Club: Guernsey Raiders
Nowadays, Guernsey Rugby Club use the impressive facilities at Footes Lane and boast a Men’s 1st XV who ply their trade in the London & South East Premier, a combined 2nds team with St Jacques RFC, a Veterans team and a Ladies team in Women’s NC South East West 1. But it is all a far cry from their humble beginnings.
Rugby was played in the small Channel Island well before organised football in the late 19th century, but it was not until one February evening in 1913 that the Guernsey Rugby Club was formed. Straight away the club colours were agreed upon, ones that we are still familiar with a century on; green and white hoops. In the beginning they just had one ball and if you wanted to use it for practice, you had to pop into town and borrow it from a committee member’s shop.
There were times when the sport barely survived. For a start, no sooner had the club been founded the Great War came along and rugby struggled its way through the 1920’s and 30’s whilst the island continued to recover from that human disaster, of course, yet another war came along.
However during this time, five gentleman (four of them being former pupils of Elizabeth College Guernsey and one of Victoria College Jersey) met up while serving in the Siam Constabulary. They deeply lamented over the demise of their favourite game at home and decided to commission a trophy to stimulate interest in rugby football in the islands.
Each contributed a supply of local coinage to this end, they next obtained permission of the HM King Rama VI to convert the coinage into a trophy. Not only did the King of Siam give his permission he also instructed his Royal Crown Silversmith to create a unique trophy, named the Siam Cup.
The Siam Cup was brought to Guernsey by Lt. Col. C.H. Forty in 1920 when he was on leave and it was presented to the Guernsey Sporting Club to be put up for competition. Unfortunately at this time no rugby clubs were actually playing the sport in Guernsey or Jersey.
However in 1928, rugby re-commenced as a sport and Forty requested the trophy be released to the GRFC for inter-club competition. Despite friendlies against visiting sides, it was not until 14 March 1935 that the cup was presented in its first inter-insular as originally intended by its five donors. The annual competition has continued since then, except between 1941-1947 because of the occupation of the Channel Islands by the Germans, during which time the trophy was hidden in a Jersey bank vault from the occupying forces.
The Siam Cup is now an annual and prestigious rugby match played between Jersey RFC and Guernsey RFC, making it one of the oldest honours contested after the Calcutta Cup and drawing crowds of around 10,000 people. The original cup is now housed at the Twickenham Rugby Museum.
Since its slow beginning, rugby in Guernsey has gone from strength to strength. The Siam Cup itself has now grown to now include fixtures for the 2nds, Vets and Ladies teams, as well as a separate Junior Siam Cup for age group sides. As for RFU leagues, the Guernsey Raiders Men have made it as high as National 2 South and the Guernsey Raiders Ladies to Championship 2 South West leagues respectively.
Not a bad effort for an island that boasts a population of just over 65,000 people!
Present & Future Developments
The Guernsey Raiders home venue of Footes Lane is owned by the States of Guernsey and is shared with the island’s football and athletics clubs. This facility is currently under extensive refurbishment ahead of Guernsey hosting the 2021 NatWest Island Games.
Alongside these refurbishments by the State of Guernsey, the Guernsey Raiders are redeveloping their training pitch next door. Through the generous donations of members of the Guernsey Raiders Presidents & Vice-Presidents Club and successful grant applications, new administration and medical facilities will be erected alongside the training pitch. This will be along with improved drainage and lighting to make it useable all year round. In its current state the pitch is only useable for part of the year and a small 3G pitch is hired in order for training to continue.
This will also allow for the Guernsey Raiders Academy arm of the club to move back to the Footes Lane area, something that has not been possible for a number of years now, as we continue to work under our new club motto of #OurClub to keep rugby strong on the island.