HISTORICAL OUTLINE OF THE FOUNDATION
AND GROWTH OF THE CLUB
In any narrative which aspires to be called a history it is obviously necessary to fix with some precision, such a cardinal date’s the beginning of things.
Where the early records can be traced this is a relatively simple process but is otherwise a task if no little difficulty. It is an unfortunate circumstance, probably a consequence of the 1914-1918 war during which the club was in recess for some years, that we have not been able to locate written records of club proceedings for the first 20 odd years of its existence. Such being the case, we have of necessity had recourse to consultation of newspaper files and appeal to the recollections of original members of the club.
All the available evidence goes to show that in fixing upon this year, 1950, as the 50th Anniversary of the foundation of the Johnsonville Rugby Football Club, the event has at least not been ante-dated. Newspaper files for the early years of this century do not contain any report of the inaugural meeting of the club and it is hardly likely that such an event would pass unnoticed by the daily papers of the time. The earliest press reference which has been located appears in the “N.Z. Times” under date 30th March, 1904, where, in reporting the annual general meeting of the Wellington Rugby Football Union, held in the Trocadero Hotel (happy days !), the following item is included: “The recently formed Railway Club and the Johnsonville Club were admitted to membership of the Union.” The inference to be drawn from the non-repetition of the words “recently formed” has significance as will shortly appear.
The date of foundation is carried a step further back by Mr. Harold Ahearn, who was the first secretary of the club which applied for membership in the Wellington Union. From memory he feels sure that that club was formed in 1903 but even this hardly seems to account fully for the omission in the press report quoted in the preceding paragraph. An opinion was also sought from Mr. A. A. Moore, who is still president of the club. Whilst feeling sure in his own mind that a club existed in Johnsonville prior to 1900, Mr. Moore has no doubt whatsoever that there was one in existence not later than that year and associate’s his assertions with vivid recollections of the Ngahauranga team and supporters marching up the original Ngahauranga Gorge Road to play Johnsonville at the village. Corroboratory statements are forthcoming from Mr. Norman Rice who claims positively that there was a Johnsonville Rugby Club before 1900 and puts the date of formation as being 1898.
The latter two gentlemen have resided in Johnsonville from before 1900 to the present day and would be in their later teens at the time we are considering. Weighing up the available evidence, the determination of the date of foundation of a Rugby Football Club in Johnsonville to be not later than 1900 seems a conservative ﬁnding.
Only meagre details are available of the activities of the club in its infant years up to 1904. It is known that the club was not in those days affiliated to the Wellington Rugby Football Union and hence could not have been playing in competition football organised by that Union. It seems that matches were arranged privately with clubs or teams in surrounding districts and that these were played on Wednesday afternoons, that day being then the declared half-holiday in the district.
The classic fixture of the year was no doubt the challenge match which the local team played against a team of butchers from the works at Ngahauranga, Even today, Mr. Alex. Moore can still give a vivid description of the pre-triumphal (?) parade of our opponents and their supporters, which took the form of a march up to Johnsonville via the original Ngahauranga Gorge Road, a distance of some three miles. Headed with banners from which were suspended such tidbits as livers and bladders of animals, the cortege must have presented a startling if not horrifying spectacle for the casual observer. Enthusiasts, indeed, must have been these stalwarts of yesteryear to have undertaken a three-mile trek for the sake of a football match.
By 1903, the constitution of the club begins to emerge from the mists of antiquity. The popularity of football in the district was growing fast and the young men of N gaio and Khandallah were anxious to join in the sport. The only playing area in the whole district was, however, situated in Johnsonville. Amove, in which young men of all three districts took part, was initiated in this year with the aim of forming a football club for the whole area. An approach was made to Mr. F. Bethune, then headmaster of the Johnsonville School and himself a player of repute in his day. Mr. Bethune convened a meeting of those interested and the outcome was the formation of a district club which was, it is important to note, called the Johnsonville Rugby Football Club.
To show the “cosmopolitan” character of the reorganised club, we quote the names of a number of its original members. From Ngaio were Messrs. Julian Radcliffe and Robert Newbold and from Khandallah, Messrs. George Richardson and Aheam H.H.H. (the first secretary). Amongst the residents of Johnsonville were such members as Messrs. Moore A.A.J. and W.Bethune ,F.Bill Ready (later to become an All Black), George Willis (a one-time secretary), Fred Cording and Stan Juliffe. No doubt some reorganisation or expansion of the original club was involved but no information as to its nature is available.
