Thatto Heath 1981
Thatto Heath has always been an area renowned as a hotbed for Rugby League producing high quality players in the past including one of the all time greatest players - Alex Murphy.
Formed in 1981, by ex-Saints star Frankie Barrow, Thatto Heath was accepted into North West Counties Division 4 with the ‘A’ Team entering Division 5.
The team moved swiftly through the divisions and finished the 1986/87 season in a "Blaze of Glory" by lifting the NWC Premier Division Championship Trophy, the St Helens Cup and an appearance in the BARLA National Cup Final with an impressive 15-8 victory over newly crowned National Conference League Champions Heworth. Captain John McCabe entered the record books as the only player to appear on the winning side in five National Cup Finals.
Head coach, Frankie Barrow, moved into the professional game at the end of that season and everybody expected Heath’s bubble to burst but not so. During the last 20 years Heath have gone from strength to strength to become arguably one of the most successful outfits in amateur rugby league circles (in terms of silverware) and one National Cup Trophy, a record five County Cups, two Champions Challenge successes, a record seven NWC Premier Division titles, two NWC Challenge Cups, three NWC Premier Challenge Cups and eight St Helens Cups would certainly justify that particular claim.
During the same period Heath had no less than nine confrontations against professional opposition and performed creditably on each occasion, their best being their famous win against Chorley Chieftains (12-27) in the Silk Cut Challenge Cup third round in January 1996.
Over the years, numerous Thatto Heath players moved on to join the professional ranks including Andy Brown, Gary Forber, Scott Ranson, Stuart Wakefield, Barry Ashall (Swinton), Darren Harris, Paul Bishop, Darren Abram, Gary Sanderson (Warrington), Derrick Seabrook, Steve Dudley (St Helens), Neil Slater (Trafford Borough), Chris Honey (Barrow), Arthur Bradshaw (Salford) and in more recent times, Ray Waring, Ste Gee, Mark Gleave and Lydon Smith (Chorley Chieftains).
Several members who have given the Club immense pride in their individual honours include John McCabe (NWC Coach of the Year on three occasions), Neil Slater (NWC Coach of the Year and BARLA tourist), Chris Honey (NWC Player of the Year, BARLA Tourist and BARLA Player of the Year 1990/91) and Nigel Dye (BARLA Tourist and NWC Player of the Year 1993/94).
Heath has been somewhat nomadic during this period, starting life playing in a local park-Sherdley Park. They moved to Sutton Leisure Centre, then back to Sherdley Park and have played at West Park RUFC for the last couple of seasons.
In the spring of 1999, Heath opened talks with local side St Helens Crusaders regarding a merger of the two Clubs. St.Helens Crusaders had been in existence for a similar length of time as Thatto Heath and were known well for its strong junior/youth section that had produced players such as Keiron Cunningham (St Helens) and Lee Briers (Warrington), a section that Heath had been forced to abandon in the early 90’s due to lack of suitable facilities.
St.Helens Crusaders 1982
Two rugby league fanatics, Danny Rylance and Dave Matthews, formed St Helens Crusaders in the spring of 1982. Both these men were employed at Saints in the entertainment section of the Club.
The first training session was held on Saints training ground at the front of the Club. The first game was played against Ince St Williams in Wigan, and the Crusaders were narrowly defeated, 84 – 0 (how things change). Of the six players who trained that spring morning, and played in that first game, two are still connected to the current Thatto Heath Crusaders. Matt Knowles who went onto to play for Wigan and Swinton and had a spell in Australia before returning to coach our 1st team. Secondly, Clint Rylance, who signed for the now defunct South Wales team, and later for Prescot Panthers, and also had 12 months playing in Australia, together with a successful, playing period with the Warrington Club, Woolston Rovers. Eventually the St.Helens Crusaders were accepted into the NWC League at under 11’s level and within two years of starting, were running teams at u/10’s, u/11’s, u/12’s, and u/13’s. These were exciting times for the new boys in town, and they soon became the envy of some of the other Clubs in the area.
Already, this little Club had provided players for the Lancashire teams at all age’s up to u13’s and also produced many town players. To name all these players would not be possible due to the lack of space, however here are a few that spring to mind: Philip (Charlie) Woods, Paul Hatton (present open age player), Paul Marsh, Keiron Cunningham (Saints) Clint Rylance (u18s coach), Matt Knowles (1st team coach) and Steve Prescot (Hull F.C. and Saints) to name but a few. This trend has continued to this day with the Club supplying a modicum of junior and senior internationals, yet regularly providing both Town and County Junior and Open Age players – too numerous to mention. The Club’s coaching staff has also been recognised by representation at International, County, and Continued Improvement Camps.
