My research into the History of Ruthin Football Club did not begin auspiciously, because I have been unable to establish a definite date for the formation of a football club in Ruthin. The Football Association of Wales was founded in 1876 in Wrexham (or Ruabon, Take your pick !) making it the third oldest football association in the world. The Welsh Cup was first competed for in the 1877-78 season and in October 1879 Ruthin FC entered the competition for the first time. So we can safely assume that there was a club in Ruthin in 1879 but, as for any earlier, that’s unclear.
In the 1879-80 season Ruthin defeated Llangollen, Corwen and Newtown in the early rounds of the Welsh Cup. Wrexham were defeated 4-2 in a quarter- final replay,, then the Club, strangely, were given a bye in the semi-final and met Druids, the team of the age, in the Welsh Cup Final at the Racecourse Ground, Wrexham. They lost the match 2-1 but the Ruthin team that day contained no fewer than three future Welsh international players, William Pierce (W.P.) Owen, Uriah Goodwin and the captain, Walter Hugh Roberts. Also playing for Ruthin in that Final was Price Mostyn, who lived to be 100 and is generally believed in the town to have been an international, though the Welsh FA records do not include him !
A History of Ruthin Town Football Club
This was the first and last time that Ruthin appeared in the Welsh Cup Final and, indeed, in the following year’s competition, a very strange happening occurred, Ruthin again drew the Druids in the 2nd Round of the competition. A 1 -1 draw on The Parks (probably where Ruthin FC currently play) turned out to be rather violent and acrimonious. As a result, Ruthin refused to go to a replay, citing fear of “the Ruabon colliers – Druids supporters” as the reason for withdrawing from the competition. Imagine a team today getting to the Final one year and withdrawing from it the next !
Apart from the Welsh Cup, the club also played a number of games in what seems to have been an infant North Wales League. They played, among others, Mold and Rhyl on “The Parks” and the “Ruthin Illustrated Magazine” referred to “football mania” in the town in December 1879. It appears that there were several teams in the town, the Cambrian, the Wasps, the Swifts, Red Star and Ruthin Rovers, as well as Ruthin Town. Funds, unsurprisingly, were short and numerous fund-raising events were held – a pattern that was to be replicated over the coming decades. Mr Joyce, the jeweller, had promised to present the Club with a silver goblet if they won the Cup but that never materialised.
A Golden Era
The “Magazine” referred to internal dissensions within the Club and they withdrew from the 1881-82 Welsh Cup without playing a game. Nevertheless, this was a golden period for Ruthin football history, for between 1880 and 1891 no fewer than eight full international players came from the town ! WP Owen was only 17 when he won his first cap and ended up winning twelve caps, quite a number in an era when only two or three games a season were played. He was the son of the Rector of Efenechtyd and played as a wing-half. He played in the first ever Welsh victory over England at Ewood Park, Blackburn Rovers’ ground, in 1881 and later related some funny stories about that game. He met his fellow international from Ruthin, Uriah Goodwin, on Ruthin Railway Station, on their way to the match and, when he asked “Little Uriah” where his kit was, Uriah replied “I’ve got it on under my clothes !”
Owen claimed to have made the only goal of the game with a cross but admitted that he had been helped by Uriah Goodwin who “skilfully impeded the goalkeeper” ! After defeating England, the two Ruthin players took a train to Mold and then decided to save some of the ten shillings they had been given as expenses to hire a trap from Mold to Ruthin, by walking home instead. Sadly, they spent the evening and night at the Loggerheads Inn and arrive back in Ruthin, somewhat the worse for wear, just as the congregations were coming out of church and chapels.
Uriah Goodwin had a long association with the Club, his son and nephew later played for Ruthin. He worked at the Ruthin Soda Water Company (Cambrian) for over 40 years. WP’s brother,Elias Owen, a goalkeeper, also played three times for Wales but after conceding four goals against Scotland, never played again. A student at Lampeter Theology College, he took his own life by hanging himself in Efenechtyd Churchyard. Interestingly enough, Elias is recorded as playing not for Ruthin but for Ruthin Grammar School, the present-day Ruthin School, which only became a rugby school after 1913.
But what of the other internationals from that glorious period ? John Challen was a teacher at Ruthin School who played for Ruthin Swifts as well as Corinthians FC in London. Johnny Roberts was a fine full-back who impressed Ruthin supporters with his ability to kick a dead ball from goal line to goal line ! Richard Jarrett scored a hat-trick on his international debut v Ireland in 1889 but only played one further international. He moved from Ruthin to play in the Football League for Bolton Wanderers. Arthur Lloyd was another Ruthin School teacher who later became a vicar. One newspaper report said of him “he has no idea how to tackle but he kicks well” ! Walter Hugh Roberts gained six Welsh caps. He was Club captain for many years and was long remembered as “one of the best players Ruthin ever had”. A dashing centre-forward, he lived in Ruthin but worked for the railway in Rhyl.
John Challen* Wales v. England 1888
Wales v Scotland 1882
No fewer than three players from Ruthin:
1. Walter Hugh Roberts
2. Johnny Roberts
3. W.P Owen
The Turn of the Century
The infant “Free Press”, in 1883, described the team as “tricky but small and light” and as being “not the most harmonious body in the world”. With the plethora of clubs apparently operating in the town it is not surprising to hear of the town side being “resurrected” in 1887. These fluctuations, with the Club apparently disbanding then being re-formed, continued into the twentieth century. Matches, at this time, were played mainly on Cae Star field (the present ground), though there are also references to games on Wynnstay Park (possibly Cae Gwynach, btween the Wrexham and Corwen Roads) and, at different times, to “Mr Chapman’s Field”, “Ivy House” ground (?) and “Grammar School Field”, the latter is what became known, after 1919, as the Recreation Ground (“the Rec”).
For the next half century or so, the Club fluctuated between playing there or on Cae Gwynach and there are interesting stories associated with both grounds. Around the turn of the century, there were concerns that spectators at Cae Gwynach were simply standing on the Corwen Road and watching the game without paying the 3d or 6d entry fee. The Club decided to erect large canvas sheets to try to stop this happening but, of course, every time the wind blew these sheets were ripped to shreds ! As for The Rec, this former sports ground for the boys of Ruthin School, which had been sited just behind St Peter’s Church, had ceased to function as such when the School moved to its present site on the Mold Road.
In 1897 and reputedly as part of his acknowledgement of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, William Cornwallis West gave Cae Ddol to the town and also the four-acre Recreation Ground on a lease at a peppercorn rent. During the Sale of the Ruthin Castle Estate in 1919, his son, George, cancelled the lease and presented the field, as a gift to the town in perpetuity. Sadly, it was never really “fit for purpose”, certainly not for cricket and hockey, which were also played there, because, during the winter months, it was little better than a bog. When the field was sold for industrial development in the 1970s, there was controversy in the town, as some claimed that the gift had been for “recreational purposes” only but I have failed to find any evidence to back up this claim. The Club and many of the other smaller clubs in the town played on The Rec from the early years of the century onwards but Cae Gwynach was also in regular use.
Two undated and unnamed photographs of Ruthin Town about 1910 - 1915. The presence of uniforms in the right-hand picture suggests wartime.
World War One brought a temporary halt to organised football in the town and the period between the two World Wars will be covered in a later chapter.