Our Chichester rugby reporter retires with happy memories

Roger Gould at Oaklands Park / Picture by Kate Shemilt
Roger Gould at Oaklands Park / Picture by Kate Shemilt

Roger Gould has hung up his notebook and pen after nearly 20 years covering their matches for the Observer. Here reflects on what has been a successful time for the Oaklands Park outfit

In 2001-02, the 75th anniversary of Chichester Rugby Club, the first XV won promotion from the modest Sussex one league to London south east.

Led by their inspirational captain Ben Polhill, they were also finalists for the first time in the Sussex Cup, where they lost narrowly to Worthing.

In the seasons that followed, I saw them rise steadily to become the second best team in Sussex and Hampshire combined. They gained three more promotions and won the Sussex Cup twice. They thrived because of talented players and good coaching.

In 2003 they won promotion again and lost an enthralling cup final to Haywards Heath after extra time by 39-32. Heath were in a much higher league at the time and were shellshocked by the Chi performance.

The Blues spent the next six seasons toiling in London south east three and owed a lot to Andy Turner and Paul Colley, who were at different times head coach and director of rugby. They were well-supported by energetic and long-serving president Alan Bradford and chairman Keith Martin.

Richard Johnson was captain in the 2004 season when they finished third. In 2005 they had a big win against Portsmouth in the Powergen Intermediate Cup, 41-24, which reflected continuing potential for higher levels.

Despite slipping a bit to mid-table in 2008, they beat Tonbridge Juddians 73-0 at the end of the season which relegated the Kent side – who never forgot it.

There was great celebration when Chi became champions and achieved the double by winning the Sussex Cup in 2009, beating Hove 22-19, captained by Moses Kasujja. There were some great scenes at their last home game, when they beat Guernsey 40-21.

Now in London two south, which became London one south after league reorganisation, the excellent squad competed hard for five more seasons to obtain the great prize of National League status.

Richard Isaac was head coach for a time and with Scott Barlow captain they finished third in three seasons. They won the Sussex Cup against East Grinstead in 2011 and in February 2014, Chi set their record score when they beat Beckenham 112-15.

Then on a wonderful day at Oaklands Park they were in a promotion play-off in 2014.

They were up against Essex team Eton Manor in front of a huge crowd. Victory by 25-16 came with the Blues led again by Polhill – the very last game for Kasujja, who had run out first on the pitch to great applause.

National three south comprised 14 teams from nine counties, stretching from Suffolk to Guernsey. It meant tough games every week against many semi-professionals and involved long-distance travelling to away games.

Former player Rob Lawrence had taken over as head coach in 2012 and in their first season in National three they achieved seventh place, beating teams like London Irish Amateur and Bury St Edmunds at home and Tonbridge Juddians and Westcombe Park away.

Injuries took a heavy toll but they were tenth in their second season and took the scalps of Bracknell, Guernsey and Wimbledon among others.

The 2016-17 brought their only relegation in very unlucky circumstances. They had beaten strong opponents like Dorking, Shelford, Hertford and Westcombe Park and, in their best away display, they hammered Guildford 27-6.

In my opinion, their most memorable win was against a team of mostly semi-professionals who were called East Grinstead,but most of whom came from other places and had played previously in National two. They arrived full of confidence but Chi outplayed them with great spirit and sent them away well-beaten 23-6.

The Blues have consolidated this season back in London one south and the prospects remain good if we can get more games for the second XV to underpin the firsts as they have done in the past.

I have enjoyed supporting and writing about Chichester Blues – and we can be proud of them.

- Roger Gould