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Napier one and only club for nine years


The game of rugby reportedly began in Hawke’s Bay on 26 June 1875, with a match played at Clive Square between “the Banks” and the Napier Football Club (formed on 11 June 1875). We are unsure who “the Banks” were but one possibility is that they were a team made up of employees from various banks. Enthusiastic spectators, including women suitably attired against the cold, surrounded the edges of the roughly formed rugby ground cheering players on. To provide a sense of occasion the Napier ladies offered a handsome smoking cap to the player who got the first touchdown.

The last rugby match of the 1875 season, held on Saturday 11 September, again at Clive Square, caused a great deal of hilarity. The Hawke’s Bay Heraldreported, “both sides were playing hard when a member of the Napier Football Club, whilst endeavouring to run through, had his nether garments taken from him, and thus ended, amidst much laughter, the last and perhaps best game of the season.” 

The Napier Football Club was the first and only rugby club in Hawke’s Bay for a period of nine years. To gain experience and provide a sense of challenge the players competed annually against Turanganui-a-Kiwa, Poverty Bay. In 1884, three new rugby clubs were established - Napier Union, Hastings and Petane. These four clubs together formed the Hawke’s Bay Rugby Union. 

In the same year, politician John Sheehan presented the Sheehan Cup to be contested annually amongst local clubs. Sheehan was convinced that by competing for a trophy, rugby would be kept free from the influence of bookmakers. Instead, players and the public would appreciate and support rugby, not to win money, but for love of the game and a desire to succeed.

Amongst the sporting memorabilia in the MTG Hawke’s Bay Museum Trust collection are two items belonging to the Napier Football Club. A navy blue banner with the initials NFC stitched in gold thread in the centre, while embroidered around the fringed edge are the years the club won the local Hawke’s Bay competition: 1884, 1885, 1886, 1887, 1892 and 1894.

The second object is a photograph taken by Napier photographer, Percy Sorrell. The image shows a relaxed group of dashing and handsome Napier Football Club rugby players wearing their club colours - blue and white striped rugby shirts and matching socks and blue knickerbockers. Printed on the mount is, “Napier Football Club Representatives in Senior Cup Matches, 1886.” 

During the 1886 season, Napier Football Club seniors attended six major cup games, two held as far afield as Mohaka and Wairoa. Local newspaper reporters were quick to praise specific attributes of players. John Jamieson, a Scotsman, tall, powerful and fast, was a lineout specialist who “worked hard in the scrum and dribbled brilliantly in the loose.” 

The dashing and brilliant forward, W Robson was “clever on the lineout and able to fend strongly and follow-up fast.”  The captain of the team, H F Gibbons was one of the most “unselfish half-backs playing” with the ability “to feed his three quarters with great judgement and dexterity and could punt and dribble well.” His clever and well-timed passing won many games for his team.

Reporters also noted where a player could improve their game. The half-back J Ike Cato -  “could not kick”, however he was “a rattling good player, full of pluck, swift and light on his feet, collars well, and can run through a field of players with skill.”

At the end of the 1886 season, Napier Football Club had succeeded in winning five matches, drawing against Wairoa in the sixth. The last cup match played was in Mr Rainbow’s Hastings paddock against Hawke’s Bay County Football Club. Napier won 11 points to nil, the score comprising three tries and a conversion. Napier Football Club had successfully won the Sheehan cup for the third year in a row.


  • MTG Movie Club: Utu Redux. MTG Century Theatre, Sunday 13 October, 2pm. Tickets available through Eventfinda.
  • Embroidery for kids. Join local fabric artist Ngaio Blackwood for a fun session of stitching with recycled materials. MTG Education Suite, Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 October, 10am-11.30am, 12pm-1.30pm and 2-3.30pm. Free event, please register through Eventfinda to secure a space.
  • Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival events:
  • Taonga Moana: A love letter to the oceans. This inspiring concert celebrates our oceans as taonga with uplifting and moving music from around the globe. MTG Century Theatre, Friday 18 October, 7.30pm. Tickets available through Ticketek.
  • White Night: After dark at MTG. Beats by local percussion group Bay Batucada, a giant interactive marble run, new exhibitions and a show of NASA space images in the Century Theatre. Saturday 19 October, 6pm-10pm. Free event, all welcome
  • They Are Us (Readers & Writers Session). Sir Tipene O’Regan, Damon Salesa and Scott Hamilton discuss the question of identity in the light of our colonial past and multicultural present. MTG Century Theatre, Sunday 20 October 10am. Tickets available through Ticketek.
  • Cook or Crook? (Readers & Writers Session). Graeme Lay and Scott Hamilton talk about the man, what he achieved and at what cost, and what he means to New Zealanders today. MTG Century Theatre, Sunday 20 October 2pm. Tickets available through Ticketek.
  • Portraits in Motion. German photographer and storyteller Volker Gerling projects photographic flipbooks onto a screen in a series of enchanting and precious moments when the people he photographed come to life. MTG Century Theatre, Tuesday 22 October 6pm. Tickets available through Ticketek.
  • An Iliad, based on Homer’s The Iliad and translated by Robert Fagles. Starring Michael Hurst as the Poet and Shayne Carter as the Muse. MTG Century Theatre, Wednesday 23 October 7pm. Tickets available through Ticketek.

Image Caption - Napier Football Club Representatives in Senior Cup Matches, 1886. Photograph taken by Napier photographer, Percy Sorrell.
Back Row: John Jamieson; J Ike Cato; Francis Logan Umpire;  A Kennedy; Ravenhill; J W Begg and George Walker.
Middle Row: R H Trotter; W Robson; Stanton; W J F Anderson; F Kennedy; H F Gibbons, Captain; C Harrap and George White.
Seated on the ground are Roskruge, C D Kennedy, and Hedley.

13 October 2019

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