60th anniversary dinner
Sixty years and a day on from its first competitive fixture, 130 current and past players, officials, volunteers and supporters came together on Friday to celebrate the continuing progress of a club founded as Valley Sports and now operating as Rugby Town.
Attendees travelled from far and wide to recognise Valley’s Diamond Jubilee at a celebration dinner at the VS Bar and Butlin Road hospitality suite, in the company of the Mayor of Rugby Cllr Sally Bragg and a number of other esteemed VIP guests.
At the end of the meal, Club Director Mike Yeats carefully tracked the development of the club through its various identities, homes and leagues – highlighting the particularly successful 1980s decade when the FA Vase, the Southern League Midland Division and the Birmingham Senior Cup trophies were all brought back to the town.
He also acknowledged the two occasions in the 1990s when financial difficulties threatened the club’s mere existence, ahead of the arrival of a new regime in 1999 which stabilised things once more and has then gone on to develop its ground into one of the finest facilities in non-league football.
Valley’s journey from that opening game in the Rugby & District League against Dunchurch Lodge was followed by spells in three further leagues (the Coventry & North Warwickshire, the United Counties and the West Midlands), before they joined the non-league big boys in the Southern League in 1983 – incorporating stays at Thornfield, Hillmorton Rec, Oakfield and the current Butlin Road.In more than 1,000 fixtures within the Southern League structure, they achieved three promotions into the Premier level, but each time dropped back down to a regional division before being transferred across to its northern NPL equivalent in 2015.
Yeats then thanked everybody for their contributions over the years and also looked to future advancement: “It’s great to see all the people here tonight that have made the club what it is today, and hopefully we can continue to move forward and achieve a level of football that matches the outstanding infrastructure we now have in place here.”
He also highlighted the “special role” played in the club’s development by one of the original club (playing) founders Keith Coughlan, who also served as secretary for more than 30 years.
Keith’s invaluable contributions were further echoed by two other guest speakers ex-Premier League referee Dermot Gallagher and BBC Radio personality Stuart Linnell.
Linnell also praised what he considered to be “a great football club that helps to hold a town together”, with Gallagher noting that the club represented “an integral part of his footballing life” as he had started officiating in the Southern League the same year as VS Rugby joined it and had enjoyed many trips to Butlin Road in the early stages of his refereeing career.
Reflecting back on the success of the event, Coughlan – one of five founder members who attended Friday’s gathering – said: “I think it shows what a great family club we have built up over the years.
“People travelled from overseas and from all parts of the country to be there. As well as the five originals, there were players from every decade, four former Chairmen and so many people who gave their time and dedication to make this club a success, and a place any visitor should be impressed with and will be made welcome.”
Another of that first ever Valley team who took to the field to demolish their local opponents 7-0 on September 8th 1956 - John Osborne - also reminisced fondly about the club’s roots and progress over the years.
He said: “Of course we had no idea how things would develop when we first got it going all those years ago. Some of us were at primary school together and regularly used to kick a ball around in the playground, and it’s an incredible achievement to see how far the club has come.”