There has been a rugby club in the small northwest Hertfordshire town of Tring since 1964, when two Tring based local commuters, Don Dover and Arthur Howlett, bemoaning the lack of rugby in the town, established a club at The Royal Hotel at Tring Station, where they used to meet for a drink after returning from London by train. They put adverts in the local papers to attract players and soon got themselves up and running.
The club’s first home was on land to the north of the town, off Manor Road, generously leased to them by the Mead family who were local farmers and land owners. The facilities were meagre to say the least – the pitch was simply a bit of pastureland and players changed in an old open sided cowshed located on the site. The shower was made from a ½ inch piece of copper pipe with holes drilled in. If the weather were warm enough for water to flow players would try and clean up under a trickle of cold water fed from one of the water troughs. The clubhouse was the nearby Black Horse pub in the town centre.
Chief amongst those setting up the club was a New Zealander, Mark Ottway, who had been relocated to the UK for business and had settled in Tring. Ottway was the first club captain and had enjoyed rugby at all levels in his native New Zealand, becoming an All Blacks trialist as well as making the country’s Davis Cup tennis squad.
Ottway brought tales of life at the rugby clubs in New Zealand where a core part of the club’s set up was based around children playing the game too. This was unheard of in England, where rugby at junior level was played only at schools, and primarily fee paying ones at that. Tring liked what Ottway had to say about bringing youth into the club and developing a community feel and in 1965 became the first rugby club in the UK to have a junior team, long before the phrase minis rugby was dreamed up. Members of that first junior team are still active in the club today – a whole rugby career later.
As the town expanded the council compulsorily purchased the original site so it could become Dundale School and, in search of a new home, the club approached another local landowner, the show jumper Dorian Williams who owned the estate at Pendley, on the eastern edge of the town, close to the clubs roots at Tring Station.
Williams had a philanthropic vision for a cultural centre in Tring that comprised an arts centre, now the popular Court Theatre, an adult education college, which was located in Pendley Manor itself before it became a hotel and a sports centre which would be home to many of the towns sporting teams. Williams welcomed the club with open arms and they established a base alongside Tring Town Football Club (now home to Tring Athletic). By this time fielding 2 regular teams as well as a growing junior section, moved to the site in the early 1970’s and were soon joined by the town’s athletics, hockey, squash and bowls clubs at the burgeoning Cow Lane complex.
Facilities were little better at Cow Lane, the changing rooms were still in a cow shed, all be it enclosed, and the showers still a very “Heath Robinson” affair until eventually they managed to get hold of a large amount of concrete and install a lunge plunge bath into the building.
A few years after starting life at Pendley the club had raised enough money to erect a pre-fabricated unit to act as a changing room cum clubhouse and on April 13th 1975 the club hosted it’s Ground Opening match when Tring took on an International XV which included many star names of the time.
The building remained in this use until the mid 1980’s when the plans for a purpose built clubhouse were drawn up. The current clubhouse was opened in 1984 and the old clubhouse became the dedicated changing rooms until five years later when they made way for the brick built ones seen on site today.
Success has been endemic throughout the club for many years but the achievements of the first team since the turn of the century have caught many peoples eye.
In 2003/04 they won their league Herts/Middlesex One, losing only game all year and then repeated the feat in 2004/05 by winning London Four (north west), again losing just one game all season.
In 2005/06 they competed in London Three (North West) against other local teams such as Harpenden, Welwyn and Fullerians, based in Watford, as well as teams from north and west London. They were runners up to Woodford at the end of the season and beat Norfolk side Diss (runners up in London 3 North East) in a play off match to achieve their third successive promotion up to London 2 North. The season also saw the club advance to its furthest position in the RFU’s national Intermediate Cup competition where they reached the quarterfinals, losing to eventual cup-winners Stockport.
In comparison the 2006/07 season was something of a disappointment although in reality a massive achievement for the club. They led London 2 north for long periods of the season, only to be over hauled by a strong Civil Service side in the last quarter. Tring were again runners up in the league and faced another play off to secure a fifth successive promotion. Their opponents were London 2 south side Thanet looking to make a return to London 1 having been relegated the previous year. Alas for Tring the luck was against them on the day and they lost to Thanet in one of the most compelling matches held at Cow Lane in front of nearly 500 spectators.
Not deterred Tring attacked the 2007/08 season from the start and were part of the leading pack all season. In the end they edged past Staines and Chingford to take the league title and gain promotion to London 1 for 2008/09 – this is level five on the rugby pyramid and the highest level the club has ever performed at.
Away from the first team the club fields three other sides on a regular basis, along with an occasional Vets side for the over 35’s.
After several years unbeaten in the Herts / Middlesex Merit Tables the Second team now play in the highly competitive Canterbury Shield where they take on teams from across the region. The third and fourth teams continue in the Merit Tables. With so many sides to choose from there is rugby in Tring on offer to anyone and everyone who wants to play the game no matter what age or standard.
The success of the England national team at the 2003 IRB World Cup, development of the game for girls and the growing trend amongst parents that rugby is a ‘nicer’ sport for their children to be involved with has led to an increase in membership for the club’s mini and junior section. This season over 300 children between the ages of 6 and 19 regularly played or trained at the club. At this level fixtures are mostly made up of mini tournaments or festivals where several clubs will bring players covering several age groups to the club for a day of rugby. Every year, in March, Tring host an annual festival for Mini Rugby – clubs from throughout the region compete and over 1000 children take part. Of course with that many children attending there is a strong social network for parents within the club and those that aren’t involved with coaching or watching will often sit in the clubhouse enjoying a tea or coffee and reading through the papers.
As an amateur organisation the club is supported by the parents of mini and junior players, the senior players; who pay match fees every week, and the generosity of a large band of Vice Presidents – a level of club membership which is supported by regular match day dinners and other events throughout the year. There are also contributory schemes with prize funds to increase revenue.
In June 2007 the club decided to start work on the TringRugby project, which sees the two sections of the club; Mini & Junior and Seniors, amalgamate to form one strong club identity.