THE HISTORY OF BRIGHTON FOOTBALL CLUB (RFU) 1868
To establish the beginnings of the Club, we must look first at the pioneering days of football. There were originally twelve to thirty players on each side and forward rushes that contributed to some rather nasty encounters. Hacking, tripping, charging and scragging were all within the recognised codes as played in most parts of the country. At Brighton, it was the practice to field 12 or 15 players aside. The number was determined before the start of each game according to the particular codes and laws, which the two captains decided to adhere to. A single goal scored during the game was superior to any number of tries (at goal) or touchdowns. Brighton decided to play under the codes and laws of Rugby College and of course later the Rugby Football Union (26th January 1871) affiliation to the RFU eliminated the need to find a team that played the game according the Rugby College laws.
In 1852, the Brighton Schools Provincial Club was formed and all games were played under the Rugby modified laws at the Sussex County Cricket Club. I have yet to establish the existence of other teams in the area, therefore I can only conclude that, with 450 members; the game was confined to three or four schools affiliated to the Brighton Club. The earliest documented fixture played in Brighton was in 1867 when Lancing College, Schools of Brighton and Brighton College played each other.
1868 saw the formation of the Brighton Shooflies under the guidance of W Stuckey (Major V.D.), F.C.Parsons (Liet-Col T.D.), and Charles G.Boxhall (Colonel Sir Charles Boxhall). I have no doubt that the Shooflies were initially an army team as the above Gentleman were serving in the 4th and 8th Field Artillery batteries based at Preston Barracks, Lewes Road, Brighton. Of personal interest, my local beer hostelry The Bugle frequented by present Brighton Rugby players was built in the 1860s and was at that time the closest Public House to the barracks. Therefore, I would like to think that the gentleman of the Shooflies partook in the odd tipple at the Bugle and that we are continuing the tradition! In the same year J.B.Woolley (Captain of Brighton Schools in 1867) formed another Brighton side The Wasps.
These two teams became great rivals and when they met quarter was neither given or asked. The season of 1873 saw The Shooflies beat the The Wasps convincingly on two occasions. The last game was memorable when on ground sodden with melting snow. Mr G.C.Dill come to blows with J.B.Woolley of The Wasps It was then that the Shooflies claimed and took the title The Brighton Football Club, despite the protests of Mr J.A.Body of The Wasps. That team thereupon ceased to exist and the two clubs united (the same J.A.Body played forward for England in 1872 and 1873, the first, but not the last international to come from Brighton FC!
The administration headquarters of the Brighton Football Club was Waters Wine Bar at the bottom of Spring Street (The Prince Arthur? Another old haunt of Brighton Rugby Club) where committee meetings were held over a dock glass of Sherry and emergency meetings were known to be held under the nearest convenient lamppost, (nothing changes!).
The Cubs fixture list included games against Lancing, Hurst and Brighton Colleges, Sussex County Hospital and Tonbridge School. Games were also played against Worthing who would only consent to play Rugby at Brighton if the Brighton Cub agreed to play soccer at Worthing! That season saw Worthing beat Brighton on their own ground by a last minute goal to nil. The match at Brighton under RFUs laws, had a very different outcome - Brighton produced the amazing score of 7 goals and 23 tries to Worthings nil!
Another brilliant rugby player and soldier who played at that time was Frank Mitchell. He won a Brighton honours cap in the 1891-92 season, gained a double Cambridge Blue and was captain of Rugby and Cricket at the University. He played for England as a forward against South Africa, was on the Barbarian Committee, the Kent CCC and served as a Lieutenant, in the York Dragoons. He fought at Bagshot and Shwartz Koffeafontain in South Africa, won the Queens Medal and was promoted to Lt Colonel. In his spare time! He wrote a book about the game Rugby Football, in the Hamilton Library series.
As well as producing many distinguished former players, Brighton can boast that it invented the Great Rugby Touring industry! In December 1902 we became the first English Rugby Club to tour France under the Rugby Union regulations. Our gallant Club met Stade Francais at the Parc de St Cloud (now Parc de Princes), and were defeated 9-3. The following year, Brighton had its revenge, and beat Stade by one try to nil. For that game, our playing shirts were White with the Brighton Crest and the socks were Black. But, in the same year, A.S.Anderson joined the Club from London Scottish, and introduced the Scarlet socks as worn by London Scottish and Scotland. In his day, the games were played at Preston Park, and Mr G.Short, of the Crown and Anchor Hotel provided the clubrooms and changing facilities.
Since those early days, a lot has happened to Brighton. We have many ground changes, including the traumatic uprooting of our Club from Horsdean to our present, and I may say luxurious facilities at Waterhall. But it is those pioneering times that capture the imagination most - and as more information comes to light, a greater comprehension of the history of our Club and the game of Rugby will be established.