- Spotlight On: Guy’s Hospital RFC claim to have been established in 1843
- The team was one of 21 founding members of the RFU
- Make sure you register all your non-league games in the Game Management System
It remains one of rugby’s most controversial questions, which is the oldest club in the world?
From Blackheath to Liverpool St Helens, Barnes to Trinity College, Dublin, there are several clubs that lay claim to the title but the status may well be held by a team set up for medics at a hospital tucked away in south-east London.
Guy’s Hospital was one of 21 founding member clubs of the RFU and claims to have been established in 1843 for medics at the hospital.
The evidence? A 1883/4 fixture card which references the season being the club’s 40th. And so begins one of rugby’s great mysteries.
If true, it would make Guy’s Hospital the oldest rugby club in the world, however there are other references to the club being formed in 1866 and to complicate matters further rugby only became a codified sport in 1845 - two years after disputed foundation date.
And the debate doesn’t stop there. For clubs such as Blackheath and Liverpool St Helens, the birth of Guy’s is irrelevant as it was a ‘closed’ club with only medics eligible to play meaning the dispute over the first ‘open’ club also continues to rage.
The modern era
Regardless of the exact date of its formation, Guy’s has a distinguished history and over the years has seen 21 of its players represent England.
Several of those international players were produced in the nineteenth century including Alan Ayre-Smith, who completed his medical studies at Guy's before going to fight in the Boer War. Ayre-Smith went on to play four times for the British and Irish Lions.
But it was during the 1920s and 30s that the club reached its peak under the captaincy of W.D. Doherty, a surgeon who served in World War One and then represented Ireland sevens times, including as a captain.
The club is now an amalgamation of Guy’s, King’s and St Thomas’ (GKT) after the three medical schools merged in 1999.
GKT now has two men’s teams that compete every Wednesday in the BUCS league, the United Hospitals Cup – the oldest rugby cup competition - as well as National Association of Medical Schools (NAMS) Cup.
They also have a women’s team as well as another men’s team that plays in the Kent leagues and is open to those outside the university, including alumni.
And so as season 174 approaches, GKT Rugby Club is gearing up for the arrival of 300 new medical students, with the aim of recruiting the next generation of players to the join the ranks of the ‘oldest’ club in the world.
“This time of the year is all about preparing for the new season and the new players,” says the club’s Honorary Secretary and 2nd XV player Alex Arbis.
“Being a university in London we get players from a range of backgrounds from all over the world and we are welcoming to everybody who wants to be part of this club.
“We’re obviously very aware of the history and it plays a big part in our club culture. It’s something we are very proud of.”
Guy's club is supported by a strong alumni who help ensure the club never loses its sense of history.
“Our alumni are massively important. They support us a lot with our kit, coaches, pitches and refs and really allow us to run as we do."
Ed Conway acts as director of rugby for both the men's and women's programme and the club are hoping 2017/18 marks a landmark year in their long history.
"Promotion is always our target for every team," says Arbis. "That will be our aim again but more importantly this season is about growing the club and continuing a proud tradition."
While the history of their foundation may be debated, one thing is for sure - Guy's RFC will be around for a long time to come.
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