AS amateur rugby league club West Craven Warriors celebrates its 18th birthday this month, its co-founders take a reflective look over its history.
The Barnoldswick-based club was formed by locals Steve Simpson and Sean Fenwick in January, 1994. The two fathers had been taking their sons, plus other youngsters, to Keighley where they were playing in the West Riding League. When there were too many to transport, the pair decided to take action.
Steve had formed a good working relationship with the then headteacher of West Craven High, Will Montgomery, who was himself a rugby enthusiast and allowed the fledgling club use of the school’s facilities.
Steve said: “In the early days, most people thought we had lost the plot trying to set up a rugby league club in Barnoldswick as it was thought too much of a football area, with no tradition or demand for a rugby league club. However, with help from the school and its staff, especially PE teacher Malcolm Rochford, the numbers at training began to grow. In the first year, all the players were from West Craven School so I arranged games against other school sides. Most of the players were 14 or 15 years old and if I had put them straight into the North West Counties or the West Riding Leagues, they would have been playing against lads from the traditional rugby league heartlands so it was important to bring the lads along slowly, while building up their rugby league knowledge.
“The numbers and age groups of players coming to the club kept growing and we had lads training aged nine to 16 years so with help from two colleagues, Glynn Elwick and Ken Humphreys, we split them into training teams based on age, entering some into the West Riding League. The club flourished and in the 1999/2000 season, the under-14s won the West Riding League after finishing near the bottom the previous year. It felt so good winning the league after all the doubters said we wouldn’t succeed in Barnoldswick”.
Many of those young players have now gone on to become experienced members of West Craven Warriors’ open age team and some have even gone on to play at a professional level.
The adult team is now coached by Mark Smith and Adrian Marsden, both former West Craven players. The team has slowly worked its way up the seven Division Pennine leagues, to currently sit near the top of Division Three.
Club chairman is Richard “Chubby” Milner, himself a founding player. Steve said: “As president of the club, I am very proud of what Richard has done for the Warriors. He never stops working on behalf of the club, and is well assisted by secretary Roy Smith and the committee”.
With the growth of the club, it became obvious that it needed its own purpose built rugby pitch to play on and Steve identified the old pitch and putt at Victory Park as a possible site.
He said: “More than anyone, former chairman Steve Demaine helped turn this dream into reality. The pitch and putt was a much under-used facility so he, the town council, and especially Coun. David Whipp must now be proud of the facilities opened in Autumn 2008, after the effort they put into this happening.
“They include a purpose-built rugby pitch and training area, a large changing pavilion with showers for rugby, football and other sports, plus a meeting room and kitchen for those all-important cups of tea on a cold day.” Richard and his partner Cath have big plans for the club this summer. She will continue to coach the ladies’ team which starts its second season this March.
There are also plans to run a girls’ under-12 team this summer with the aim of entering festivals in Lancashire and Yorkshire.
The club will also be running mixed under-7, under-8 and under-10s teams and a boys’ under-12s team. All training is on Wednesday evenings.
Anyone interested in pre-season training can call Richard on 07731 112334 or visit Chubby’s Chippy in the Town Square.
Steve said: “From very humble beginnings, the club continues to develop. On a personal note, I would like to say a big thank you to all the players, past and present.
“And to the many people who have worked so hard behind the scenes and continue to do so.”