Wed 27 Nov 2019 22:01

Vipers 1988 to present:

There are two themes that run through the history of the Vipers from 1988-2011 and they very much embody the Corinthian spirit that has welded the club into the strong fraternity that it is today. On the playing side this period has borne witness to the rise and fall and subsequent resurrection of the first team as a force in county rugby. On the social side, the club has continued its strong growth in terms of both membership and participation, with a burgeoning mini section and a busy social calendar.

Senior sides
The late 1980's saw the Vipers at their peak in terms of achievements. The 1988/9 season saw them complete a unique hat trick. The First XV, under John Woodward beat Stoneygate 12-6 to win the County Cup, with the Second XV under Steve 'Bomber' Harris beating Syston 27-10 winning the Second XV County Cup. Finally, completing the club's dominance, the Colts, captained by Hayden Edwards beat a strong Wigston side 12-9 to complete the treble of County Cups. In the following season, only the Second XV managed to retain their trophy with a 31-0 win over Wigston.

It was in the 1991/2 season that the First XV completed a league and Cup double under the leadership of Captain Duncan Black, Coach Kelv Tiday and assistant coach with John Dakin. They were helped by the arrival of Dave Hopper and Biff Wareham on loan from the Leicester Tigers who complimented an already strong side containing the likes of Kev Steptoe, Colin Dexter, Graham Robb, John Woodward, Gary Lockwood, Phil Tebbs, Michael Hanrahan, Tony Onions, Kev Wright and Syd Sewell. In the final of the Cup they easily outclassed Hinckley. As a reflection of our strength at the time, the Tigers invited the First XV to play a training game at 'the Rec' at the start of the following season where they put us in our place in an enjoyable and testing encounter.

Sadly, the club then suffered a gradual, long term decline as senior players of the era either retired or sustained long term injuries. On top of that, the loan agreement with the Tigers ended as Tony Russ was replaced as Head Coach at Welford Road. Gradually, the Vipers found themselves unable to compete successfully at the Midlands One level and started dropping down the league divisions. It was very much a vicious circle as increasing losses and dampened morale led to further losses for the senior sides.

Throughout the difficult years of the mid 1990's on, the Vipers were able to fall back on the vigor and youth of the players of the Colts sides of the late 1980's, which enabled the club to fight a strong rearguard action as professionalism swamped the game at the county level. Through the loyalty of players like Paul Coltman, Martin 'Chinny' Williams, Karl Williams, Paul Bayliss, Tony Bailey, Joe Maxim, Stu Heron, Sam Johnson, Steve Goddard and others, the Vipers were able to remain true to the amateur ethos of the roots of both the game and of the club itself.

As some of these players started retiring, the club were blessed, as if on cue, with another good Colts side in the early Millennium which in 2001/2 had a successful season which culminated, not only in a County Cup win, but also in being the first Colts side from a junior club to get to the quarter finals of the National Cup. En route they beat Worcester Academy 15-12 in front of the Vipers faithful with Simon Hunt running in two tries. The quarter final saw them take on the might of Bath Rugby Club at the daunting Recreation Ground in Bath. The Vipers took the lead and led 7-5 at half time, leaving the home side in unexpected trouble with Richard Ife going over and James Love converting. In the end, the superior fitness of the Premiership club told, leaving the Vipers bowing honorably out of the competition. At that time they were the first County side to reach the competitions last 8.

On the 'domestic' front the colts, who were coached by Ray French and Steve Kenney and captained by Dale Agar won the County Cup 24-7 against Hinckley and also beat Syston in the final of the Leicestershire 7's to complete an unbeaten season against any Midlands side. The 'B' team also reached the semi final stage showing the strength in depth of the club, at that level, at the time. The Hunt brothers (Chris and Simon) who were both the oldest and youngest members of the team finished top scorers for the season. Many of these players are now playing at a higher level with other clubs, but a number stayed and are still with the club today.

Vipers have always had a strong development sides producing good quality players who go on to grace the 1st team. In 2003 the under 17’s won the county cup beating Belgrave in the final. Again many of that year have gone on to play at the highest level for the club, such as Lee Simmons, Matt Hall, Sam Smith, Sam Kerr, David Brooks and Wes Cartwright.

These colts came into the senior grade as the First XV had been reduced to competing at the Midlands 4 East (South) level and struggling with a shrinking player base as the money permeated all levels of the game and took promising youngsters away, depriving amateur clubs of their most valuable resource. In the spirit of the club, the senior players had been fighting the decline, but it was and had been a constant struggle as other clubs poached the homegrown talent that should have fed the First XV through the years. It was with the emergence of the Colts side of the early millennium, that the club finally had some hope of reversing the decline.

