It was back in 1874 when a group which also included some members of Stoke Cricket Club took part in what could be described as the first organised game of Rugby Football played in Coventry. Played against Allesley Park College in Allesley, it took the form of one half conducted according to rugby rules and the other according to association rules.
The first headquarters were established at Old Bull Fields and in the formative years Coventry remained pretty well unbeaten. When the ground became enclosed, it became known as the Butts with the first match played there against Stourbridge in 1880. By the late 1890s, involvement began in the Midland Counties Cup which was won a total of five times. The first club captain was Harry Ratliff, who later emigrated to the United States.
By now players were winning representative honours, W Judkins becoming the club’s first British Lion in 1899 during the tour to Australia – overall, 10 Coventry players have over the years worn the famous red jersey.
Ben Tuke & H G Wells were the club’s first internationals, both representing Ireland in 1894.
W L Oldham became the first of the club’s great forwards of the 20th century as the first to represent England. Early in the century the Butts was lost when the professional Northern Union game took brief hold in the city.
By the end of the First World War, the Butts had been taken over by a local firm and a temporary home was found at the Coventry & North Warwickshire Cricket Ground at Binley Road before Coundon Road was purchased in 1921 and developed as the club’s headquarters which was to last for over 80 years.
What was considered to be the first golden era of Coventry rugby came in the mid-1920s when losses were very infrequent. That brilliance continued and carried over with Coventry producing six England internationals as well as playing a full part in the early Warwickshire successes in the County Championship.
Regular representative matches by now were being staged at Coundon Road, at the same time playing successes for the club were continuing built upon local talent including many schools internationals.
The years of the Second World War brought more disruption, but from a playing point of view despite the inevitable difficulties, it became one of the most remarkable periods in the club’s history. Many players remained locally for essential war work because of the importance of the city as a key engineering centre, and consequently a record 72 games were won in succession, with a number of players becoming Victory internationals.
All that ensured that when hostilities finished the Club was immediately into its stride again as success continued. The early 1950s saw something of a dip in fortune, but it was not to last too long as the club continued to produce many international players, not only for England but also Scotland and Wales. In 1958 the Midlands won their first-ever match against a touring side, some two thirds of the team which defeated Australia coming from the Coventry club.
This was also the time when again Coventry players totally dominated the County side, which saw Warwickshire win the title 7 times in 8 seasons.
The early 60s saw the club’s players continue to win international honours, indeed by the early 70s at one time 13 players from the club were representing England. The RFU Club Knock Competition, later to be known as the John Player Cup, was won in consecutive seasons 1972/73 and 73/74, the second of which coincided with the centenary celebrations.
Merit tables were then beginning to come on the scene, the early years seeing the club at the top end of both the England & Wales versions. The 80s, however, saw a dip in playing fortune and when League Rugby was first introduced in 1987 the club spent just one season in what is now known as the Premiership.
The next 10 years or so became something of a struggle before the 1996/97 season saw the side get to within a whisker of promotion back to the top division, just losing out in a double-headed play-off to London Irish.
It was however to be at a severe cost for within a little over 12months severe financial difficulties hit the club before a rescue package was put together just in time for the 1999/2000 season.
By now, however, Coundon Road was in need of considerable investment and after some 84 years the decision was made to move away and back full circle to the club’s beginnings. The Butts Park Arena saw its first game in September 2004, but again financial difficulties were to bite and it took the considerable efforts of members, supporters, former players and companies to rescue the situation during the summer of 2008. Even then, during the 2009/10 season it took the combined efforts of the Advisory Board to keep the club afloat before the first Board Of Directors was formed.
Relegation unsurprisingly followed from the Championship, the club regrouping in National League One for the 2010/11 season with the players, previously full time becoming part time again. Steady progress has followed under the guidance of the Board, the desired aim being to climb back into the Championship but not at any cost financially as strict budgets are adhered to.
Another real plus area over recent seasons as the Club continues to build towards the future has been the development and work within the Community Coach programme, in particular among schools and universities, brought about following generous help from sponsors. While clubs within the Premiership have, through help from the RFU, developed their own Academies, the Coventry club have also made considerable strides in that direction with their own Academy Development squad through Henley College.