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"New York, New York, a helluva town.
The Bronx is up, but the Battery's down.
The people ride in a hole in the groun'.
New York, New York, it's a helluva town!"
(From the musical On The Town, lyrics by Comden and Green)
New York is also noted as the home of the New York Rugby Football Club, founded in 1929, the oldest club dedicated to rugby in the United States. This past September, the club commemorated its 85th-Anniversary with special celebratory events and memories.
A few British ex-patriots, looking to play rugby in the United States, started the club. It advertised for players in a New York city newspaper column. Soon after, Yale, Harvard, and Princeton also organized teams to play in an eastern four-club format.
The advantage to having Old Boys as founders was their knowledge of club rugby both from a playing and an organizational perspective. The secretary, Alfred Woodley, an ad man, realized that for the NYRFC to welcome visiting UK teams, it had to be registered officially with the England Rugby Football Union (RFU), which, at that time was the unofficial world arbiter of all things rugby. He applied, and in 1932-33, the RFU granted recognition to the first club in the USA. This formal approval paved the way for a touring Cambridge University side in 1937.
From a four club beginning, soon, six more rugby clubs started locally, including the French Club (NYC), Long Island, and a northern New Jersey side among others, to play in a ten-team Eastern Rugby Union. After rugby started in Chicago in the late 1930s, that club commenced a home and away series with New York RFC, beginning the concept of intra-city play.
The NYRFC suspended play during World War II but restarted after the conflict. During the decade of the 1950s, the club stood at the heart of the resurgence of eastern rugby, new teams formed at M.I.T., Amherst, Williams, Dartmouth, and Cornell, and a second non-college club, Clint Blume's Westchester.
The NYRFC also birthed the Manhattan RFC in 1960 when four NYRFC players, (including Malachy McCourt) disgruntled with their lack of playing time, started the new club. A few years later, Old Blue would begin from former Columbia University students. This led to the annual four-team New York area rivalry of NYRFC, Manhattan, Old Blue, and Westchester.
Two publicans each from New York and Manhattan opened east side rugby pubs, the Mad Hatter (NY, John Barnes, Manhattan, Pat Ryan), and Drake's Drum (Frank Casa, NY, and Jimmy Duke, Manhattan). Chronologically, it was Westchester's George Mayer's Geordies that first began the rugby-bar trend on Third Avenue in the upper Eighties.
Over time, the NYRFC smartly made mergers with other, local clubs, and opened its doors and its history to women. It thrives today as a productive club, emphasizing all that's best about rugby in America.
And, oh yes, it began the nation's first seven-a-side tournament (The New York Sevens) in 1959, which celebrates its 55th anniversary tomorrow at 8 a.m. at Randall's Island when 130 plus men's and women's teams from here and from Canada take to the pitches. The current success of sevens rugby in the US owes much to this fabulous tournament.
To the NYRFC, we offer heartfelt congratulations on these two special anniversaries.
(The musical On The Town has been recently revived on Broadway.)