This crop of talent coming through, coincided with the arrival of a new coach in the form of Vipers old boy, Willem Veldhuizen, who's ...ahem....'one in, all in'.... philosophy permeated through the First XV, helping to create the sort of spirit that was needed to halt and begin reversing the decline. In Mark Booton, Chris Hoult and Simon Rumble, the Vipers finally had the foundations in terms of playing leadership for a stronger future with a side that had an average age of 23 and when Martin 'Chinny' Williams wasn't playing, 22.

Mark Anderson took over as coach thereafter. He followed two County Finals with promotion to Midlands 3 East (South). The club was further bolstered by having a very strong second team which had benefited from having another strong set of Colts. The summer saw the addition to the squad of some very influential players in Craig Hewitt, Steve Fraher along with Jared and John Stanford from South Africa. The First XV concentrated on a strong set piece with almost guaranteed lineout and scrum ball and used the maul to devastating effect. Our blisteringly quick blitz defence forced the opposition to kick away possession, normally back to John Hart or Jared Stanford who would often cut through disorganised defences with pacey, incisive, counter attacks. Our most difficult and memorable challenge was against Peterborough Lions who were playing at the Peterborough Football ground. When we won that game in November we knew we had the squad to achieve promotion. That season we only lost one game in the league, away at Brackley, 10 – 9. In all games the record for the year was - played 29 won 25 with 1046 points for and 277 against. Some of those that were instrumental in our promotion were - Simon Rumble, Steve Fraher, Joe Maxim, Dean Hill, Steve Herbert, Stu Heron, Jim Bob Hodges, Craig Tyers, Dom Hawes, Mark Solomons, Stu Kenny, Craig Hewitt, Paul Richardson, Johnny Hart, Jared Stanford, John Stanford, Adrian Tomlinson, Wayne Hutchinson, and the coaching staff of Mark Anderson, Steve Solomons and John Haynes (the physio who kept them all on the field). The club is currently playing at the Midlands 2 East (South) level.

The Vipers Fraternity
Throughout the years of relative decline the Vipers was held together by the spirit and fortitude of its membership. Time after time, that spirit would be tested and in the face of adversity, it was never found wanting. From people helping behind the bar, to Bob Watson, tirelessly managing the First XV, to lower sides being heavily beaten having lost players to fill holes in the senior sides at the last minute. Even as the playing membership dropped perilously low, there was never any support for a merger, which had become the easy way out for clubs in a similar position.

During the 1990's the vipers lower sides were very successful in particular the Fourth team captained by Pete Brewin, with Alan Johnson as vice captain, went virtually unbeaten for many seasons. This resulted in many players joining the Vipers social playing sides and additional sides being formed. During the 90`s Vipers was probably the only team in Leicestershire to put out six teams. This meant running 2 x 5th teams, as both sides were pretty close on merit they were named Cobras & Adders. The Cobras run by Paul Toon and Chris Cary, whilst the Adders were captained by John Carr. Many amusing stories from these days are still reminisced about today – on one occasion full back Kev Tams tripped up in the long grass at the Jimmies, pulled a muscle and had to leave the game without touching the ball. Another amusing tale was at Ashby RFC when Chris Cary was demanding ‘no tap ball' from the line out from his captain Paul Toon. As a scrum half his nickname, 'Scary' Cary, came from his ability to take his eye of the ball and watch for flankers hunting him down. However, Paul spotted a very big puddle in front of him, and tapped it straight into the puddle and then saw Chris completely immersed in the puddle with a round 10 players on top of him and his little legs sticking out of the side. At which point Paul and the pack thought they'd better pull him out as he's a Rhodesian born lad not much used to pond diving. Up came a miniature Fran Cotton, mud covered and shouting “I could have drowned" several times to the guy’s amusement.

This sort of camaraderie that still binds our lower sides today based around such Vipers luminaries as Andrew 'Jock' Keenan, Richard 'Dr Death' Ward, Stu 'Salmon' Allen, Robin Snow, Pete Ward, Pete Tongue and many others.

The Vipers has always focused on the facilities it provides to its playing members and has consistently looked to improve them following the building of the upstairs club room in 1989 there have been a number of projects undertaken by the club. These include the building of a gymnasium, balcony, additional changing rooms and floodlighting the training area and pitch. This has been driven by club members who have contributed greatly – Steve Matts, Jamie White, Martin Williams, Andrew Keenan and Steve Harris with many more helping.

The Vipers pitches are among the best in the county, Groundsman Ian Reid has been looking after them since 1993 and was awarded Volunteer Groundsman of the Year 2009 which was presented to Ian at the Emirates Stadium.