OTLEY RUFC formed in 1865 and are one of the most distinguished rugby clubs in the country. The First XV have played at the top of the National Leagues for over a decade, and many internationals have come through the Junior section. Cross Green has hosted some memorable occasions, including the North’s defeat of the All Blacks in 1979, the North versus Australia in 1988, and Italy versus the USA in the 1991 Rugby World Cup.

There are currently more than 100 adult players and 250 young boys and girls who play their rugby at Otley, and over 30 RFU-qualified coaches and over 300 full and family members. They have a proud history of their success over the years which includes five league titles and seven Yorkshire Cup wins.

There are numerous famous players who started their rugby at Otley. Centre Frank Malir and prop Alf Bateson were the first players to be capped by England direct from Otley when they appeared against Wales in 1930. Leslie Manfield represented Wales in 1938 and Arthur Gray played for England against Wales in 1947. Perhaps the best-known product of the club is Nigel Melville who progressed through Otley’s junior ranks to the top of the English game, and then more recently, Paul Hill, who made his England debut on February 14, 2016.

This year, the club celebrates its 100 years at their historic Cross Green ground, which has quite a history all of its own and one that typifies the spirit that has made Otley the club it is today. It appears right from the start the club has relied on the support and generosity of its members and volunteers, which it continues to do so today.

Prior to 1921 Otley RUFC played at the old Wharfeside ground, but in July 1921 a special meeting of Otley RUFC vice-presidents was convened to consider buying the old show field in Pool Road, which covered an area of just over six acres. The club duly acquired the site, which is now Cross Green at a cost of £2,100 and a further £250 was spent on moving stands from the old Wharfeside ground.

The first match was played at Cross Green on September 17, 1921, when Otley defeated Wakefield 5-0. Eleven days later on September 28, 1921, the ground was officially opened when Otley defeated Ilkley 22-3 in an evening match. Mrs Wade, wife of the chairman of the committee, Phil Wade, started the match after the Ilkley Captain W Swales had handed Otley a cheque for five guineas as a contribution from the Ilkley club towards the new ground.

Following the acquisition of the ground the club’s committee and members spent thousands of hours on improvements, including levelling the playing area and fixing rails around the pitch. Invaluable in this context was the horse and cart of Frank Trenham, a local coal merchant.

In October 1924 the club and, in particular, the active ladies section held a bazaar in the Mechanics Institute (now better known as the old Civic Centre) which raised £1,125. Dressing rooms and baths were built at a cost of £700. The present main stand was acquired and transported from Preston and built at Cross Green by Peter Patrick timber merchants’ joiners and undertakers of Otley. In 1935 Lord Harewood officially opened the new 1,000-seater west stand and in 1937 Cross Green was further improved by the construction of a tearoom, which was funded by the sum of £330 raised by the ladies committee at another bazaar in the Mechanics Institute.

Prior to 1954 Otley’s RUFC headquarters were at the Black Horse hotel, but players and officials alike had long dreamed of having a club room at Cross Green. Those dreams were realised in 1954 with the erection of a prefabricated building 60ft by 24ft, which is now the long bar which forms part of the present extended clubhouse.

Despite wintry weather, the foundations were laid, and the contractors completed the shell of the building by the end of the 1953/54 rugby season. Then during evenings and on Saturdays and Sundays during the summer of 1954 club members, under the supervision of clerk of the works, Tom Kilmartin, turned their hands to a variety of jobs from laying drains, bricklaying, plumbing and joinery, to painting and decorating. At the outset it was estimated that the cost of the clubhouse would be in the region of £1,500, so the club solicited donations and accepted offers of professional skills and labour free of charge without which the cost of the project would have been much greater. Others pledged specific items such as a fireplace, a clock, and electrical fittings for the finishing off and furnishing of the room. Betty Tipping presented Otley RUFC with a wool tapestry containing more than 26,000 stitches of the Otley coat of arms. The tapestry had taken her nearly two months to complete. It was placed above the fireplace in the new club room, where it remains to this day.

The club would like to note they are eternally grateful to the late Peter Thomson who so diligently and accurately captured their history.