- Read about the history of the Women's Rugby World Cup
- The Red Roses first won the tournament in 1994
Do you know the story about the four rugby players who set up the first Women’s Rugby World Cup?
Just over 27 years ago the idea of the best women in the world rugby competing against each other was just that, an idea. This summer, the Women’s Rugby World Cup is about to mark its eighth tournament but the story of its origins are one in which England played a key role.
It was in fact four women – Deborah Griffin, Sue Dorrington, Alice Cooper and Mary Forsyth – who were all part of Richmond Women’s Rugby Club, that worked on creating the event and set it all up.
“A few women who were champions in women’s rugby in the 1980s had got wind that New Zealand wanted to do some sort of big tournament and call it a world championship,” said Dorrington, who played hooker for England at the time.
“To be honest, we thought that because a lot of the teams were in Europe it would make sense if there was a World Cup in Europe in terms of time, access and money – it wouldn’t be acceptable for a lot of these teams to get to New Zealand.
“Deborah Griffin, who was the chair of the Women’s Rugby Football Union, because back then we weren’t part of the RFU, got wind of this and we thought we could create a Women’s Rugby World Cup.”
Run on a shoe string
To start with the four women had no money.
”No one said ‘that’s a really good idea, let’s do it,’” added Dorrington. “The IRB said they would not sanction or support it.”
They knew that they needed to organise something as cost efficient as possible. Griffin was the chairman, Dorrington the commercial manager, Cooper dealt with press and PR and Forsyth the financial director. The quartet would work in the morning, at night and at weekends to organise everything. This was a time without mobile phones, laptops or emails so instead, it was down to calling, writing letters and sending faxes."We didn’t need approval to play the game we loved."
They wanted to be based in a tight rugby community and so chose Wales who would help cover some of the costs and they organised a schedule across eight days.
“We didn’t need approval to play the game we loved,” continued Dorrington. “It made perfect sense that we had these international teams out there and we bought them all together for this championship.
“We had no idea what the legacy would be and go on to be where it is today, that wasn’t the driver. The drive was we need this so why wouldn’t we do this?”
‘They sold them on the streets’
After writing to a number of different unions around the world eventually 12 teams confirmed their participation at the event which mainly took place in Cardiff and the surrounding areas. "We had to get them to stop pedalling their wares."
One team who arrived in an unusual fashion compared to the rest was the women from the Soviet Union. They turned up with no money as they were not allowed to bring any out of their communist country.
“What they did bring was vodka, Russian dolls, you name it, they sold them on the streets of Cardiff just to make money,” added Dorrington.
“HMRC knocked on their door one night saying ‘what the hell are you girls doing?’ so we had to get them to stop pedalling their wares.
“However, the Cardiff city and community came out in force. A local store gave them some jerseys, another gave them some clothes and companies gave them money to pay for their accommodation. A big pie factory even delivered pies to the university dorm that they were staying in.”
Sleeping bags before the final
(Picture: Garvin Davies)
You've got a big day at work, something important, so of course you want a good night’s sleep. Even more so if you’ve got a World Cup final that you are trying to rest for.
Unfortunately the England women’s team in 1991 did not have that luxury as there were a couple of issues with their accommodation.
“Halfway through the World Cup the hotel realised that they had a double booking,” stated Dorrington.
“We’re three days from the final and we’re looking for bed and breakfasts but they allowed us to sleep in sleeping bags in the conference room, it was just a nightmare.”
With the tournament completed, USA beat England 19-6 in the final in Cardiff, the teams all returned home and the women back to their everyday lives.
There was, however, a small matter of the bills which were estimated to be around £30,000 and that were still to be paid. The organising committee were called to see Dudley Wood who was the RFU secretary.
At the time there were stories in the media that the four women had to re-mortgage their houses to pay off the bills, but Dorrington stated that this was in fact apocryphal.
“Dudley said ‘well how are you going to pay for his debt?’ and we said from fundraising, washing cars, selling cakes or whatever we had to do,” she added.
“We explained that the Russians had left us with a lot of debt as they didn’t pay and then we had the tournament debt. The biggest bill was from a sponsorship agency that we had brought on board; Dudley knew them so picked up the phone and said ‘they’re not paying it and don’t you dare invoice them’ and then hung up on them.
“The next thing he did was get his cheque book out of the draw, asked who we owed money to and he paid the bill. So we came out with nothing but Dudley stepped in and helped us.
“We had to do what we had to do and it was incredible. It was a real journey that we look back on and think ‘oh my god.’”
So when the Red Roses, and the rest of the teams at the 2017 Women's Rugby World Cup, run out in Ireland this summer they have four women who worked tirelessly for nothing to thank for helping them to be able to play the game they love on the global stage.
An England women’s legends team featuring Sue Dorrington and some of the organising committee as well as some of the members of the 1991 side will take on an Ireland women’s legends team on Friday 25 August, the night before the 2017 Women’s Rugby World Cup final.