BIG INTERVIEW: Phil Callander is the man charged with overseeing the rebirth of Chorley RUFC
The reconstruction of Chorley Rugby Union Football Club’s ground may be nearing completion, but work on rebuilding its spirit is only just beginning.
The Black and White Hoops will move back into a brand new, state-of-the-art facility in Chancery Road later this year after a seven-year absence from the site.
Formed in 1875 after a meeting at the Anchor Inn, Market Street, Chorley, and refounded in 1973 – at its height, the club boasted three open-age teams, a veterans’ XV and a thriving junior section.
Unfortunately, the club is not quite the formidable presence within the community it once was and in recent times has been reduced to just one senior team.
Much of that malaise is due to the club’s old facilities falling into a state of disrepair, ultimately causing them to move away from their spiritual home and play in Coppull at the home of the town’s rugby league club – Chorley Panthers.
However, the Black and White Hoops are looking forward to ushering in a golden new era when they head back to Chancery Road ahead of the 2021/22 season.
The new ground is not in the same place as the old one, which was sold for a housing development, but a piece of land known as the Brookfields site was gifted to Chorley Community Trust.
With a duty to provide a facility which will benefit the wider sporting community, “Brookfields Park” is set for its grand opening this summer.
The two-storey clubhouse and changing facility will provide team changing room areas, officials’ dressing rooms and a function room with a bar.
There will also be provision for a physiotherapy suite and a fitness training and sports injuries clinic.
The playing grounds will feature a new full-size grass pitch and a next generation 4G multi-sport pitch, both with floodlights.
The pitches can also be sub-divided into smaller pitches which can provide provision for junior rugby, football and other sports like netball.
The entire project has cost in the region of £3m and the rugby club is hoping their new home will help rekindle former glories and perhaps an even greater period of prosperity.
However, for that to happen, plenty of work needs to be done in terms of rebuilding the club’s playing membership, its fan-base and its youth structure.
President Phil Callander, alongside the club’s committee, is the man tasked with rebuilding the essence of the club.
Incidentally, he is the son of ex-London Irish star Tony, who is a former player, chairman and president of the club, and is now the chairman of CCT.
A former player himself – who turned out for the club for 25 years – Phil Callander well remembers the days when the club was at its peak.
“It’s a matter of rebuilding in terms of the actual club,” Phil Callander said.
“Seven or eight years ago before we had to move, we did have a good junior set-up, with mini rugby and the colts. We had two senior teams – one in the RFU and one in the North West League. Every now and then we would have some veterans’ games, but now we have only got the one senior team. My priority is to get the minis up and running once again because that is where the future of the club lies.
“I would also like to get the second team up and running too and then we will be able to move into the RFU leagues again.
“We have got a lot of playing members but not many of them have been playing over the past few years and I think that has been down to the fact that we haven’t been playing at our home base.
“Now that we are back home, we have been presented with this brand new facility, brand new pitches – we can start to move forward.
“Our old pitch became quite famous – or infamous – among other clubs.
“It had this big tank trap which would stop the ball dead and we obviously knew exactly where it was.
“The old clubhouse was getting ragged and was slowly falling to bits.
“Even though we have lost teams and players, this facility has saved Chorley Rugby Union Football Club.”
When the facility is ready to be opened, the club is planning on staging an open day with a showpiece match involving players from the past against the current XV.
It could well be that the match will feature some distinguished names from the world of rugby union as several former England players have at some point worn the black and white hoops.
“Well there’s Paul Grayson for one,” said Tony Callander. “Will Greenwood is another. Both were part of England’s World Cup-winning squad in 2003.
“In fact Will was born on Eaves Lane because his dad Dick was teaching at Stonyhurst College and he then went on to be the coach of England.
“Let’s not forget the current chairman of world rugby Bill Beaumont, who used to come and train and play at Chorley when he became England captain.
Paul Callander added: “Paul Grayson actually played in the same colts team as my brother John, who is the coach at Warrington Rugby Union and played for them for many years.”
Although the modern-day CRUFC dates back to the early 1970s, the club has roots from the 19th century and was indeed one of the founding clubs of the Rugby Union.
At the end of the club’s first ever season, the membership numbered 117.
Unfortunately, the club ceased to exist in the early 20th century and it was not until 1973 when it was revived.
Initially, the club played its matches on the playing fields of Astley Park, the players getting changed in a hut at Parklands High School.
As there was no club house back then, the team would meet at the Prince of Wales pub near the town’s covered market.
It was in 1981 that the club, with Tony Callander at the forefront as chairman, secured an area of land off Chancery Road, situated on the edge of the freshly constructed Astley Village estate.
Plans were made and work started on the clubhouse on June 19, 1982 and the occasion was marked by a turf cutting ceremony, conducted by President Lt Col Bretherton, George Birtill, John Lucas and Tony Callander.
While those facilities served the club well, the new ground will take the club into the 21st century.
Tony Callander added: “The trust will be operating the site as a multisport facility.
“We will be offering provision immediately for football, walking football, wheelchair football, netball and American football.”