Club History

Burnside Rugby Football Club History 

As the boundaries of the city of Christchurch began to spread north and west in the 1950’s Burnside, like many other new suburbs, was full of growing kids. However, there was no rugby club in the area. One Sunday morning in 1957, in a garage in Burnside, some rugby loving parents got together and decided that a rugby club in the area was a desirable necessity. As a consequence, the Burnside Rugby Football Club was established at a meeting of these enthusiastic locals in the Fendalton Hall on 28 August 1957. The inaugural formal meeting of the club was held in the same hall on 19 September 1957. 35 people attended the meeting and the first committee, under the Presidency of LH Esplin, was elected.

The first AGM of the club was held on 11 March 1958. The club entered nine teams in CRFU competitions in 1958, with the top team playing in the 4th grade but within 2 years the club had a team playing in the 2nd grade.

At the inaugural meeting it was decided that the club jersey and sock colours were to be red and white hoops and the shorts would be black. The club monogram was designed by Ken Blair and adopted from a number of suggestions at the 1959 Annual General Meeting. It was similar to that used by the recently opened Burnside High School and showed the clump of cabbage trees still standing in the school grounds. It is claimed that these clumps were in the early days used as a landmark by both Maori and European on their travels across the Canterbury plains

Initially, the Waimairi County Council allocated Jellie Park as the club home ground, but until it was ready for use the club was to use Fendalton and Burnside Parks. Until 1960 Fendalton Park and Jellie Park were the predominant club ground. In 1960 the club applied for five fields at Burnside Park in addition to the two at Jellie Park. At the end of 1960 one lighted field was established at Jellie Park. By the mid 1960s, Burnside Park had been established as the club’s home ground.

For the first decade of the club’s existence it had no permanent home. It operated out of a converted woolshed, then a meagre amenities block erected by the Waimairi County Council. The Russley Hotel was used for open grade after match gatherings. Finally, after years of negotiations with the local council, the club was given permission to build its clubrooms on Burnside Park. These clubrooms were officially opened on 3 October 1970. Extensions to the clubroom were opened in conjunction with the club’s 25th jubilee celebrations in 1982. The St John Ambulance Room, store room and garage complex were completed in 2002.  

In June 1966 the club became an Incorporated Society. A club constitution was also lodged with the Department of Internal Affairs. A year later, Paul McKay became the first club player to achieve national recognition with his selection in the NZ Colts team.

In 1973, 4 years after its initial application, the CRFU agreed the club could enter a team in the senior competition. In its first senior game, the team defeated Sydenham 21 – 10. Sadly it transpired to be the teams only win for that season. By 1975, 39 teams were playing under the Burnside banner, making it the biggest club in the South Island.

The senior team were the joint winners of the DCL Shield in 1977 for the first time. In its Jubilee year (1982) the senior team finally qualified for the top section of the play offs. Rob Penney and Dave Reid became the club’s first Canterbury A representatives in 1985.

1990 was most memorable for the selection of Shayne Philpott as the club’s first All Black. (Earlier that year Shayne had been a member of the NZ sevens team). Since Shayne, seven other club members (Jon Preston, Scott Robertson, Leon MacDonald, Caleb Ralph, Brad Thorn, Wyatt Crockett and Tom Taylor) have achieved the ultimate rugby prize – the All Black jersey. Further, club members Duane Major, Doug Havea and Greg Smith respectively have played for Canada, Tonga and Japan.  

After 19 years in the senior grade, our team, coached by Marty Taylor and Steve Ellis, finally won the 1992 senior final on Lancaster Park defeating Sydenham 25-19. The team repeated the win a year later. Unfortunately it would be another 13 years (2006) before the club again won the senior competition. The feat was next achieved in 2012.

On club day 1997, as part of the 40th anniversary of the club, the upstairs bar area was named the ‘Ivan Milner Lounge’ in his honour and to celebrate his 29 years as the Club Secretary. Less than one month later Ivan died. Club stalwart and life member Len Hanser’s significant contribution to all aspects of club life was acknowledged when the downstairs room was named the ‘Len Hanser Room’ in 1992. 

The late 1990’s witnessed many changes in the rugby scene with the introduction of the professional game and the need for clubs to become more commercial in how they operated, if they wished to survive. In 1998 Mike Lake was appointed the club’s first full time paid Manager. Subsequent General Managers have been Bob Upton and Ross Dixon. In 2014 the General Manager role was split into a Rugby Manager and Commercial Manager.

In 2000, forever the leader and ahead of government legislation, the club became the first rugby club in NZ to designate its clubrooms ‘Smoke Free.’ The proposal to go ’smoke free’ was met with strong vocal opposition from a small group of members, who threatened to leave and never return to the club. While a few of the opponents did not frequent the clubrooms for a period, after the introduction of the no smoking policy, most if not all were back by the start of the 2001 season.

Under the leadership of Ross Dixon, the first ever National Rugby Club Forum was organised and hosted by the club in 2003. About 80 clubs from all over NZ attended. The main message to emulate from the conference was the need for the NZRU to preserve and strengthen grass roots rugby. The national body, represented by their CEO Chris Moller promised the attendees that this would occur – a decade on has it really happened?

2007 was the 50th Anniversary Jubilee of the club. A committee, under the chairmanship of Bryan Neave (past Club Captain, President and a Life Member) was tasked with planning and organising a weekend of activities. Ex players and supporters from all over NZ and from abroad attended the various celebrations. The highlight function was the club dinner held in the Christchurch Convention Centre (demolished after the 2011 earthquake). 

Every year this century, the club has registered about 420 junior players and fielded 7 open grade teams. Club teams have continued to perform with merit in all grades. Almost without exception, at least 15 club players each year since 2000 have been selected in national and/or open grade representative teams.

Integral to the club since 1973 is a Joggers and Walkers Club who meet at the clubrooms every Sunday. Since 1994 the club had a golden oldies section. At one time the club had three golden oldies teams, but currently there is only the original team – namely the Burnside Battlers. In 1983 Stan Chamberlain, Ian Robert and Bob Murphy organized a touch 7’s tournament at Burnside Park. Initially there were only 26 teams. Over the years the team numbers have grown. Today, during the summer months, the Club hosts a touch 7’s module on two nights a week with about 100 teams per night participating. 

In 1982 the club appointed its first Life Members. Since then 26 members have been bestowed the honour of Life Membership. Greg Clapp and Chris Spence are respectively the longest serving President and Club Captain in the history of the club.

As at the end of the 2014 season, 31 men and 8 women have been deemed Club Centurions by virtue of having played 100 games for the club’s top male and female team. Three players, Colin Stokes, Regan Dixon and Matt Forster, have each played more than 200 games for the club’s senior team.

Since the club’s inception, it has strived to develop a club culture that is inclusive, welcoming and respectful irrespective of playing ability, as well as being family friendly. As a consequence we have families that have been involved in the club since day 1 – great granddad through to great grandson (4 generations).