The rise of Hemel Stags

Rugby league came to Hemel Hempstead on the 5th April 1981, when Hemel played their first match at Pennine Way, losing 38-0 against Walthamstowe-based McEntee.

During the summer of 1981 the club was formally constituted and joined the Second Division of the South Amateur Rugby League.

Success on the field was hard to come by. Nethertheless the club was determined to prosper and in their fourth season they opened their first social club at Pennine Way in February 1985.

A move to the Midlands & South West Rugby League brought playing success and on the club’s return to the London Amateur Rugby League in 1987 they became the dominant force of amateur rugby league in the South.

In 1991 the club was admitted to the Rugby League Alliance playing the reserve teams of professional clubs. At the same time the club appointed Chris Tate as their first full-time Development Officer with the task of developing junior and youth players in Hemel.

Growing confidence in the club saw the opening of a completely new social club with the old clubhouse being converted to changing rooms.

A move to the National Conference League saw the club narrowly miss promotion to the professional ranks in 1993. In 1994, the club had its finest day when they played London Broncos in the Regal Trophy. Coached by David Ellis, who went on to become defence coach of the French National Rugby Union team, they led the Broncos 18-6 at half time only to succumb in the final 10 minutes. The club’s playing depth that day was emphaised when, in the curtain-raiser, their reserves won the Southern Counties Cup against the all-Kiwi South London Warriors.

A switch to summer rugby and a return to the Rugby League Alliance in 1997 brought success under player-coach Jay Turrner who secured the First Division title in 1998 and the right to play Super League Alliance in 1999. At the same time the club applied to join the Northern Ford Premiership but were turned down due to the lack of a suitable ground.

Ground difficulties meant the club had to drop down to the Rugby League Conference in 1999 and in 2003 became founder members of National League Three, later to become the Rugby League Conference National. A Grand Final spot under new coach Troy Perkins was achieved in 2006 with the club losing to old rivals Bramley Buffaloes.

The arrival of Callum Irving as Community Rugby League Coach in 2006 revitalised junior rugby league in Hemel and subsequently led to the club joining the prestigious Gillette National Youth League in 2008.

From 2002 onwards the club had begun to address the ground issues at Pennine Way. In September 2008 they obtained planning permission for a small stadium at Pennine Way and in 2010 the first stage was completed with the enclosure of the ground and the opening of an all-weather training pitch and the floodlighting of the main pitch.

Cheif Executive Officer and Chairman, Bob Brown, has been an important part of the club since it was founded and he had this to say:

“When we started off in 1981 it was a struggle just to get to the end of our first season. After a couple of seasons – when we decided we were here to stay – we set out to put deep roots into the community and the building of our first clubhouse in 1985 was the first clear indication of that policy.

“Player development came next and now every secondary school in Hemel plays the sport at all age groups. The step up to Championship 1 this season has been a natural evolution of the club’s aspirations as we seek to give our players a pathway to the top.”

As for the future, Brown thinks the possibility of Hemel climbing further up the rugby league ladder is very real, but it will take a lot of hard work.

“A regular place in the Championship is achievable in the future. Beyond that, the currrent limitations of playing facilities in Hemel will be a key factor in future progress.”

 

To win tickets to Hemel’s next home Kingstone Press Championship One match, against Rochdale on Sunday 7th July, click here.

Kingstone Press Cider has teamed up with LoveRugbyLeague to celebrate all things great about the rugby league Championships. For the rest of the season, ‘Championing the Championships’ campaign will put a weekly spotlight on each Championship and Championship 1 club to focus on their most memorable moments, look back at the clubs heroes and reward the loyal fans. Read more.

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