There is a delightful photograph in the Clubhouse’s Bonberry Bar of the 15 men who turned out for the new Thames Valley Rugby Club in February 1922. They all look very smart in white kit, with intricately laced boots and neatly parted hair. They had survived WWI, and Captain R.K. Dibb was in charge. In their middle sits R. A. ‘Roy’ Bonberry, who was influential in founding the Club, and guided its development for the next 60 years. Could any of them have imagined, that nearly 100 years later their new club, and their opponents that day, would still be battling for supremacy. The opponents were Berkshire Wanderers, who eventually became Reading, followed in turn by Thames Valley becoming Maidenhead in 1965. For the record, the Wanderers won the first game and the next two, before Thames Valley emerged triumphant February 1923, winning 6-3.
That first game was played on the Cookham Football Club ground, but soon afterwards Valley’s home pitch was based on the Bray Show Ground, which lay on the flat ground adjacent to the Bray Road, across the fields and The Cut from the current pitches, and this remained the Club’s home until 1926, when they moved to a permanent ground in Kidwells Park. This historic event is commemorated by the RBWM by an information board at the entrance to the park. Kidwells remained home for nearly 40 years, the venue for famous encounters with some wonderful teams of yesteryear, such as the Royal School of Mines, the Hong Kong and Shanghai Bank, the Chartered Bank of India, the Coldstream Guards, and the all important Great Western Railway RFC. They turned up very early on, thus proving to the committees of clubs from Somerset and beyond, that we have always been part of the South West of England.
Roy Bonberry proved to be an influential figure. Over Christmas 1921, he had organised a game in aid of the Lord Mayor’s Poor Box, on Cookham Moor, this proved so popular that a meeting followed in the Royal Exchange (now Malik’s) in Cookham. Jobs were apportioned to volunteers, and off they set to get things established. Bolstered by the popularity of Maidenhead’s weekend night club scene (there were a number of them between the Bridge and Boulter’s lock) many players found it easy to combine a game in the afternoon with debauchery down by the river. The Club blossomed, started an ‘A ‘ XV and everything went smoothly until Hitler brought things to a standstill in 1939. Bonberry got things going again in 1948, and are currently playing in our 95th year.
We face this milestones with a superb clubhouse and a thriving membership, three senior sides and a vast host of youth members and their families, all subscribing to the belief that rugby brings something special to one’s life, and to the way one lives it. What would those 15 young men of the 1922 side think if they could see it all now on a Saturday afternoon, or better still a Sunday morning. Bonberry himself would have been delighted, for he was still the President in 1983, when he passed away after some 60 years in office, his contribution to the Club will always be remembered through our Bonberry Bar.
He had watched over a club that had moved to Braywick in 1966/67, built a proper clubhouse, and was running six and sometimes eight senior XVs every Saturday, together with a Colts XV, much loved by the more senior players, a team started and run by the irrepressible Alan Crosland, which helped to prepare the foundations for today’s very successful youth teams. Roy was always supported by a number of dedicated men and women working behind the scenes. Whilst it is success on the field of play that retains the memories, and always takes the praise, such success could not have been achieved without the help of so many unsung heroes and heroines, and their successors of today.
When the club made the move to Braywick, Mike Davis skippered the 1st XV, and he handed over to Martyn Gulliford, a flanker, who demanded dedication towards training and playing from his teams. This led in the 1970’s to a period of wonderful rugby, when the 1st XV, captained now by Derek Harris, brought a standard of success to Braywick that helped force a change in attitude from rugby’s old guard, who had to take notice of developments in grass-root rugby throughout the country.
Knock-out County cup matches started, Maidenhead won several, and these various competitions led in turn to the formation of a National KO Cup. Called the John Player Cup for some time, it’s first ever game was played at Braywick, when Wakefield turned up to bring us down to earth with a bang. Undaunted we turned out in following years against Saracens and Harlequins , before things calmed down a little. But the record for the 1974/5 season tells the story – P38, W36, L2, F. 931, A. 244, ( a try then earned 4 points) and such legends from the past give just cause to the expectations of success for today.
Derek’s successors as captain, Dick Brown, Allan Carter, Ian Boyd, Dave Course and Allan Greene continued to keep the Club at the forefront of the development of community rugby. The Southern Merit Table was formed and won, and then in 1987 the RFU took heed of the overall demand and shoehorned the whole country into a league structure. Maidenhead were placed firmly in SW1 (South West Division 1), where broadly speaking we have spent most of our time ever since. Promotion to National League 4 in 1989/90 was to last for one season, and we remained in SW1 throughout the next decade, before relegation to SW2 came in 2001/02. Spurred on by this Head-coach Simon Edwards rebuilt the side and their efforts brought success in 2003/04 with a return to SW1.
At the time SW1 was oft regarded as the most difficult league in England to win, and in 2004/05, following the promotion, Allan Greene led his men to a creditable 5th place. Then in 2007/08 we dropped into SW2 once again, Simon stepped down to concentrate on his RFU duties, Ricky Khan took over as coach, and with Mark Mueller as skipper, the team bounced straight back into SW1 with some outstanding displays of running rugby. Then a much changed team found this league tough going and we dropped back into SW2E for the 2010-11 season, but with Richie Craig as skipper, we bounced back in style, coming second behind Amersham & Chiltern, and missing automatic promotion by a single point.
Promotion, this time to NL3SW came at the end of the 2011-12 season, but once again the opposition proved too strong for us and we dropped back, this time into SW1E for the 2013-14 season. Allan Greene took over as Coach and Mykel Parrott as Captain, and work began on rebuilding the team. Russell Bolton took over from Allan at the start of the 2015-16 season and carried on the good work, leading the club to be promoted as league champions in 2016/17 to enter the National leagues at level 5.
Our first season back at level 5 (South West Premier) saw the squad strengthened both internally from Maidenhead youth players coming through and also with some key positions strengthened to ensure that our see saw relationship at this level was halted. In a league that proved as hard as we had imagined, the coaching staff, back room staff and all the players throughout the senior side stepped up and the squad finished a very credible third in the league.
Throughout the very testing times, Maidenhead remained competitive, because we have the backing and support of our hugely successful Youth Division, which has constantly proved to be the breeding ground for new players in the senior XVs. Exceptional men, such as James Haskell, Thom Evans, and Tom Guest move on, but we benefit from the loyalty and talents of so many other excellent young players. But whether they honed their craft at Braywick or elsewhere, all the players turning out for Maidenhead today will be aware that they are part of a great rugby club, and all should doff their scrum caps to honour Roy Bonberry and his friends, who kicked it all off, just 95 years ago.