FOUNDED in 1923 when a local doctor spotted the popularity of rugby union in neighbouring Skipton, Wharfedale RUFC has a proud history of nurturing talent from the local area.

One of the smallest teams in the National League 2 North, the fourth tier of the English rugby union system, ‘The Green Machine’ are based in the village of Threshfield, North Yorkshire, a stonesthrow from their original home in Grassington.

With the village club growing in popularity, the introduction of league rugby in 1987 expanded their fixture list substantially, and Wharfedale became one of the first rugby clubs in the country to install floodlights.

The following year, they finished champions in their inaugural campaign, quickly gaining four promotions (with no relegations) to reach the National League 1, where they remained for 20 years.

During their time there, they went toe to toe with some of the best sides in the country, beating the likes of Worcester, Leeds, London Welsh, Plymouth Albion and Nottingham.

Away from the league, the club has also enjoyed success in the Yorkshire Cup over the last decade, winning the trophy in 2010, 2013 and 2014, and finishing runners-up to Hull and Harrogate in 2012 and 2015.

However, a disappointing 2015-16 campaign saw Wharfedale fall back into the National League 2 North, where they twice equalled the league record of drop goals in a match, Tom Barrett scoring three against relegated Scunthorpe in November 2016 and Luctonians in January 2017.

The club also recorded that season’s highest average attendance of 493, with almost 7,500 fans attending their 15 home games at The Avenue over the course of the campaign.

Despite many rugby clubs turning to investors to match their lofty ambitions, Wharfedale is a club that takes pride in staying true to its roots, instead relying on local recruitment and a talented junior section.

In fact, several of their 2019 Under 19 Yorkshire Colts Cup winning-team have featured regularly for the first team this season, with Sam Dickinson and Henry Macnab both in the starting XV for their match at Tynedale last Saturday.

Off the pitch, former England international John Spencer has been the club’s Chairman for the last four decades, and like many of those involved, has close-knit ties to the village, having grown up on a nearby farm.

Though Wharfedale suffered a miserable 2016-17 season on the pitch, it was perhaps Spencer’s most successful. Manager of the British Lions tour to New Zealand over the summer, he then became President of the RFU. To celebrate, the club organised ‘An Evening with the President’.

With legends of British rugby, including Ian Robertson, Bill Beaumont, Derek Quinell and Sir Ian McGeechan, in attendance, £30,000 was raised for charity CRY and the rugby club.

Until the end of the 2017-18 season, club legend Michael ‘Clarty’ Harrison served as their Director of Rugby, having been in charge of ‘rugby matters’ since 1983 in roles including Head Coach and Chairman of the Rugby Committee.

A ‘one club man’, Harrison was affiliated with Wharfedale for 56 years, studying at local Ermysted’s before first playing for the club at the age of 16 and racking up an incredible 665 appearances in a 22-year first-team playing career. Taking over the top job between 1983 and 2006, and alongside the late Peter “Bear” Hartley, he guided the club to four league promotions.

Since leaving the role, he has been presented with the Yorkshire RFU’s top honour, the President’s Award and a special Rugby Union Writers’ Award for outstanding contribution to rugby union.

Wharfedale currently sit 14th in the National League 2 North, having won three, drawn one, and lost eight of their opening 12 matches, ahead of the visit of Loughborough Students this coming Saturday (kick-off 2pm).       REPORT BY: EMMA KENNEDY