• Keith Gregson

RECRUITING FOR RUGBY - SUNDERLAND RFC LEADS THE WAY AFTER THE FIRST WORLD WAR

At some point over the next few weeks ( to be noted in one of the future blogs) the RFU’s heritage blog ‘From the Vaults’ will feature an article about the (possibly unique) effort put in by members of our rugby club and other local authorities to restore rugby to the town after the horrors of the First World War. By the end of the 1920s there were about 30 teams of youngsters competing in school and apprentice leagues with some managing up to 19 games a season.

One of the driving forces behind the move was club stalwart Don Greig (1900 -1991) who will be remembered by some of the older members. Don kept immaculate records of what was going on and the archives are fortunate to still have the little booklet he used for these records. It is a small ‘Durham Education Authority’ booklet and Don (amusingly) wrote on the cover ‘Rugby with a dash of Schoolboy Rugby Beyond’. Here is a page from the booklet which covers the 1921/2 season;

Readers will immediately recognise some of the schools which are still functioning today.

Top of the pile – and throughout the inter war years – was St Columba’s school which was capable of defeating any school side in the county at one point. The school side once took on the Hartlepool champions and won – in front of a crowd of 3,000 waiting to watch a Rovers game. Teacher and national table tennis champion Andrew Donaldson (1887 – 1962) was the team’s successful coach. Apprentice rugby was driven on by those who ran TLF (Thompson, Laing and Forge) – a formidable combination of ex SRFC rugby playing families including the Thompsons, Laings and Marrs. The opening of ‘The TLF Recreation Ground and Boys’ Institute’ ground north of the river in 1922 was one of the reasons behind this successful revival of the sport.

In the 1920s and 1930s school teams (often with 11 – 15 year olds in the side) often took on the gnarled 3 rd XVs of local clubs – ‘to give the schoolboys experience’! Read more about this trend and the pioneering inter-war work of SRFC in the RFU’s blog when it goes on line.

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