The Development of Isle of Wight Rugby – Part One – The Early Years
by David Ball
Detailed records have disappeared into the mists of time but it is possible to trace the beginning of Club rugby on the Island back to the season
of 1924-25. At that time there was just one Club – named surprisingly as the Isle of Wight and what was to come in later years was just unthinkable.
It all began in 1924 when a retired Army Officer, Captain J.R. Mason, a great enthusiast for the game of rugby football, brought the Club into existence.
Apparently a forceful character he ran the Club virtually single handed but received valuable help for the first season or so from the Headmaster of what was then Appley School, Captain Johnstone, together with the first captain of the Club, a Mr Mayes from Ventnor. The first ground was at Westridge Cross, Ryde and the first opponents were Fareham, better known now as Gosport and Fareham. The Club played in red shirts with a gold band – a colour mix that was attempted again many years later with disastrous results where colour retention in the jerseys was concerned. The nomadic streak which soon became a feature of the Club soon surfaced however and a variety of venues appeared until a temporary ending in 1928 at Nine Acres Recreation Ground, Newport.
It was at this stage that Captain Mason decided that had had enough of his single handed struggle to run the Club and withdrew from the organisation and this in turn brought about the first lapse playing time in the somewhat chequered history of the Club until in 1930-31 John Lord came from the North of England as a member of A.V. Roe Ltd, soon to be better known as Saunders Roe. John Lord called a meeting of interested parties and former members and brought the Club back to life.
Play began again at Somerton Aerodrome, Cowes, and changing accommodation consisted of old railway carriages and other facilities
that to say the least were primitive. Two years here was the limit as demands of aircarfty took priority over rugby football and the Club again girded their loins to move to Whippingham, later the site for Saunders Roe Factory. The players then changed in the old sanatorium, later to become the Apprentices Hostel, but laggards reaching the bath after wet and muddy games found cold, almost liquid mud in which to clean up.
Around about 1935 the Club moved again, staying in East Cowes but playing on a ground at Osborne until the war years brought a temporary ending to proceedings. The war brought a long break in the history of the Club but one member, Arthur Rowland, had a big hand in raising money for a memorial for the players who did not return.
A commemorative plaque can be seen at Gatcombe Church.
Originally published in the Isle of Wight Rugby Magazine 2019 ‘The Development of Island Rugby – Part One – The Early Years