Folkestone Rugby Football Club was started by a few enthusiasts in the 1973/74 season. Initially, it was the Hickmott brothers, Andy and Bob who set about finding players and following a meeting with Derek Searle who had been Andy’s Sports Teacher at the Brockhill School they set up a steering committee.
The club attracted many former players of the Ashford Club who formed the main source of administrators and finance for the club. The first Chairman was Derek Searle and the Hon Secretary was Alan Frew. Bob Pocock was the successful fundraiser.
Early and generous benefactors included Frank Barber, Conrad Blakey, Keith Rawlings and Anthony Record but of these only Frank went on to hold high office as President of the Club.
Andy Hickmott sourced the fixtures and the first match was against Snowdown Colliery. Trials were held at Hillside School and attracted over 40 enthusiasts. The first team selected to play as Folkestone Rugby Club was:
Dermot Heffernan, Samson, Harris, Linney, Kennedy, Andy Hickmott, Lowden, Coward, Lewis, Micky Hogben, Ron Prothero, Dave Ovenden, Paul Nash, Paul Barber and Rob Hickmott – the match was played at Aylesham and resulted in credible13 – 13 draw.
The club operated out of the Folkestone Sports centre where Derek Searle was the manager and they played at the Polo Field (now 3Hills) and Morehall Recreation Ground. Very soon they realised that the bar profits would be better coming into the club and an ambitious scheme was launched to raise the funds for our own grounds and clubhouse.
This was done with a lot of self-help and an imaginative “buy a brick” campaign. Paul Tory released some land at a generous price near the A20. John Ovenden designed the Clubhouse and “Caddy” virtually built it with his own hands. However, Tony Miinister, Paul Nash and Alec Clampitt, amongst numerous others, all helped out with the fixtures and fittings inside and all the labouring that was needed.
Former England Captain Dickie Jeeps officially opened it in 1983. The moment was given a hilarious “rugby twist”, we think by Ron Prothero, and when Dickie unveiled the plaque it revealed a very saucy female nude!
Two of the original enthusiasts are still at the Club. John Cadwallader, Caddy has actually played at least once for the First XV in each of the first 28 years of the club, he also helped Coach the Ladies XV later on. While Gary McCarthy was a Colt maturing into a Senior player and then became a Club then County Referee and now helps out preparing the pitches.
With the achievement of his great project Derek Searle handed over the reins as Chairman to Alan Frew and Paul Barber took over as Hon Secretary little realising what a key role he was to play in the survival of the club.
By this time, with the help of Army players from Shorncliffe camp we were able to sustain three and four teams each week and were challenging and beating our rivals in East Kent. In addition to those mentioned above the Club had stalwart members in Steve Durham, Barrie Lee, Glenn Foreman, Alex Ruddock and Steve Cribbens, all of whom were to play an essential part in the club’s playing and administrative success.
There was early success on the pitch too with the first competitions ever won by the club being the Townsend Thorensen Cross Channel '7' three years running around about 1980. (Thanks to Martin Eede for the information.)
About this time the Minis were training at the Morehall Recreation Ground with John McPartlin, Mike O’Sullivan, Don Turner, Colin Hodges, Richard Wincote. While Alex Ruddock started the Youth sides (U13 to U16) with Paul Barber helping out while he was also running the Colts side.
Also in the mid 1980s the 1st team, including Tony Hughes and Michael Scott won the Kent 7's title at Ashford RUFC. (many thanks to Michael for letting us know).
With the purchase of the new grounds the Club was able to launch into its most important role, namely, the establishment of the Youth and Minis sections. Under John Turbutt Snr, Andrew Dagger, Ian Fell and Bob Gillett these sections have grown into the largest and most flourishing sections of the club and recently Phil Cooper, Alan Perkins, Peter White, Dave Ward, Peter Pritchard, Mike Jefferies and Michael Scott have been responsible for the constant development of enough players of calibre to replace our inevitable player wastage to Universities, distant jobs and age! These gentlemen have introduced Folkestone’s youngsters to the joys of touring and have enjoyed great success in France, Belgium, Holland and Wales where they have made many friends. Recently they have seen one of the club’s finest young players, Tom Johnson snapped up by Saracens and the club has high hopes that this talented young man will go on to be a star and be joined by some of the new youngsters coming through. John Turbutt produced one of the best Colts squads we have ever had. He indulged them by organising a tour to San Diego, California!! One of the best players the Club has produced was Toby Booth. Through playing for Kent Toby was recruited by Blackheath. He then, inevitably became their recruiting sergeant and lured away the cream of our first XV. These included, Tony Hughes, Gary Furneaux and Neil Cousins. Luckily Tony and Neil came back after a few years to do good work for the club. Toby then became the Head Coach for Premiership club London Irish, then moved onto Bath RFC, Harlequins RFC and recently Ospreys RFC down in Wales.
