Historic rugby fixture that plays for ghoulish trophy

Referees beware: Streatham-Croydon officials Owen Jones (left) and club president Dick Towers with the world's most ghoulish sports trophy

It is possibly the most ghoulish trophy in world sport, the sort of thing that Damian Hirst might have devised if he’d been asked.

The Skull and Goalposts is the trophy contested between Streatham-Croydon and Esher rugby clubs, with the 2011 fixture taking place this coming Saturday.

The bizarre, and somewhat creepy, trophy dates back to 1962 during the era of entirely amateur rugby union, when there was no league system and “senior” clubs (ie. the bigger ones) worked their way through a season-long fixture list full of “friendly” matches and long-held grudges.

The intervening half-century has seen Esher and Streatham-Croydon’s fates vary greatly: Esher now play in the semi-professional second tier of English rugby, while the Frant Road, Thornton Heath-based club puts out its first XV in lowly Surrey League 3.

Streatham-Croydon was founded in 1871, when playing its matches on the nearby Common. The club’s famous past players in the late 20th century include Jeff Probyn and Maurice Colclough, who both went on to play in England’s forward pack, and Antony Worral Thompson, who didn’t.

Before the sport went professional its annual fixtures included a full set of games – from 1st XV through to Veterans – against the likes of Richmond, Bath, Sale, Saracens and London Welsh.

All that history counts for little in the modern game. But the The Skull and Goalposts fixture was revived last year to mark the club’s 140th anniversary, with Streatham-Croydon taking on three of Esher’s equivalent, amateur teams, and winning all the matches.

This year, Esher Priors take on Streatham in Esher, Streatham Scorpions will play Esher Bees at Frant Road (the ground made famous recently when featured on Sky Sports’ School of Hard Knocks) and Streatham’s third team Serpents making the trip to play Esher Veterans.

Streatham’s president, Dick Towers, said, “While it is important that we continue to improve our league standing, it is absolutely imperative that the Skull stays in Streatham. We never want it to leave.

“Playing for the Skull is a huge honour for any young player coming to Streatham; they will be following in the footsteps of many great players and will have the chance to be part of this club’s history. More importantly, they will be able to say they played for the Skull.”

Streatham go into the match with the first team unbeaten in the league. The game also will be played almost exactly 140 years after their first fixture, on November 25, 1871, when Streatham FC played the now defunct London club Red White and Blue.

The origins of this ghoulish prize are shrouded in mystery. A historian who has visited the club claims the skull could belong to someone of Asian descent, but Serpents’ captain Abdul Chowdry is not so sure.

“I think it might have been a visiting referee from Sutton made a few controversial decisions.”

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News, views and analysis about the people of Croydon, their lives and political times in the diverse and most-populated borough in London. Based in Croydon and edited by Steven Downes. To contact us, please email inside.croydon@btinternet.com
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