A League of Its Own
Heather Harris takes a look back at Tring’s proud sporting roots with this focus on two of the town’s teams
When it comes to balls – whether oval or round – Tring certainly has a great tradition.
For such a relatively small town, it clearly has a history of attracting a number of extremely sporting inhabitants.
Football came first and Tring Corinthians FC was formed in 1956 by Fred Evans who worked at the local bus station and Tug Wilson, Headmaster of Osmington boarding school. In 1981 they bought the farmland at Icknield Way, which had a grain store in the corner, which was later converted into the clubhouse, and where they still play today.
They were followed in 1958 by Tring Athletic Football Club which, in 2013, merged with the third local team, Tring Town.
In 1964 a new sport arrived with Tring Rugby Football Club.
Many of the players who first ran up and down the pitch – dribbling or carrying – a ball are still very much part of their respective teams today.
Don Dover, 92, can still remember the day when he first arrived in Tring fresh from the Army, where he had always been a keen rugby player: ‘I couldn’t believe they hadn’t got a local team and was about to sign up for a London club with my friend, Arthur, when a local newshound heard about our dilemma.’
Jim Ackroyd from the Bucks Examiner ran with the story and soon news spread.
‘We couldn’t believe it, suddenly we had players coming out of the woodwork who had played at a really high level, including the local doctor who was a Cambridge blue and the dentist who played for Edinburgh University.’
In just three weeks, Tring Rugby Football Club (TRFC) was officially formed, and local farmer Geoff Mead gave up his land at Manor Road for them to play on. (They moved to their current home at Pendley Manor in 1968).
But it was the arrival of New Zealand All-Black trialist and Davis Cup tennis player Mark Otway that really put this sporting club on the map.
As current President, Martyn Kirk told me: ‘Mark soon introduced junior players into the club and TRFC is rightly proud that in 1965 it was the first club in England to have a junior section – currently there are around 500 young members.’
By this time the town also had a flourishing football club. Current Chairman Bob Winter and Life Vice-President Ralph Griffiths recall how it all started: ‘A group of local men noticed how many young lads there were in the town kicking a football around. The men clubbed together to help buy some land at Miswell Lane for them to play on, and the team was born in 1958.’
The cost of buying the land as well as materials for the clubhouse, fencing and equipment came to around £2,000, which as Ralph pointed out, ‘was a lot of money in those days!’
Their investment was rewarded as the youngsters soon made a name for themselves, winning trophies against established adult teams in the West Herts Saturday League including the Division 1 title three times in five years in the early 60s.
While their rugby colleagues hit the headlines with their introduction of juniors, it was the arrival of world-renowned, professional referee Graham Poll that put Tring Athletic Football Club on the media radar.
‘The first game he refereed after his famous ‘three yellow cards’ incident in the 2006 World Cup, was our friendly against Bedford – a fact he included in his autobiography,’ says Bob.
Fast forward to the present day and the town’s rugby and football clubs, (Corinthians and Athletic) are now well-established fixtures in the community. But sport can be costly. As Martyn explains: ‘It costs over £3,500 a month to finance the Rugby Club.’ A fact echoed by Bob: ‘We’ve spent £75,000 in the past six months alone refurbishing the football clubhouse and replacing the worn-out floodlights.’
They have certainly come a long way – Don remembers how the first-team rugby kit cost just £6 for shirts, shorts, and socks, ‘And it only arrived a few seconds before we were due to kick off for our very first game!’
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