Back in 1971 , Schoolboy Rugby League in Widnes was at its lowest ebb with hardly any regular competitive rugby league being played at secondary school level , despite most youngsters having played at junior schools.
Having attended a RL coaching course at Lilleshall, the legendary rugby league referee Mick Naughton hit on the idea of forming a Sunday Coaching School, which would keep the lads interested in playing League as well as giving them the opportunity of keeping in touch with the game. The Sunday Coaching School was intended to run for six weeks and attracted approximately 30 boys at first , based at Leigh Rec.
The sessions were very popular and quickly gathered momentum with over 130 boys eventually attending after just a few weeks and it was decided to continue to run it for longer. A committee of parents was formed, from those that regularly helped Mick out, with the objective of raising funds to finance playing kits and balls.
Two teams were formed and games were organised and played against boys in Batley, Bradford , Dewsbury, Huddersfield and Swinton. The two teams were called Widnes Tigers and this was the foundation of today’s Widnes Tigers organisation , now playing in the North West Counties League within B A R L A and the Rugby League framework.
The Tigers first showed the way for other outside organisations to follow and as such contributed to the re establishment of the Rugby League game at schoolboy level for lads who would not then have had the chance of playing the greatest game in the world.
As the club grew and attracted more youth and junior teams the next milestone in its development came a few years later with the development of a site on Chapel Lane into the Widnes Tigers Club House , changing facilities and two pitches.
This ambitious ground breaking project involved much fundraising and was undertaken by a dedicated committee made up of Tigers members , coaches, officials and led by club Secretary John Carroll , who had the vision of seeing an independent successful Amateur Rugby League Club established in Widnes, able to support the development of the game across all age groups. John spearheaded project including the fund raising from both local residents and businesses as well as securing a commercial contract with a well known brewery.
The club is still there today and despite changing hands over the years, is again firmly established once more as a successful sports club – now called the Parklands – owned by former Widnes RL star Reg Bowden.
The Tigers as a rugby club left the premises in the early 1990’s and after playing out of different venues over the last twenty years, it was fitting in this their 40th Anniversary Year that they accepted the invitation from Reg Bowden in September 2010 to return to Parklands and be based once more at their former home, sharing the rugby facilities with Albert Park ARLFC.
Through the 70’s and 80’s under the stewardship of Mick Naughton (Chairman) , Robin Whitfield (Vice Chairman) , John Carroll (Hon Secretary) and Harold Blythin (Hon Treasurer) , the Tigers did develop into a successful club, running teams across the full spectrum of age groups from the youngest junior sides through to open age and producing a wealth of rugby league talent with no less than 26 players turning professional from those early years.
This was never more evident than in the Tigers testimonial match on behalf of the club Building Fund, played at Naughton Park on 21st May 1981 against the Challenge Cup winning Widnes RL side in which the Tigers side was selected from a list of current playing professionals :-
THE FRENCH CONNECTION
Following on from the first youth rugby tour to Corsica in the late 70’s, the Tigers established a contact with a French rugby league club – ANSE X111 near Lyon – with a view to providing a reciprocal tour for U13 and U16 youth with the first such tour taking place in 1980 at ANSE.
This arrangement soon developed into a bi-annual tour for the Tigers with ANSE coming over here in the years in between and a genuine friendship was created between the two clubs which continues to the present day. The French / English end of season tours became an integral part of both clubs and was the highlight of the year , continuing uninterrupted through the 80’s and 90’s, thanks in the main to the efforts of the like of Robin Whitfield , Terry Lloyd , Peter Doyle and Tony Bridle.
Apart from the sport itself , it gave youngsters a real opportunity to experience the French way of life, and was truly character building, as for the most part the players were lodged with the families of the ANSE players, as were the ANSE players themselves when they came to Widnes. Hundreds of Widnes lads have taken part in these tours over the years and have benefitted from the experience.
Unfortunately, with both sides unable to maintain youth and junior sides into the millennium, the last full French tour took place in 1999 with the Tigers winning all three matches against ANSE X111 , Roanne and St Martin in the south.
Despite the efforts of both committees, ANSE have not toured over here since 1998, although the Tigers were able to send an U17’s over there in 2006 and have put down the invitation annually for ANSE to come Widnes again.
Today , both clubs run just Open Age teams , but the friendship still exists as strong as ever, and one day we hope to revive the Tigers / ANSE tour with an Open Age game either here or in France.
With the gradual demise of the youth and junior teams in the club, the last youth U18 ‘s team finally graduated to Open Age four years ago , but not before they were crowned North West Counties Champions.
The revival of Widnes Tigers Open Age Team started in 1995 with club chairman and former Tigers youth coach Peter Doyle determined to keep the Tigers name and heritage going.
The task of re building an Open Age Team was always going to be difficult given the competition for players from the other successful teams in the town. But having now completed its sixteenth season in the North West Counties league, Peter has indeed succeeded in his objective and along with the small committee of volunteers who share the same determination for survival and success , the name of Widnes Tigers will continue to live on.
This alone serves as a fitting tribute to its founder Mick Naughton, not forgetting all those too numerous to mention here, who have been involved over the past 40 years.