RUGBY FOOTBALL CLUB
~ est. 1979 ~
Polish National Alliance Park, Wallingford, Connecticut
THE HISTORY OF THE CONNECTICUT GREY RFC
Sanford “Sandy” Woodard, Founding Member
The Connecticut Grey Rugby Union Football Club had its origins in Oxford, Connecticut, on a snowy Saturday in January, 1979, when eleven over-aged rugby players from the Connecticut Yankees and the Hartford Wanderers met to attempt to get regular matches with quality opposition. Attending were: Mike Marcus (Yankees), Bill Aman (Hartford), Jim Farrell (Hartford), Jeff Bouvier (Yankees), Gus Rees (Yankees), Phil Grannan (Yankees), Derek Couturas (Yankees), MacRae Ross (Yankees), Tom Furness (Hartford) Sandy Woodard (Yankees & Hartford) and Sean Murray (Yankees). Phoning in his participation was Chris Johnson (Hartford). Soon to join were Keith Hope, Jim Greenfield, John Zabel, Larry Mowell, Paul Guertin, Thom Shaughnessy, Mike Cunha, Nick Guidice, Hal Hansen, Bob Kefford, John O’Brien and Brian O’Donnell, rounding out the first season’s roster.
While these stalwarts were still playing regularly for their home club, their experience was less than fulfilling. Because of job or family commitments or advancing age or other considerations, they were rarely playing 1st XV. The rugby experience with the 2nd or, God forbid, 3rd XV was abominable. The opposition was barely educated in the ways of the sport and even winning big over these innocents had lost its savor. They wanted to test themselves against “kids their own age” in a quality rugby match on a regular basis.
The Grey was established as an all-Connecticut over-30’s side. Members came initially from the Wanderers and the Yankees but they were soon supplemented by others from Danbury, Berlin, Stamford and several who had not played for any local club. The club was by invitation, but an invitation was easy to get. You had to be the appropriate age (or able to pass by virtue of poor fitness and a haggard look). You had to be an experienced rugby player capable of playing a number of positions (not necessarily equally well). We considered “experienced” as consisting of five years – not seasons – of club division rugby with a club that played reasonably well. We were not looking for stars but we knew we would be unable to teach anyone the game since half of our team traveled more than an hour to get to a home game. There were no training sessions. Most players met their teammates on the sidelines prior to kickoff.
Initially we had two home venues: Hartford and Milford. We played teams from the north in Hartford. These included: Boston, Mystic River, Providence, Springfield, Albany and Schenectady, and Toronto and Montreal Irish from Canada. Southern teams enjoyed our hospitality in Milford. These were Gentlemen of New York, Les Vieux, Old Blue Heavies, NYAC Old Boys, NY Old Boys, Montclair, Union, Philadelphia and South Jersey. You may note that several of these clubs are no longer extant. We attribute that to their drawing on too narrow a base for players. Because of this we have resisted affiliating ourselves with any regular club team in the area despite their entreaties. We have, in addition, expanded our reach outside the narrow confines of the state of Connecticut recruiting players from Massachusetts, Rhode Island and New York. If a player is willing to travel to our home matches and is otherwise qualified we are happy to have him.
The Grey, probably more so than most club teams, is a family event. All of the founding members brought their wives (three of whom were significantly pregnant) to the inaugural meeting, which was followed by a pot luck supper. This tradition (including the pregnancies) continued for several years with an Annual General Meeting followed by a pot luck supper until the membership became too numerous to fit in a living room. Then we began having an annual dinner in a local restaurant. Many wives and girlfriends attended our home matches (when the weather was nice) and all volunteered to attend when we went to a fun place on an away game. For this reason we had plenty of company on our two tours to Bermuda and were never left without chaperones in Montreal.
We hosted our first touring side in our inaugural year. The Fir Bolgs from Ireland were visiting New York and Jacko Jackson set us up with a match. They were nearly all over 40 and had partied for three days before setting foot in Tomlinson Stadium in Fairfield. We were welcomed by the Mayor of Fairfield and then Fir Bolgs proceeded to show us how good we could become if we played long enough and matured a little. After letting us feel good in the first half by being down only two tries while playing our hearts out, they ripped that heart out in the second half. The score was immense and could have been more but they deigned to kick conversions. Playing for Fir Bolgs were: Gerry Culliton, 43, Barbarians/Ireland (19 caps) and John Novak, 38, Harlequins/England (4 caps) supplemented by five Irish Trialists/Irish Subs and four Wolfhounds. They also out-sang and out-drank us. It was a marvelous weekend and demonstrated that our rugby careers had just begun.
In the next year, 1980, we made our first tour to Bermuda. We played two matches against “older teams” selected by the President of the Bermuda Union. The first was a reasonable match which we lost but were well in all of the time. The second was a blowout. Apparently frightened by the closeness of the first match the wily President selected a player on vacation from England, the then-current England winger Peter Squires. Not only was he good he was young and fast. 52-3 them. Still a successful tour and our rugby playing cards were punched by our families who had almost as good a time as we did.
When the International Golden Oldies were in London the Grey went. When they were in Toronto, we bolstered the Unicorns Side. And in 2004 over 50 players and Grey supporters traveled to Barbados on the occasion of the club’s 25th anniversary.
In 1996, Connecticut Governor John G. Rowland, an honorary member of the Connecticut Grey, wrote these words of welcome to a touring side:
“The Connecticut Grey represents the best elements of a truly amateur sport in America. Since 1979, they have hosted visiting teams from several countries and contributed to the development of their sport and the spirit of sportsmanship.
“The combination of competitiveness and fair play demonstrated by these senior ruggers sets an appropriate example for younger sports teams throughout the State. I commend them for their tireless dedication to this wonderful sport.”