Through the years

Founded in 1865, Bath Football Club is one of the oldest clubs in existence.


The early years

It was not too long after the founding of the Club that its players achieved international recognition. Herbert Fuller is generally regarded as the Club's first "capped" player in 1882. Francis D'Aguilar was capped in 1872, but doubts exist as to whether he was actually with Bath at the time! There are no such doubts as to Frank Soane's allegiance, who was capped in 1893. All three made their debuts against Scotland.

With an original home base at North Parade, Bath then led a nomadic existence during the 1800s playing at Claverton Down, Lambridge Meadows, Taylor's Field and Henrietta Park. They then leased a plot of land at Pulteney Meadow, known locally as the Rec.

The side turned out in blue shirts and white "knickers" and red caps were actually worn during play by some of the XV!

Gradually increasing their fixture list over 20 years, the 1885/86 season saw Bath completing 20 fixtures, winning 17, drawing two and losing only one. Most games were played against local opposition: Weston-Super-Mare, Gloucester, Clifton and the exotically named "Arabs" from Bristol.

By the 1890s Welsh clubs were becoming regular opponents, with Cardiff and Penarth commonly appearing in the fixture list. Also it was around this time that several players gained representative honours with the much vaunted Somerset County side.

It wasn't all glamour though, and in the early part of the 20th Century players were required to pay one shilling for the privilege of playing for the Club - a far cry from today's professional arrangement!

Innovation has been at the heart of Bath's rugby and, keen to extend its experience, the Club played its first fixture against overseas opposition in 1907, as Racing Club de Bordelais crossed the Channel to play at the Rec.

With great thanks

The Club would like to register its sincere thanks to Russell Gibbs for his assistance with this history.

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The growing stature of Bath was evident throughout the 1920s: six players played in the County Championship-winning Somerset side of 1923, the Club was awarded an England Trial match in 1925 (where the Possibles beat the Probables 22-14), and I.J. Pitman, S.G.U. Considine, Vincent Coates and Major Ronald "Gerry" Gerrard completed the international representation prior to World War II.

Bath lost 17 players in the service of their country during the War, including Major "Gerry" Gerrard. Despite severe bomb damage to the Rec, the Club, like many others in the area, reformed and resumed its fixtures.

In 1947 Bath produced its first non-English international when outside-half Ian Lumsden was selected for Scotland. John Kendall-Carpenter (1949) and Alec Lewis (1952) were later capped for England. Lewis, in fact, captained the team which established a record for victories in a season that was to remain unsurpassed for 20 years. Bath recorded 27 wins and four draws (including two consecutive 0-0 scores!) in their 42-game season.

1954 saw a first overseas tour by Bath, who beat the French teams St.Claude (23-3). Givors (9-6) and Tour du Pin (17-0). The trip was repeated the following year with wins against St. Claude (13-8), Dijon (14-0) and Macon (8-3).

The touring spirit has been an integral part of rugby and Bath has been no exception. In addition to France, the Club has toured Germany (three times), USA (three times), Canada and Australia (both once).

The Sixties at Bath saw a watershed in the Club's history. Captain Peter Sibley was the first to develop the ethos for fast, attacking rugby - an ethos that still lives on in today's team. With 6’ 4” players such as England international back row David Gay and Peter Heindorff (who went on to represent West Germany in the second row), Sibley had players under his leadership with the physique to impose this style of play.

With the mercurial John Horton and the incisive Mike Beese, the side continued to develop Bath's growing reputation in the early Seventies with some spectacular wins over the cream of Welsh rugby in a period now considered as its heyday. With the installation of floodlights at the Rec in 1975, a new rugby experience was launched for the Bath faithful on 15th January - an evening game, this time against the Royal Navy. More were to follow, and Friday night matches against Newport and Cardiff are remembered fondly by those who were present, especially when Bath won!

Bath started the decade as an established name on many good clubs' fixture lists without ever threatening to walk off with silverware.

This was soon to change as coach Jack Rowell began to assemble a side with power and precision. The power, provided by Gareth Chilcott and Roger Spurrell, was complemented by the precision of John Horton and David Trick.