As a matter which should be of especial interest to members of the club within the past 15 to 20 years, attention is drawn to the significance of the scope and objects of the reformed club of 1903. It was a club to provide football for the combined districts of Ngaio, Khandallah and Johnsonville and it fulfilled those functions for nearly 30 years. For a period also, it provided football for youths and young men of the Tawa Flat area.
The growth of these neighbouring districts eventually resulted in their forming their own clubs, but to our club must go the credit of fostering football in these areas until they were able to launch out on their own. Lest it be thought that these remarks indicate a petulant attitude towards the formation of neighbour clubs, we hasten to acknowledge the benefits which our club in iis turn derived from having such a wide recruiting ground for players available to it.
But if or this and but for the many fine players and loyal members we gained from these districts, our club could never have grown and prospered as it has. lt would have been absurd and selfish to expect that other clubs would not come into being as the neighbouring districts developed and their sense of local pride intensified. Far from harbouring any feelings of pique, our sincere good wishes for their success and prosperity go forth to these brother clubs.
Having set itself out to cater for Rugby footballers in Johnsonville and adjoining districts, the club from the earliest days appears to have adopted the very wise policy of concentrating on and encouraging local players as the potential future members of its top teams rather than endeavouring to fill the ranks of these teams and particularly the ﬁrst ﬁfteen by canvassing players of established reputation, whether from other clubs in the Wellington area, or whether newly come to reside in that area. As a long term policy it has proved to be a very wise and farsighted decision and it is fortunate for our club that successive generations of administrators have pursued that policy without deviation, despite occasional temptations to yield to the apparent temporary advantages which might be gained by a change of policy. This does not mean that strangers have not been welcome as members or that membership has in any way been exclusive.
On the contrary, no club could have wished for stauncher and more valuable members than many of those who have joined our club, though not residing in the district which it covers. It does, however, indicate a recognition by the administrators of the club that the soundest foundation on which to build a strong and lasting club is by cultivation of local players and bringing them up through the lower grades eventually to our highest grade teams. It is felt that this section of our Jubilee Booklet is an appropriate place to explain this policy and its continuity throughout the years.
After this short digression in recital of club policy, we revert to the main thread of this section of the story. From the time of its admission to membership of the Wellington Rugby Football Union in 1904, the club participated in the Union’s competition football up till it went into recess early in the 1914-18 war, with the exception of the year 1910 in which it was disqualified by the Union for failing to supply certain information requested by that body. Wiser counsels must finally have prevailed for in 1911, the disqualification was lifted and all was again well.
A famous writer once stated that the course of true love never runs smoothly. He might equally as well have remarked that the life of a football club does not always run smoothly and ours is no exception to the general rule. The suspension of the club in 1910 was but the first of several crises. An even severer one was the outbreak of war in 1914, an event which forced the club to go into recess from which it did not emerge until 1919.
In these intervening years, Association Football gained a fairly strong hold and many youngsters who might otherwise have started their careers by playing Rugby football took on soccer. In any case, the problem of reviving the club after the war was not thus made any easier and we owe a lot to the enthusiastic band who brought the club again into active operation. Naturally, the new beginning was in a small way with only one team but from this was to spring an ever increasing expansion in the number of teams fielded and successive elevations of status to that of a top division senior club.
Making its post-war debut with a 3rd grade team the club after winning the grade championship in 1920 found itself strong enough to advance to junior grade in the following season. In 1926, came the institution of a senior B grade and an entry from the club in this grade was accepted. The club was by this time rapidly growing in strength and was fielding three or four lower grade teams each season. Backed by the playing strength in these lower grades, the senior B team was in a fortunate position for recruits and 1928 saw the first fifteen win the championship in that grade. The halcyon years of the late 1920’s and early 1930’s were to prove momentous ones for our club in its aim of attaining full senior status.
Though, by winning the senior B grade in 1928, we had a right under the then existing rule, to enter in senior A the following year, the majority opinion considered we were not yet strong enough all round to venture on this. It was again a case of one of those decisions which, though unpalatable to some, proved wisest in the long run. And so, until 1933, we continued to play senior B, whilst building up, particularly in the lower grades in which we were now able to enter five and sometimes six teams. With the creation of a senior, 2nd division, grade in 1933, one more step towards the ultimate goal was taken with the entry of the first fifteen in that grade.
During the years traversed, efforts were not focused solely on development of playing strength. The importance of the social side of a club’s activities was fully recognised and energetic social committees on which lady supporters figured prominently were at work raising funds and catering for the social recreation of members. The value of the work which such committees have performed is particularly illustrated by the success of the Queen Carnival to raise funds for the gymnasium, an event which is dealt with more fully elsewhere in this booklet.
