25-year quest to catalogue rugby history

Malcolm Crane and (below) his book
Malcolm Crane and (below) his book
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“For the first 100 years rugby was a private world. Up until 1992 anyone who wrote a word about rugby and was paid for it was banned for life.”

But now Cleveleys man Malcolm Crane is opening the door on ‘rugby’s closed world’ by releasing what he believes is the first detailed history of the hundreds of rugby union clubs across England.

Malcolm Crane's book, Rugby Clubs of England's History

Malcolm Crane's book, Rugby Clubs of England's History

The 63-year-old member of Preston Grasshoppers chanced upon his quest while working for Provincial insurance company.

And after 25 years, 10,000 phone calls, 4,000 letters and a thousand interviews later, the writer has finally released his mammoth 360-page history.

He said: “The joke was that it was perfectly OK to murder someone but you weren’t allowed to write about it.

“In 1989 the Provincial Cup was set up. They were my employers and they sponsored it.

Most of the people have now passed on but I did have the pleasure of talking to people over 100 years old about rugby in the 1920s.

Malcolm Crane

“I was tasked with giving £500 for the best performance in each round.

“I played rugby myself but I’d never heard of some of the teams in this competition.

“When I had to give away the money I travelled the country discovering all of these clubs with great histories that we were not allowed to write about.

“I started writing down some details as I went along.”

And now, as they say, the rest is history, as Malcolm has made it his mission to get the memories of ex-players from across the country so their legacies can be celebrated.

On his travels he has unearthed stories that have linked film legend Julie Andrews to an England rugby captain and managed to find out how the sport thrived between the two world wars.

He said: “It was a fantastic experience for me. The people have just been fantastic.

“It has been wonderful just to talk to the old timers about what rugby was like between the wars.

“Most of the people have now passed on but I did have the pleasure of talking to people over 100 years old about rugby in the 1920s.

“There are still a lot of people around who lived through the Great Depression.

“Eric Evans was England captain in the 1950s and at one time his girlfriend was Julie Andrews.

“It is unbelievable that some of these memories haven’t been written about before.”

The book has been produced with the blessing of the RFU and has been released just a month before the Rugby World Cup kicks off on September 18 at Twickenham.

Malcolm, who had to quit playing rugby due to injuries sustained in a car crash, revealed his love for the sport is what has driven him on to produce the book.

He said: “All the clubs round here have fantastic histories. There are about 60-70 pages on clubs from the north-west.

“I have been gathering all the content for 25 years but writing it all up in the last three months has been hell on earth.

“The difference between rugby and football is that most rugby teams have produced an international player – but most of those internationals are forgotten.

“And that anyone of any level can play against each other.

“I started playing in the late 1970s after I left school. I played for Thornton Cleveleys.

“I remember playing against Rochdale in 1972 and they had two internationals playing.

“It would be the equivalent of playing for Fulwood Amateurs and lining up against two David Beckhams.

“I played rugby until I broke my neck in a car accident.

“And I became a member of Preston Grasshoppers. The club is one of the oldest in the world.

“The founder members of the club all went to Cheltenham college.

“It is such an old club that the founder members played at school in the 1850s.”

The book costs £29.99. There will be an official launch party at Preston Grasshoppers, Lightfoot Green, from 12pm on Saturday.