By Bob Jenner
So, January as a keystone for looking forward with optimism is proving difficult just at present but it was not always thus. If we could cast our minds back to 14th January 1874 (yes that is virtually 147 years ago to the day) there is the first record of a game of ‘rugby football’ being played in Macclesfield. ‘Rugby football’ was probably introduced to Macclesfield a year earlier by the Athletic Club of the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers who were based in the Drill Hall, in Bridge Street Macclesfield. At that time Football was exactly that, a game played using feet and ball; they had still to adopt the formal Laws and Rules that made Rugby and Association different forms of football. And the Drill Hall was the original ‘Fortress Macclesfield’!
That first recorded football match was something akin to Macclesfield Rugby Club’s recent Blues v. Whites, as it was played between the 8th Cheshire Rifle Volunteers (CRVs) led by H. Frogatt, and the 8th CRV’s Athletic Club. It can claim to be a ‘rugby’ form of football because the locally agreed rules stated that teams would be 15-a-side, and importantly, that ‘hacking‘ and ‘tripping’ were to be allowed! It might be claimed that Macclesfield was at the forefront of the development of modern rugby on other grounds. At this time matches were more normally 20-a-side and only became 15-a-side when the Rugby Football Union formalised the Laws of the game. This internal game was quickly followed by a series of local friendlies. First up the 8th CRV’s took on Captain Brocklehurst’s Troop of Yeomanry. As befits a quasi-military battle this game was a long one, lasting from 3-15 to 5-30 p.m. One would presume that player welfare received the same consideration that it does today. The game took place on the Boughey Lane Ground; Boughey Lane eventually to become Victoria Road, the ground was and is still occupied by the Macclesfield Cricket Club. Matches against Crewe, Congleton and Stockport followed. Notification of upcoming games and the variation in rules and numbers deployed were part of the Orders for the Week for the Volunteers. So Orders for the 30th January 1875, published in the Macclesfield Courier, announce a ‘football match’ versus the Grammar School with 15-a-side and using Rugby Union Rules.
The results ‘Tele-printer’ was a little more prosaic, see the Macclesfield Courier publication It is presumed that a pigeon brought in the news although not in time for Saturday Round-Up or whatever the equivalent was back then. Also, it should be noted that the team sheets contained no mention of Peter Harper, probably still too young?
By the end of the 19th century all record of rugby football being played in Macclesfield, disappeared. We have to wait until 1st January 1927 for a recorded match. That match was the first to be played by Macclesfield RUFC, all previous matches had been variations of Macclesfield and Macclesfield Football Club. That first match, against Davenport, was played at Grange Road, Davenport, with a 10-45 kick-off. Many years later Davenport became Stockport Rugby Club and counted amongst their stalwarts Keith Bentley, son of Charles Bentley, who himself was a stalwart and long-time servant of MRUFC as player, committeeman and eventually President.
A copy of the article introducing MRUFC in its first year is contained in the Club Archives, the original appeared in the Macclesfield Courier 1st January 1927.
Macclesfield RUFC lost the match by 63 points to nil, although C. Arnold and H. Winder, the half-backs, were reputed to have played a “splendid game.” A report of the game was carried in the Macclesfield Courier who reported the match was played “in ideal football weather” and “watched by a number of Macclesfield enthusiasts”. The play itself was fast whilst the “forward play if a little wild at times never lacked enthusiasm.” I wonder what all that means? The reporter notes that “the weakest point of the team” was the “inside men” (which I take to be the centres) who were unable to cope with the speed of their opposite number. Even then defence was a key to winning games!
The result did not dampen the enthusiasm of the captain, W. J. Siggins and the others and the Club rapidly expanded its fixture list and membership so by the next season they were able to field two teams.