Prior to 1983/84, Bath's best run in the national Cup competition was a loss in a quarter-final to Morpeth. But having beaten Headingly, Blackheath, Wasps and Nottingham, Bath faced their old rivals Bristol in the final at Twickenham. A try from Paul Simpson, a Horton drop goal and a John Palmer penalty gave Bath a 10-9 advantage. All that could deny Bath a first trophy was a last-minute penalty attempt from Bristol outside-half, Stuart Barnes (who joined Bath following the final), but the penalty drifted wide and Bath started an unprecedented winning run of four consecutive Cup titles.

In 1984/85 Bath saw off the challenges of Plymouth Albion (32-10), London Welsh (30-4), Moseley (12-3) and Orrel, in a one-sided semi-final, by 31 points to 7. In the final, Bath took the game to London Welsh and was 18-0 up at half-time thanks to tries from Trick and Chilcott. Palmer's four penalties and two drop goals completed the 24-15 victory.

It was Bath who trailed in the 1985/86 final as they found themselves 13-0 adrift to Wasps. However, inspired by Barnes, Bath roared back and crossed for four tries from Tony Swift, Spurrell, Richard Hill and Simpson to take control of the match. Trick kicked three conversions and a penalty, as Bath came from behind - something it was to do one more than one occasion over the next decade.

Three in a row became four in a row in 1986/87, as Wasps were defeated again. A brace of tries from lock forward Nigel 'Olly' Redman, a try from centre Simon Halliday and a few points from the boot of Barnes saw Bath to a 19-12 win and the deserved mantle of 'Cup Kings'.

Such is the reputation of that side that the 3-4 defeat to Moseley in 1987/88 still ranks alongside the greatest Cup upsets of all time. Perhaps the introduction of leagues had an effect as Bath, attempting to win the inaugural Championship, finished 4th, leaving them without a trophy for the first time in five years.

Under the guidance of Rowell, players of quality such as Barnes, Hill, Halliday and Swift in the back division, and John Hall, Redman and Andy Robinson in the forwards, began to transform the standards of club rugby.

1988/89 saw a return to business as usual with another Cup final triumph, this time against Leicester, and the Club's first league title, comfortably beating Gloucester into second place.

As the decade ended, Bath had transformed into a side that other teams feared to play. A 48-6 win over Gloucester in a sun-drenched Cup final in 1989/90 sent a clear message to other clubs that if they wanted to win anything, they would have to beat Bath.

The Blue, Black and White of Bath dominated English domestic rugby in the first half of this decade.

1990/91 proved to be another momentous year with a second Championship in three years, finishing three points clear of Wasps and losing only one of the twelve matches played - a surprising 15-16 home loss to the runners-up. Swift and Jeremy Guscott led the way with five league tries each, while Adedayo Adebayo showed his potential with four tries in five matches. There was to be no 'double' this year as Leicester knocked Bath out of the Pilkington Cup with a 12-0 win at the Rec.

1991/92 would best be remembered as the year in which Bath won the League despite having a point deducted for fielding an ineligible player. For the record, that player was Laurie Heatherley who played (and scored a try!) in the 26-21 defeat of London Irish in the opening game. However, it wasn't to prove crucial in the end as Bath won the League on points difference over Orrel. The exceptional Jim Fallen led the try scoring charts with seven from twelve fixtures.

Having been denied the double the year before, Bath fought its way to the Final, dispensing of Nottingham, Northampton, Bristol and Gloucester along the way. The Final was a tight affair with both Bath and Harlequins having chances to win. In the end, Barnes's extra-time drop goal was the difference as the West Country side went home 15-12 victors.

A hat-trick of Championships was sealed in 1992/93 as once more Bath sneaked home on points difference - the crucial game being a 22-11 defeat of Wasps. Barnes, so often a saviour with the boot, ended as the leading try scorer in league matches with seven. How he was missed in the Pilkington Cup game at Waterloo, where a 7-9 defeat is still remembered with much fondness by the Lancastrians.

1993/94 saw a unique "Grand Slam" of titles. In addition to the League (played on a home and away basis for the first time), the team won the Pilkington Cup (beating Leicester, with tries from Swift and a youthful Mike Catt), the Middlesex Sevens (beating Orrel in the Final) and the Worthington Tens.

A ninth Cup victory, against Wasps, with two tries for Martin Haag, followed in the 1994/95 season but it was not until the 1995/96 season that the "double" was won again. In what is the last season that domestic silverware has been lifted, Bath could have ended the season with nothing.

