100 Years of Rye Soccer

100 years of Rye Soccer

Football, the soccer variety, captured the imagination of the people of Rye well before the turn of the 19th. Century. There were doubtless many teams playing the old “kick and rush” style of football in Rye and the surrounding districts in the days of the great Corinthians and Wanderers – but legend only tells the story of pre-1900 soccer matches played in the Town.

The Great Team of 1904

1904 saw the first success recorded in the new century. In that year the Rye Football Club carried off the Tunbridge Wells Charity Cup in front of capacity crowds at the Central Ground, Hastings. That evening the victorious team was welcomed at Rye Station by hundreds of enthusiastic supporters who had been unable to get tickets for the match. The Rye Town Band played “Sussex By the Sea” as the great team, captained by J. H Gasson, was carried shoulder high by the Fire Brigade to the rostrum where the Mayor and Councillors awaited to add their congratulations to those of the people. A procession around the streets followed, the cup held high for all to see. If it had been in the F.A.Cup these eleven heros could not have commanded greater acclaim. The names of W. H. Donovan; A. Rhodes; F Boreham; F. Phillips; A. Adams; W. Smith; H. Plews, J. Adams; S. Sellman; and E. J. Young along with that of J. H. Gasson are indelible in the history of Rye sport.

Three of the players from the 1904 winning team
Three of the players from the 1904 winning team

One of the great characters of Rye Football Club was Edward Rhodes, better known as “Jokey” Rhodes. When the team had away matches, “Jockey”, who worked on the Camber Tram, used to “Knock off” at eleven and rush to Rye Station to board the special train hired by the team. On many occasions he was late but the Station Master always held up the train until his arrival.

Rye Football Club ran a reserve team and the picture of the 1911-12 seasons players shows them with a cup won in that year. John Bennett, father of J. “Shoey” Bennett, later to become legendary in the post Second War Rye United Team for playing the second half of an important match with a broken leg, is seen seated second right on the front row.

Other Early Rye Soccer Teams

Another successful soccer club in Rye was the St. Mary’s Club, formed by the Rev. Launcher at the beginning of the century. 1904 saw them winning the Rye & District Junior Charity Cup. In the years 1904-14 they played many friendly games with teams from far and near including Newhaven, Bexhill, Lydd Garrison and East Garrison and East Grinstead. Their greatest achievement in this period was in winning the Sussex Junior Cup in 1914.

Rother Invicta, a team from the Rother Ironworks, shared the Town Salts with Rye Football Club in the years prior to the start of the Great War in 1914 when football activity in the area came to a close for the duration save for a few games played between service teams. Some of the great names in Rye football went off to fight a war from which many would not to return.

The Toll of The War

After a terrible carnage of the “Great War to save humanity” the survivors returned home to rebuild their rudely interrupted lives and get back to their sports and interests. The Rye Football Club restarted but the only old faces to rejoin were Arthur Adams and Jimmy Sellman. The Club was a mere shadow of its former self but played on into the early thirties until it finally amalgamated with the Rye Old Boys F.C. – a very strong and enthusiastic Club, formed by school master Sidney Allnutt, to give lads leaving school a chance to carry on playing in those times when there were no minor leagues.

The St. Mary’s team, in contrast to that of Rye F.C., reformed in 1919 and regained all its old glories, winning the Sussex Junior Cup in 1921, 22, 23, 26, 29 and 1931.

A new club was soon to take the field and bring victories to the Town that were undreamed of in those early days. Instead of having several clubs all with two or three good players why not have one club fielding several teams, graded according to abilities? These were the thoughts of several soccer loving Rye officials in the thirties, especially the well loved school teacher, Mr. Alnutt. Their ideas became a reality and Rye United Football Club was born in 1938 and to this day remains one of the foremost clubs in the area.

Rye United became a forced to be reckoned with by the end of the thirties when, as with its illustrations predecessor Rye F.C., its activities were interrupted by a World War. Unlike the first occasion however most of the Rye team returned from this conflict to take up where they left off. In fact the period from 1947 – 52 was a halcyon spell in the Club’s history. They swept all before them, winning trophy after trophy, year after year. Those who followed the team through this purple period will not forget the great evenings at the Pilot Field when nail biting finals were fought out, many going into extra time against the best Hastings and other Sussex teams.

The names of Fred Master; Bert Weller, “Pickles” Igglesden; Ted Southernden; J. “Shoey” Bennett; Bill “Blower” Pierce; Micheal Lehey; Pope; Goodsell; must join the Rye Football Hall of Fame along with that of J.H. Gasson and his team of 1904.

In those years after the War Rye United played on the Town Salts where all the top Rye teams had played in the past. Spectators often sat on the metal fence on the road side of the pitch. This Ground was the home of Rye Football, the area was almost surrounded by banks which made the perfect natural “stands”. All spectators had a good view of the pitch. Unfortunately it was not possible to make a charge to watch the game as the Town Salts were left as a public ground available to all at all times.