The St.Helens Crusaders was given its name from Jimmy Holding, the father of ex-Saints player Neil. Like Thatto Heath, St.Helens Crusaders were nomads in the early years before putting roots down at the United Glass - Bobbies Lane site, and as the years went by, the Club grew and provided facilities for players aged from 7 to 18 to train and play and most importantly, enjoy rugby league. Two open age teams were also formed with some success but eventually folded after the merger with Thatto Heath. However, with the enforced withdrawal of United Glass from the town and the shutting down of the United Glass Social Club and grounds at Bobbies Lane, things got harder and harder for the St.Helens Crusaders.
Faced with the prospect of having no ground, the situation needed urgent attention. On behalf of the Committee, the then Chairman, Dave Yates approached the Thatto Heath Chairman, Chris Honey to inquire whether a previously proposed merger was still on offer and the rest is history as in the summer of 1999, after a joint mass meeting at the SIDAC Social Club, the merger was given the go-ahead and the two Clubs became one Thatto Heath Crusaders – St.Helens. The merger was appropriate for both Clubs for different reasons as it secured the future of the junior members and supported and maintained the position of an already successful open age set-up.
Thatto Heath Crusaders – post 1999
Two competitions were organised circa 1999, one to design a new playing kit for all the junior teams – won by Adam Critchley and another to design a new Club badge – won by Kev Woodward (although slightly altered by Dave Yates at a later stage) – Grand Final tickets and entry into Crusaders folklore was their prize.
The junior section continues to operate under the wing of the main committee, which is a healthy and hardworking mixture of the old Thatto Heath committee and the old St.Helens Crusaders committee. In no particular order are some ‘old stalwarts’ from both Clubs still providing yeoman service including Mike Denning, Danny Rylance, Janet Haselden, Mally Lynch, Dave Yates, Dave and Chris Picton, Ray Jacks and Martin Eden to name just a few. The junior section, very ably led by Danny Rylance who returned to the fold, organises the day to day running of the u/7’s through to the u/18’s, and has a very enthusiastic body of people who raise much needed funds and cooperate with the main committee that is very competently led by Mike Denning to help run this very big and successful rugby Club. It is fair to say that all individuals involved in this Club demonstrate immense passion, enthusiasm, and pride in the performance of the Club and in their own contributions.
The Club is now going from strength to strength, and our own Clubhouse and base is soon to be realised at Close Street, Thatto Heath in St.Helens. The Club now runs teams from U/7’s right through to U/18’s and two open-age sides. On the playing front, the Club is now the premier Club in town and one of the top Clubs in the country, and a credit to all connected to the Club, past and present.
In 1999/2000, under the guidance of Gary Forber and Darren Abram, Crusaders looked to surpass that successful season of 1986/87. They won the Millennium Trophy (held at Blackbrook), the Lancashire Cup, the NWC Premier Challenge Cup and St Helens Cup but unfortunately missed out on the two that they really wanted-the BARLA National Cup (beaten at the quarter final stage) and losing the NWC Premier League title to local rivals Haydock in a league play-off.
Elected into the National Conference League in 2000/2001 season and under the direction of ex-Saints star Steve Peters and ex-Swinton player Carl McCabe, Heath realised their true potential once more, lifting the League Express BARLA National Cup, and winning the National Conference Division 2 Championship.
This season they are under the control of Paul Hatton, aided by Darren Harris, Gary Welsby and Martin Horton, and are hopeful of continued success and promotion to the National Conference Premier Division.
Off the field, Thatto Heath Crusaders – St.Helens were pleased and proud to announce that in March 2003 they achieved the prestigious Clubmark Accreditation, awarded by Sport England. Thatto Heath Crusaders are the very first RL Club in the country to independently achieve this status. Clubmark is a cross-sport national quality accreditation scheme for sports clubs working with young people and young people. Clubmark is a national set of standards/criteria and has been developed in partnership with sport governing bodies that enable a sports organisation to achieve a desired standard in duty of care and young person protection, sports equity and ethics, the playing programme and Club management. On 9th.May a party of officials and players were presented with accreditation certificate at the half time of a St.Helens RLFC Super League game at Knowsley Road.