The story really begins almost 370 years ago.
The mid-17th century saw many momentous events take place in England. Civil war, the execution of the king, Cromwell seizing power backed by his New Model Army and in South East London a less publicised but, from our point of view, an even more important event took place. In 1652, one year before Cromwell seized total power from Parliament, the pioneering Reverend Abraham Colfe, Vicar of Lewisham, founded Colfe’s School. In this time of great change and Puritanism, when social conditions for the majority were abysmal, his aim was to provide a good quality education for local children whose parents could not afford to send them to a fee-paying school.
A few years later – nearly two and a half centuries to be more precise – the first meeting to form a club for former pupils was held on 28 March 1885 and, dating from 1901, there is a letter advocating the formation of a Rugby Club. It was the change from soccer to rugby football at the school in 1925 that finally gave the impetus to the birth of OCRFC. The Old Colfeians’ Rugby Football Club was officially formed at a meeting on 22 June 1928.
For the next sixty years Old Colfeians enjoyed ‘non-competitive’ matches against local rivals, including all the major hospitals and old boys’ sides who were flourishing during that period. We enjoyed a local reputation for our flowing, open style of play, and particularly excelled in seven-a-side tournaments.
The late eighties became steadily more competitive and, when a single league structure for all the clubs in England was introduced in 1987, we were initially placed in London 3 South East, still playing many of our long-standing local rivals. In 1989 we won promotion to London 2 South, and were promoted again as champions in 1991 to London Division One. In 1992 and 1994 we won the Kent Cup. In 1999/2000, still as an amateur and ‘closed’ old boys’ side, we dramatically won promotion to the National Leagues.
To remain in National League Three South for three seasons until 2003/4, particularly given the well-funded semi-professionalism among some of the opposition, was a fantastic achievement by all the players and support staff. Unfortunately, however, we were unable to remain competitive at that level, and two relegations then saw us back in what is now London Division One South. As a result, we made some significant changes to the way the Club was run.
First, we became an open club rather than restricting ourselves primarily to former students of Colfe’s School. This has given us the impetus to strengthen our ties with the local community and widen our playing membership. We have, however, maintained our close ties with the School and many of our players are ex-pupils.
Our second decision was to set up a Minis section and this has been an outstanding success that, in the fullness of time, has been extended to encompass a full Junior and Colts section. The 2010/11 season was the first when players who had progressed through the Minis, Juniors and Colts turned out for the 1st XV. Given the numerous county and indeed international recognition that many of our youngsters have received, the future of the Club is extremely bright.
The lease that we held on our ground at Horn Park expired in January 2010 and for some considerable time we were concerned as to our future here. It was a great relief when Colfe’s School purchased the freehold from the Crown and reached agreement with us to secure our future at Horn Park for the foreseeable future.
In March 2020 we were leading the division when all play was suspended. Haywards Heath had a game in hand and the RFU awarded them the division promotion. We did, however, win the London & SE Area Intermediate Cup Final when we defeated Charlton Park 17-22 although the rest of the competition was cancelled.
Away from the more serious league action, touring has for many years been an inherent part of the Club’s activities. Beyond many short tours to various European destinations, the first long-haul tour was to California in 1980. It was then some years until a group of us went along with Cardiff High School Old Boys to Colorado in 1987, but after that we had truly got the bug. We toured eastern Canada and Vermont in the USA in 1989, and then swiftly followed this with trips to Zimbabwe in 1991 and then Argentina and Brazil in 1994. In 1997 we toured South Africa, playing four games and watching the British & Irish Lions win their series against the Springboks.
In July 2001 we followed The Lions again, and a squad of over 30 players went to Australia, where we won an international 10-a-side tournament in Melbourne and then four 15-a-side matches around the country, finishing in Darwin, to remain unbeaten.
Shorter end-of-season tours since then have seen us gracing the playing fields and bars of Padua in Italy, Edinburgh, Biarritz, Albufeira in Portugal’s Algarve and, in 2011, back to France again with a visit to Toulon. At the end of the 2011-12 season we returned to Penzance for the tenth anniversary of our National League debut and short tours have followed to Malta 2014, Croatia 2015, Ibiza 2016 and Bilbao 2018. We are delighted that our Minis and Juniors sides have also taken up touring in best Colfeian tradition.
Wherever those tours take us, and wherever our sides play in their domestic fixtures, Old Colfeians can be counted upon to display the sportsmanship and good fellowship unique to those who enjoy playing with funny shaped balls.