When Rye joined the Sussex County League in the Fifties it became a requirement of entry to have an enclosed ground and so the Cricket Salts became the new match venue for United. A small Grand Strand was built but a lot of the atmosphere of the old pitch seemed to be missing and because of the better quality of teams in this higher League, United did not emulate the countless successes of the golden years that proceeded entry into the County League.

Rye’s finest achievement in their 25 years or so run in the Sussex County League was a runners up spot to Chichester in the 1959-60 season.

During the immediate post war years the policy of one club running several teams was continued, except for Rye Casuals who played on the Cricket Salts in the late forties. They wore a Blue & Gold quartered strip and were possible made up of Rye Grammar School Old Boys.

In 1966 England won the World Cup and interest in soccer climbed to new heights. Village teams were inundated with new players. Udimore, Brede, Peasmarsh, East Guildefored, Icklesham, Wittersham, Appledore all had strong teams, Iden formed a team and soon had a reserve team. Udimore found enough players to field two teams, Icklesham ran three, many Rye lads joined these sides as United were unable to accommodate more than the three sides they already ran on the pitches at their disposal.

First Works Team Since Rother Invicta

Terry Lane introduced the first works side in Rye since the days of Rother Invicta when he instigated the Rickett and Coleman side with the company who provided the kit and equipment. The team used the New Road School pitch and soon became a force to be reckoned with in the Hastings League. When the Reckett & Coleman Company left Rye the lads decided to form a new club and Rye Athletic was born.

Athletic, under the guidance of Physical Training Instructor Terry Spencer were soon successful, winning Division Three of the Hastings League. They were soon running two teams and eventually reached Division One. They changed their venue and made the Town Salts their home but as the euphoria of the England World Cup victory began to fade over the years, so too the new surge of soccer activity. Athletic went down to one team, then none as did Udimore. East Guildford are no more. Iden are the exceptions, going on to greater things and even challenging Rye United over recent years in the Kent League.

Sunday Soccer Comes to Rye

A new kind of football team sprang up in the seventies. The Sunday League made up in great part by pub sides. There were several in Rye, the most successful being the Crown team. These teams drew their players from Saturday League sides and were often a hotch potch of good, mediocre and low grade players. Some of the matches were of good quality but on the whole the games were not taken as seriously as Saturday matches. The Crown still runs a team but home matches are all played in Hastings now.

Rye United in Premier Division

Rye United ran just two teams now, in Premier and Second Divisions of the British Energy Kent Football League. They were placed second in the Premier Division in the 98/99 season and even after a poor start to the 1999-2000 season they finished in the top half of the table.

Manager Brian Collins ran the team and featured players of those times were Moth, Bennett, Wall, Nunn, Kewley, Ruddy’ Standly, Nealer, Carey, Scott, O’Callaghan, Loft and Price.

Back to the Sussex County League

For the 2000/01 season Rye United rejoined the Sussex County League in DIvision Three which they topped and were promoted to Division Two.

The following season they amalgamated with Iden Football Club and became Rye & Iden United.

After the two clubs amalgamated in 2001, they won the Division Two championship and divisional cup double. Due to a lack of floodlighting at their ground, however, they had to play another season in Division Two. The club also reached the semi final of the Sussex Senior Challenge Cup, losing after extra time to Conference giants Crawley Town. However, the next season they won the cup and league double again and won promotion to Division One.

The club then finished runners up twice (equaling their best league performance), having the most successful season in the history of the club in 2004-05 where they finished league runners up and also won the John O’Hara League Cup and Hastings Senior Cup.

2005-06 Was a disaster year for the club. Their main benefactor left and the team slumped to the bottom of the Division One Table. They were saved from relegation by default.

For the 2006-07 season Rye United ended a four year partnership with Iden F.C. (Who went on to amalgamate with Peasmarsh F.C.) and reverted to their old name of Rye United. The season went no better than the last, again they avoided relegation by default. They had great success in the Football Association Vase

2007-08 was a repeat of the past two seasons, Rye again stuck near the foot of the table. This time there was no reprieve and they took the drop to Division Two. Amazingly the team had a six match run in the FAVase Competition, finally being knocked out by Lowestoft Town who went on to Wembley and won the trophy the following year!.

FA VASE 2007/2008

First Qualifying Round FRIMLEY GREEN H 3-2

Second Qualifying Round SIDLEY UNITED H 2-1

First Round FARNHAM TOWN H 2-1

Second Round COBHAM H 2-2

Second Round Replay COBHAM A 3-2

Third Round LOWESTOFT TOWN A 1-7

2008/09 A revival at last. The team started badley but have recovered and now stand well within striking distance of a promotion place.

Perhaps the Red & Black shirts of Rye will storm to triumph in the new millennium and emulate the great teams of 1906 and the late forties. Could there be another J. H. Gasson or Blower Pierce lurking in the Rye side of 2000. Get down to the Salts on a Saturday afternoon and cheer them on.

All that is needed now is for the club to get hold of an enclosed site suitable for a 100 Seater Stand, all the other facilities that go with a soccer ground and a parking area with free access to the pitch for emergency vehicles.

The site between the Freda Gardham and the Rugby Club would seem to offer the best hope for the club, its all down to local politicians now.

“Rye’s Own” April 2009

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