Mention of Toby Booth brings us to Don Turner. Don joined the club in 1977 and started coaching minis almost immediately. He coached Toby Booth first and with the aid of Toby's mum recruited boys left right and centre to be a team around him, because his talent was recognised! Don and his cohorts held boot fairs and made much money for the Youth Section until it was decided the money should be taken over by the club and should not just be for the minis/youth. When the Rugby World Cup was held in England he organised a day of youth rugby at Folkestone prior to the ball going to France via the channel tunnel (still under construction) Mike O'Sullivan's son Ciaran and Will Turner (later a Club Captain) and his brother Rob (who played mini rugby but now for some reason has given up the game!) took the ball to the entrance of the tunnel. Don got an RFU scroll thanking him for his efforts and a big red rose plaque which ages ago disappeared from the Club. Don was also given a presentation and special award by the Society of Kent Rugby Coaches in 1998 for services to Youth Rugby as he had actually been coaching mini/youth since 1972. He also coached the Kent Development Squad at one time. He has given a lot of his time to Folkestone RFC (even standing in as Director of Rugby at one time) although most of it has been unsung for the youth/mini section.
Two years after opening the new clubhouse and grounds we received a not unexpected but nonetheless earthmoving shock. The Channel Tunnel Bill was passed into law and our cherished grounds were served with a compulsory purchase order. This unfair device meant that we not only had to part with our grounds but at less than market value. In addition to this the club officers led by Paul Barber and the Hon Treasurer, Phil Hoad, had to defend the club against a claim by the Channel Tunnel Group that the club should not be replaced because it was very young and of little importance to the community. They were only honorary officers, with jobs to hold down, but they were pitched against the professional legal and financial might of government-backed officialdom.
Things were not looking good for Folkestone rugby Club but “cometh the hour cometh the man” and the club had a couple of strokes of luck. Paul Barber had the inspired idea to tell the House of Commons Committee that we were not an insignificant club because we played regularly against the mighty Harlequins FC. This was not a lie, because we had made friends with Bill Cuthbertson, the Scottish International player who, at that time was captaining Harlequins 3rd team. Bill enjoyed our company so much that he brought his side down every year for four or five years. The mention of the word Harlequins was a masterstroke and Paul and Phil returned with the glad news that we would be reinstated in a new ground at the Channel Tunnel Group’s expense.
The second stroke of luck was that John Kidson retired at the early age of 55. At the time John was a VP of Linton (now Aylesford) and came to watch them play against Folkestone. Messrs Searle and Pocock quickly ascertained that John was a local man and recruited him into the club. Alan Frew urgently needed a deputy chairman, because his own business life had gone the other way and he was travelling round the world as a self-employed consultant. John was persuaded to become Vice Chairman and a year later took over from Alan who assumed the role of President. Another very lucky find was Ted Sutton, a recently retired chartered accountant, who took on the challenging role of Hon Treasurer.
It fell to John to complete the deal to move to the new grounds at Bargrove. After negotiating the terms, John became the de facto site manager as the new site was developed. The pitches were built by Birch and Co and the clubhouse by Dobinson’s of Canterbury. The architect was Vice President Nigel Thorpe. Channel Tunnel Group, after their initial intransigent stance, changed personality and became supportive, helpful partners. They allowed us to use the old clubhouse and grounds until the last possible minute to enable our rebuilding to take place. They also became club sponsors and paid for the opening ceremony and then made generous donations over the first years in our new home. The Rt Hon Colin Moynihan MP, the then Minister for Sport, opened the new complex in September 1989. Eurotunnel also paid for the start up the Eurotunnel Tournament organised by John Kidson and directed by Steve Hughes. These two stalwarts are still running it and it has become a popular and wealth generating part of the club’s year and is now known as “The Spitfire Challenge Trophy”.
But all was not sweetness and light. As the pitches were being built they were caught up in the great storm of 1987 and the drain-laying machine was bogged down and unable to move for 4 whole winter months.