost, and over the years its sportsmen and women have regularly ‘punched above their weight’ and represented the town in national sporting arenas. 

This relationship with football extends from the very early days when football was a game of many different laws and rules, Macclesfield Football Club played Association and Rugby football with equal fervour alternating each week, with which set of rules would the game be played by. Gradually the two games went their own way but when the Second World War broke out, the two teams came back together in a real demonstration of “we are all in it together”. This was a time when Rugby was positively amateur, and for rugby players to associate with professional sportsmen left them open to possible exclusion from the Rugby Union. The Rugby Club had proposed a charity match to support the Mayor’s War Comforts Fund; the Football Club immediately gave their support providing the Moss Rose and facilities for the game. So on the 1st May 1940 rugby was played at the Moss Rose ground for the first time. From a historical perspective, it is interesting to note that Macclesfield Rugby Club was very much the junior party as the editorial contains an express desire “to make the Macclesfield Club better known to our own townspeople”. And whilst the crowd was expected to be full of rugby fans the likelihood of significant numbers of others (non-rugby supporters) being present is evident again in the editorial which contains an outline of the scoring structure in rugby. This was the editorial copy in the paper before the game:

“The success of last year’s Charity Match, when over twelve hundred people saw a really good game in aid of the Nurses’ Home Fund has led to the Rugby Club to organise another this year.

All the proceeds of today’s game will go towards the Mayor’s Comforts Fund.

We confess to a wish as well, to make the Macclesfield Club better known to our townspeople. Of recent years the standard of rugby has been very high, and the results most encouraging, but we would like to feel that we were getting more support and interest. In the last game of the season, next Wednesday, Macclesfield play Broughton Park, for long recognised as one of the leading clubs of the North, and indeed the County. Our visitors will be all out to avenge a defeat by 9-0 at Broughton earlier in the year.

Today the teams include some very well-known players, on both sides, who will uphold the standard of last year’s match, which will be remembered for its exceptional pace and open character.

It would perhaps help if the scores were explained.

A try – 3 points; *Converting a try – 2 points; Penalty goal – 3 points; Dropped goal – 4 points

*This is the kick at goal after a try has been scored.” Today we would welcome 1200 supporters and the Club is still not well known to the Townspeople of Macclesfield after a further 80 years (Ed).

Such joint initiatives did not extend to charity matches alone; true to the Town’s love of sport, in all guises, the Football Club, two years later, would host a rugby match in which several internationals of the day played. On the 21st March 1942 Macclesfield played the 81st Regiment RA. As the 81st were essentially a Welsh Regiment (Port Talbot) it is no surprise to see so many South Walians in their line up, but it might be a surprise to see an Argentina International in the Macclesfield line up. Also playing that day was Stan Taylor, still a schoolboy at the time, who will no doubt be fondly remembered by several older former Kings School pupils, at one time he was Head of the Kings School Juniors, similarly AA Arnold. 

A more indistinct relationship between Rugby Football and Association Football is contained in the Story of the Cigarette Card. The relationship is only that cigarette cards, in general, used Footballers and their clubs to attract smokers, and it introduces a bit of history rewriting. It has long been accepted wisdom that history is written by the winners. This story intends to prove that to be a truism and at the same time amend history as it is sometimes told to us. For many years (actually, 40, since the Colts won the Cheshire Shield) history has recorded that the Colts team were the Club’s first winners of silverware. However, in April 1963 a team containing the talents of David Miller and Dai Jones (another King’s Schoolmaster) won the Stoke Sevens and retained that title 12 months later. But that was not a widely known tournament, I hear people say. Well, in April 1935 and again 12 months later Macclesfield won the Crewe Sevens; again not a widely known tournament. In defence, I give you the Story of the Cigarette Card. 

In defence of the previous writers of history, the Colt’s Cheshire Shield was the first 15-a-side silverware ever won, so both are correct (Ed).

In 1936 the Ardath Tobacco Company (later to be subsumed to Imperial Tobacco) ran a series of cigarette cards (for the younger readers these were the forerunners of today’s famous Panini stickers). Series A of these cards contained ‘Lancashire Football Teams’, which in the main they were, but the list contains a number of oddities such as Barrow RLFC and New Brighton  RUFC which are neither Association Football Teams nor in Lancashire. But pride of place (in my humble opinion) goes to card no.107 which is the MRUFC team of 1936/7 and celebrates the Club’s winning of the Crewe Sevens two years on the trot. If a national company can see fit to celebrate this success then surely that is good enough. 

And the relationship between Rugby and Association Football – well the two Macclesfield representatives in the published cards were not football teams they were the Rugby Club and Kings School, Macclesfield. Unless something changes then should that series of cards be reproduced today then once again the list of Lancashire Football Teams would not include the Town’s Football Club. We, the sports lovers of Macclesfield wish the Football Club, in whatever guise it takes, a successful return to representing the town.


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