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.