The League came down to the last game of the season. Bath, having been well ahead, allowed Sale to snatch a 38-38 draw. A win for arch-rivals Leicester on the same day would have sent the title to Welford Road. As it was, the Tigers missed a last-minute penalty and the Rec began to celebrate!

With Leicester the opponents in the Pilkington Cup final, the opportunity for revenge was there. Trailing by six points into injury-time, Bath drove repeatedly forward to the Tiger's line and referee Steve Lander awarded Bath a penalty try. Jon Callard kicked the conversion and the Cup returned to Bath.

Arguably the most "professional" amateur club side in English history, Bath has struggled to match the achievements of the Eighties and early Nineties.

Following Jack Rowell's departure (to take control of the England team), Bath struggled to find consistency either on or off the field. With regular changes in the coaching staff (including Andy Robinson's appointment as England's Head Coach) and with a seemingly steady turn-around of players, the formula that led to past successes is still being sought.

However, Bath has still managed to push back the boundaries by being the first British club to lift the European Cup. On 31st January 1998 in the Parc Lescure de Bordeaux, Bath beat the favourites, Brive, by 19-18, with Callard firmly establishing himself in Bath Rugby folklore by scoring all of Bath's points. Those who were there will remember the turning point of the game - an immense piece of defence by the pack, who held out on their own line for over eight second-half minutes of sustained Brive pressure.

After a couple of hugely disappointing seasons, the 2003/2004 season saw the Club make a significant stride forward to recapture the successes of previous teams.

Having narrowly avoided relegation in the 2002/2003 season, the Club invested heavily in its squad, with no fewer than 15 changes in personnel during the summer of 2003. Rowell and Michael Foley recruited wisely and the appointment of John Connolly as Head Coach helped gel the players into a formidable unit and the team ended the regular season at the top of the table - six points clear of Wasps.

Had Bath beaten Wasps in the 2003/2004 Championship Final, rugby historians would have found it hard to ignore the significance of the change in fortunes of a Club who, 12 months earlier, were only saved from relegation by virtue of having a better points difference than the relegated Bristol.

Bath reached the final of the Powergen Cup in the 2004/05 season and narrowly missed out on a place in the Zurich Premiership Play-Offs. However, whilst it cannot be the sole reason, a crippling injury list took its toll on the squad as Bath just about made it over the finishing line. The defeat to league strugglers Leeds Tykes in the Powergen Cup was not just an upset, it was a true disappointment for a side that had come desperately close to some silverware the previous season.

During the 2005/06 season, the club bid farewell to Connolly, and Brian Ashton returned to take them through the last few months of the season. His tenure was brief but under him the team showed glimpses of a style that Steve Meehan, as Acting Head Coach and later Head Coach, would build on in future seasons.

The 2005/06 season was one of highs and lows for Bath. In the quarter-finals of the Heineken Cup, a 13-man Bath side saw off Leicester Tigers at the Walkers Stadium in Leicester. The game will be remembered for the nature in which Bath went down to 13 men (two yellow cards in successive scrums for continual infringements) and whether or not Leicester should have been awarded a penalty try on the showing of the second yellow. Bath then went on to lose in the semi-finals against Biarritz. With a disappointing showing in the league (the Club finished 9th) they qualified for the European Challenge Cup for the following year, the lesser of the two European competitions.

In 2008 Bath won their first silverware in 10 years, beating Worcester to win the European Challenge Cup. After defeat in the 2003 and 2007 finals, it was third time lucky for the West Country side who ground out an impressive win over Worcester Warriors at Kingsholm. Outgoing skipper Steve Borthwick led by example and was a tower of strength in the lineout on his way to becoming the Fed Ex Man of the Match. Borthwick, who joined Saracens the following season, was carried aloft by his jubilant teammates after a titanic tussle in appalling conditions. Worcester won the toss and opted to play with the wind at their backs in the first period. It mattered not as Bath dominated possession and territory in the first quarter, and deservedly took the lead on 15 minutes with an Olly Barkley penalty. Barkley went on to score a second penalty a drop goal and a conversion, but it was tries from Jonny Fa'amatuainu and Nick Abendanon that put the game beyond the reach of brave Worcester. Bath won 24-16.

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