The lifting of the club to senior 2nd division in 1933 signalized the commencement of a long and dour struggle to qualify for entry to the 1st division. The story is enlarged upon in the narrative of the club’s activities on the playing field and only passing reference to it need be made here. Credit for the eventual achievement of our objective is due in no small measure to tur lower grade teams, which over these years furnished many players who proved to be of outstanding ability as footballers. This fact reﬂects not only the quality of the players available but also on the ability of the coaches and the discerning judgment of the club captain of those years, Mr. A. Richardson, whose tenure in that office warrants a special mention as being by far the longest on record. Those years were epoch-making anes and but for the complete solidarity which existed throughout the club, success could not have crowned our efforts.
Accession to senior lst division having been gained, the next few years proved notable ones in our history. Lower grade teams were strong both numerically and in performance on the field of play and in 1939, for example, there were six lower grade teams playing in the club’s colours. The senior team went from success to success and was finishing in third and fourth place in the senior championship. Then came another crisis in our affairs with the outbreak of war in 1939.
Though the advent of war did not immediately have a discernible effect on the club, it was obvious that if the conﬂict were to be a long-drawn out struggle, we must expect serious depletions amongst the ranks of our players. Guided by the example of 1914-1918, and the known difficulties of reviving a club after it had been dormant for some years, the officials entrusted with the management of the club’s affairs, determined that every effort should be concentrated on keeping the club active, even if it were eventually reduced to fielding only one team.
Unfortunately the worst forebodings were realised and by 1942, we had no option but to enter the first fifteen in the Hardham Cup competition, which virtually meant a voluntary relegation to senior 2nd division status. As against this, is the sense of pride which the club may rightly feel in the ready response from its members to the call of a higher duty.
The years 1942-1945 were especially difficult ones and it taxed the club to maintain three teams in all each year. The success of our teams on the playing field was rather indifferent, except for the Winning of the Hardham Cup in 1943, and the carrying off of the 4th grade championship in 1945. By 1946, the club was again on the uplift and had resumed its position amongst the senior lst division clubs, besides being able to enter an additional lower grade team. Then came one or two disappointing years and finally relegation to the senior 2nd division grade.
Statistical information of any nature usually makes dry reading for most people and the endeavour has been to avoid incorporating such data in this booklet. There is, however, no better means of illustrating the progress of the club than by reference to its position in the club championship over a period of years. All clubs under the jurisdiction of the Wellington Rugby Football Union automatically compete in this event and are placed according to the aggregate number of grade championship points gained in the season by every team entered by a club.
Here is what our record shows since 1933:-
- 1934: 90 points, 7th place
- 1935: 102 points, 7th place
- 1936: 92 points, 9th place
- 1937: 71 points, 8th place
- 1938: 59 points, 13th place
- 1939: 91 points, 8th place
- 1940: 80 points, 5th place
- 1941: 59 points,10th place
[Note: Club championship suspended during 1942 and 1943]
- 1944: 7th place
- 1945: 55 points, 10th place
- 1946: 15th place
- 1947: 18th place
- 1948: 72 points, 15th place
When account is taken of the fact that many other clubs field on the average nearly twice the number of teams that our club is able to, the record is one which must compare favourably with that of any other club affiliated to the Wellington Union. The remarkably consistent placings up to 1945 are also a very reliable guide to the overall strength of the club during those years.
As a matter of interest and one appropriate to this section, a survey has been taken of the occasions on which the club had a “field” day, i.e., a day on which all teams succeeded in winning their matches. In compiling this information, no account has been taken of “field” days which might have been experienced in seasons when the club fielded fewer than four teams, since the merit of such achievements is obviously less, the fewer the teams engaged. The available records show that on six occasions since 1930, we have had “field” days, two of these occurring in one season, viz., 1936. The other years are 1931,1935, 1940 and 1950.
And so we bring to its conclusion,, this necessarily brief, and in parts somewhat sketchy, story of the club. Its greatest benefit will, we hope, be to furnish members and adherents of all generations with a concise outline of the development and achievements of the club, in the form of a running record from the time of its inception up to the present day and to bring home to them the fact that theirs is a club in the not unworthy record of which they may experience a sense of justifiable pride. If, in addition, the narrative recalls pleasant memories to the minds of older members, if it serves as a stimulus to present and future members determining them to keep the club strong and active and if, above all, it imbues all with a regard for the traditions which have been built up, then it will have well served its purpose and the labour of compilation will have been amply repaid.