Club History

The Early Years

The foundation of Swinton Rugby Club can be traced back to 1866. It was in the October of that year that members of Swinton Cricket Club (which had just completed it's first season) decided to keep themselves amused during the winter months playing "football".

Other than an annual challenge against the local rifle volunteers the only games played in those early days were amongst the club's own membership. However, in October 1871 the club decided to join the recently formed Rugby Football Union under the title "Swinton & Pendlebury FC".

Swinton's first match was against a club called Standard from Eccles, and within 4 or 5 years the team became virtually unbeatable in the Manchester area and beyond. This meteoric rise in stature was made all the more remarkable by the fact Swinton at this time was nothing more than a tiny colliery village with a few cotton mills. However, what it also had was a staggering number of local junior teams from which the club drew its talent.

A move in 1873 from a field off Station Road to another at Stoneacre (close to the White Lion pub where the players got changed) gave rise to the famous "Lions" nickname, which is one of the oldest in British sport. Then, having gone three years undefeated in the mid 1870s, the Lions gradually sought a tougher fixture list. In 1878 came the club's first ventures into Yorkshire, and fairly soon the club was traveling the length of breadth of the country taking on such illustrious opponents as Oxford University. Such was the Lions' success that by the mid-1880s Swinton had become recognised as a national force and unquestionably they were the strongest team in Lancashire.

A short move to the palatial Chorley Road ground in 1886 enabled the club to develop further. The new ground could accommodate much larger crowds and the staging of a couple of County matches added to Swinton's growing reputation. During their rugby union era the Lions produced several England internationals and dozens more who gained representative recognition wearing the red rose of Lancashire.

The most famous of these Victorian sportsmen was Jim Valentine - still arguably the most famous "Lion" that ever lived and who served Swinton for the best part of 20 years. Valentine's finest hour came when he led his Lions to a Challenge Cup Final success over bitter rivals Salford at Fallowfield in 1900. By then Swinton had reluctantly joined the fledgling Northern Union, albeit a year after the news code's formation. Only a financial crisis had insured Swinton's defection from the Union to which they had hitherto been staunchly loyal. As for Valentine he was incredibly killed by lightning whilst on holiday at Barmouth in 1904.

The period leading up to the Great War was not particularly auspicious for the Lions. Financial crisis followed financial crisis and only the sale of the main stand saved the club from closure during 1917. The war took the lives of 13 Swinton players, but back home the Lions played on throughout in a desperate attempt to stay afloat.

Peacetime brought about the shrewdest of gambles by the Lions' directors who had managed to reign in the support of local businessmen. The signings of Hector Halsall, a centre and future inspirational captain, and Albert Jenkins, a brilliant Welsh half-back, provided the catalyst. Throughout the 1920s the Lions got better and better until at last they won their Lancashire Cup in 1925 before recapturing the Challenge Cup in 1926. They then followed this with their first-ever Championship a year later, and in 1928 the team reached its zenith securing all five available trophies. Crowds in excess of 20,000 were commonplace at Chorley Road where the fans marveled at the skills of the brothers Bryn at Jack Evans - both of them Great Britain internationals.

A rent dispute in 1928 caused the club to search for pastures new so the reluctantly vacated Chorley Road and built a new stadium off Station Road, taking the old stands with them. In March 1929, a 22,000 thousand crowd saw the Lions defeat Wigan in the first match on new turf.

If the 1928 team was built around brilliant backs, the next great Swinton side relied on awesome forward power, international frontmen Fred Butters, Joe Wright and Tommy Armitt, not to mention the legendary Martin Hodgson who had now emerged as one of the finest second-row forwards the game has ever seen, guaranteed that further Championships were won in 1931 and 1935.

Post War

Swinton won the Lancashire Cup again in dramatic style against Widnes in 1940, but thereafter the War curtailed the promise of further progress. By the time Britain emerged from the storm clouds Swinton had apparently lost their way. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s the Lions strove unsuccessfully to repeat former glories and often flattered to deceive, but the appointment of Welshman Cliff Evans as coach signalled a renaissance. Concentrating on a youth policy and training methods beyond his era, Evans began to model an exiting, young Swinton team.

It all became to fruition in 1963 when, under the shrewd captaincy of Albert Blan, the Lions completed the final 18 games of a 30 match league calendar undefeated to walk away with the Championship. The Championship (Swinton's 6th) was retained in style 12 months later.

The Lions' backline of the early 60s still rolls off the tongues of those who witnessed them in full flow. Ken Gowers, John Speed, Bobby Fleet, Alan Buckley, Johnny Stopford, George Parkinson, Graham Williams. Even in an era where the rules of the game ensured much tighter matches, these players could create a try from any position on the field. The only sad aspect being that the team never received the credit it deserved simply because ill-fortune ensured that they never appeared at Wembley.

Station Road itself was also recognised as one of the finest grounds in the Rugby League. In its heyday it boasted a capacity of 60,000, although with a record attendance of 44,621 for a cup semi-final in 1951 this was never really tested. All in all 19 internationals, 5 Championship finals, 17 Lancashire cup finals, 4 Premiership finals and 30 Challenge Cup semi-finals were played on the famous turf. Then came a remarkable decline in fortunes, due mainly to rank bad management and total lack of foresight. Although the Lions won a fourth and final Lancashire Cup in 1969 the dye was cast, and by the time two divisions were introduced in 1973 Swinton found themselves out of top flight. By the end of the 1970s the club had hit rock-bottom, even though Station Road continued to host semi-finals and finals.

Initially under Frank Myler, and then under Jim Crellin, the Lions briefly threatened a revival during the 1980s. Players such as Les Holliday and sublimely talented Danny Wilson offered great hope for the future, but despite a second division Premiership success in 1987, three separate promotions simply brought about three immediate relegations.

Loss of Station Road

The sale of Station Road because of bad debts and the move to Gigg Lane,Bury in 1992 did not prove the success the management had imagined and the forced departure from Bury in 2002 brought the club back to within one mile of the Swinton and Pendlebury border, when home games were played at Moor Lane home of a local amateur football club Salford City.

Unfortunately the football club would not grant Swinton a ten year lease which would be required to enable much needed funding to bring the ground up to standard. Fortunately the club found a friend in Sedgley Park RUFC an ambitious and successful club in Division One of the RFU, which has meant from 2004 to 2010 Swinton played their home matches at Park Lane, Whitefield the home of Sedgley Park.

A brief one-year tenure at the Willows in 2011 saw the Lions pick-up their first silverware in 25 years when captain Lee Wingfield held aloft the Championship One winners trophy. The Lions step-up into the championship proved as difficult as imagined but many creditable performances keep the fans hopeful for 2013.

The Return to M27

‚ÄčIn 2006, the return to Swinton and Pendlebury was taken one step further when club chairman, John Kidd, announced on 9 August that the club had acquired a site to build a 6,000 capacity stadium with training facilities and community use in Agecroft, Pendlebury.

Since 2013 the club have played at Leigh Sports Village and in the same year while the land at Agecroft remained a dream, Dr. Marwan Koucash announced his intention to build a stadium for the club on the old St. Ambrose Barlow playing fields behind the Town Hall. Supporters are excited about the proposals to bring the home into the heart of its community.