Only a handful of “open” rugby clubs in the world can trace their history back 150 years. The Yokohama Country and Athletic Club (YC&AC) in the port of Yokohama is one of them as one of four sports clubs which merged in 1884 to form the current multi-sport club was originally established as the Yokohama Foot Ball Club founded on January 26 1866. In 1866 Japan was still ruled by a shogun backed by daimyo (feudal lords) and samurai, some of who were still looking for opportunities to use their very sharp swords to expel the barbarian foreigners from Japanese soil.
Unfortunately, this long history became lost and only became clear in 2009 and so the hundreds of players who played at the club between 2008 and the end of WW2 were unaware of the club’s long and illustrious history when they played for the club. Anyone searching for the history of rugby at the YC&AC could have easily found accounts, even in JRFU histories, stating that the sport was played in the 1860s by British ‘Tommies’ (the nickname for British troops) but nobody knew that some officers of these same Tommies were involved in setting up a club.
150th celebration planning & overview
The club officials decided to hold the 150th celebration on Saturday April 2 2016 because the next day was annual YC&AC Sevens Tournament (the 59th holding of Japan’s oldest seven-a-side tournament). A schedule of rugby matches followed by a black-tie dinner
Despite early morning signs that it might be a wet day, April 2 turned out to be a dry day weather-wise which helped make the club’s rugby 150th anniversary event a memorable day with the dinner in the evening being especially memorable. The icing on the cake was the surprise appearance at around 9 pm of the former Japan national coach Eddie Jones.
The day started with a well-attended festival of kids’ rugby before the Golden Oldie ‘Classic YC&AC vs KR&AC Interport’ kicked off at noon. The Interport between Kobe Regatta & Athletic Club (KR&AC) and the YC&AC was first played in 1901 and was the oldest fixture in Japanese rugby.until the KR&AC became unable to field a team in the late 2000s. The original idea was to give a licence to Kobe to gather a Kansai team to represent the KR&AC at the 150th but even this proved to be too difficult for the organizers in Kansai.
At the same time it was also proving difficult to gather older able-bodied people who could last two halves of 20 minutes for the Golden Oldie game between the Golden Oldie YC&AC team named the Asian Marauders and Tokyo Samurai originally set to start at noon In particular, most of the most enthusiastic and best players of the Samurai as well as all the fit over-eighties players who were also to be featured in the 150th festival were already committed to another major “senior rugby” event being held in Osaka on the same day.
The solution to these problems was to make the YC&AC vs KR&AC game into a Golden Oldie game starting at noon. In the event, only three players connected in any way with Kobe appeared but the KR&AC team was luckily able to be filled out with Japanese Samurai players clad in yellow shorts indicating they were over 70 years old and five younger rather skilful OBs from Ottowa Club in Tokyo who were invited originally to act as reserves the YC&AC team which was mainly made up of retired YC&AC players from the 1970s and 1980s, most of whom had flown in specially for the event.
The prospect of the first Interport rugby match for around 10 years attracted two TV stations to the touchline and the game had an unusual beginning when the match’s referee, KR&AC’s mid-1980s captain Ian Noakes, and match ball were driven to the center of the field in a rare yellow Messerschmitt three-wheel car owned and driven by ‘Shim’ Shimamura who first played rugby on the YC&AC ground in 1949 which made him the most veteran surviving rugby player to grace the rugby field.
YC&AC vs KR&AC
After a few practices, there was a loud peep from Noakes’ whistle and the game was started with spectators and TV cameras tense in anticipation. Initially, the YC&AC dominated the game with the fit 63-year old Chris Baker, towering over many of the KR&AC’s ringer Japanese players, making several long runs and proving difficult to stop. Attacks by the KR&AC were rather swiftly terminated with their best move, by former leading Japanese scrum-half and successful Kanto Gakuin coach, Hiroshi Haraguchi, drawing gasps from the crowd as it was brutally terminated by the omnipresent bulk of Chris Baker. It was inevitable that the YC&AC would score and score they did. They then scored again with move in which Bill Baker (no relation to Chris Baker) starred. On paper the YC&AC should have destroyed the KR&AC many of whose Japanese players were wearing yellow shorts indicating they were over seventy. But appearances are deceptive and many of those aging yellow-shorted players are still playing rugby quite often and were still quite fast runners. The five players from Ottowa Club playing for the KR&AC started to look strong as the second half got going and it wasn’t too long before Kawai-san scored with lots of support. Getting near the final whistle things were getting tense with KR&AC a try away from completing a great come-from-behind win. Chris Baker, playing number eight, picked up from the back of the scrum and set out on one of his runs but was very skilfully dispossessed of the ball by one of the older Japanese players who set off for the YC&AC try line. He was well-supported by around four of the yellow-shirted KR&AC players while it was hard to see anyone wearing the specially-designed 150th YC&AC rugby shirt defending and so Kawai-san ended up scoring again. Ian Noakes then blew the final whistle and the KR&AC had narrowly won. Then the teams were piped off by a Japanese gentleman very proficient at playing the Scottish bagpipes. All who participated in the game judged it to be a wonderful experience. It is very regrettable that the KR&AC are unable to get a team together to keep the Interport rugby tradition going and it is hoped that the sportsmen of Kobe will soon do something about this.
Ladies Sevens including Hong Kong
When they finally arrived the visiting ladies team from Hong Kong proved too strong for the two Japanese ladies teams.
YC&AC 1st XV vs Acorn Club
Since the 1950’s Acorn Club, which was founded in 1946 and recently celebrated its 70th anniversary with games and reception at Chichibunomiya Stadium, has been the toughest opposition in the Kanto area for the YC&AC for most of those 70 years. But on April 2 they perhaps didn’t bring their strongest team and the YC&AC team, strengthened by the son of former KR&AC captain Paul Boylan and my own son, didn’t have too trouble in winning.
Over 180 people attended the black-tie dinner including