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Army Navy Matches ( 1878 – 1914 )

Early Army Navy Matches (1878-1914)

The first Army Navy Match (1878)

The first Army Navy match was held on 13 February 1878 at Kennington Oval, London. A contemporary newspaper The Broad Arrow gave the following account of the match:

“A fine exhibition of football delighted the somewhat small number of spectators. Bush scored the first try for the Navy from a scrummage near the line. The goal was kicked by Orford. A band of naval spectators who had taken up their position beneath a white ensign mounted on the roof of a drag greeted this score with great cheering. The greasy state of the ground was not favourable for any great display of running. Encouraged by a cry from their supporters ‘Come on Navy, Force the Passage of the Straights’* the Navy mounted great pressure and scored a touch down. In the second half the Navy scored a second try. Wrench of the Army took advantage of some bad passing by the Navy and scored the Army try: The goal was kicked but this ended the scoring and the Navy deservedly won the first match between the Services.”

The correct phrase is “force the passage of the straits” – a naval term meaning to aggressively thrust forward.

On Thursday 14th February 1878 The Morning Post, under the heading ‘FOOTBALL‘, reported the following:


At Kennington-oval yesterday a match for the benefit of the Military Fund was played between the above named sides, under rugby rules, but attendance was not as large as might have been desired. Play began at 3.35pm, when the Navy, who had won the toss elected to defend the goal nearest the Crown Baths. Coke kicked off for the Army. The Navy got much the better of the scrimmages in the early part of the game, and before half-time a try was gained for them by Bush, from which Orford kicked a goal. No other definite advantage was secured for either side before ends were changed. In the last part of the match the Navy continued, for the most part, to get the better of the play. Bailey gained a second try for them, but the kick at goal ended in failure. The Army rallied considerably after this, and French ran in, the place kick by Cowan proving successful. Nothing further occurred ; and at the call of “No side” the Navy were pronounced victors by a goal and a try to a goal. The Army played one short throughout.

The Army’s selectors made a generous contribution towards the Navy victory by selecting a Royal Artillery officer, R Bannatyne, as Team Captain. He was serving overseas at the time and received no notification of his selection. As a result he was absent for the game. The situation was further confounded by the fact that another Army player arrived late and missed a good part of the match.

British Army Team Royal Navy Team
Backs: C F Crombie (37th ‘North Hampshire’ Regt) F Campbell
C Bishop
Threequarter-backs: C H Coke (86th ‘Royal County Down’ Regt)
J A Cowan (Royal Engineers)
E Daniells
C Hart
Half-backs: F C Heath (Royal Engineers)
A J C French (76th Regt)
P Bush
J Startin
Forwards: A R Barker (Royal Artillery)
A J Street (Army Medical Department)
J Spens (85th King’s Light Infantry)
I W Urquhart (108th ‘Madras Infantry’ Foot)
G Campbell (77th ‘East Middlesex’ Regt)
I G Adamson (108th ‘Madras Infantry’ Foot)
J G Adamson (1st ‘Royal Scots’ Regt)
E Manser (Army Hospital Corps)
S Ogilvie (Army Medical Department)
D Henderson
J Orford
C Trower
R Montgomerie
J Bennett
F Thring
H Goldfinch
C Bayly
C Waiters
R A Bannatyne (Royal Artillery) (captain – absent)


The early years of the Army Navy Match as an annual Inter-Services Championship

HarrisonThirty years were to lapse before another Army Navy Match was played. The fixture was reinstated in 1905 when the Army officers beat the Navy officers 10-0 in front of the Prince of Wales at the Queen’s Club, South Kensington, London, the world’s first multipurpose sports complex. The following year the contest was held at Devonport and on that occassion the Navy defeated an Army team 17-3.

Due to the success of the previous matches it was agreed between the two military rugby unions that the first official Army v Navy Match would be played at the Queen’s Club on 27th February 1907. The winners were the Royal Navy 15-14. A second match was played later that year (18th December 1907), which was again won by the Royal Navy.

In those early years of the championship there were two men that managed to represent both the Army and the Royal Navy, they were HC ‘Dreadnought’ Harrison (Royal Marines Artillery) and EJB Tagg (Royal Marines). They played for the Navy in 1909 and then for the Army the following year. On both occasions the Royal Navy won.

Army Navy Match Statistics (1878-1914)


Year Winners Points Losers Points
1878 Royal Navy 1G 1T Army 1G
1905 Army 10 Royal Navy 0
1906 Royal Navy 17 Army 3
1907 Royal Navy 15 Army 14
1907 Royal Navy 15 Army 0
1909 Royal Navy 25 Army 0
1910 Royal Navy 19 Army 10
1911 Army 22 Royal Navy 13
1912 Royal Navy 16 Army 8
1913 Royal Navy 18 Army 8
1914 Army 26 Royal Navy 14
1915-1919 No games were played due to First World War

McLaren Col Lt J: The History of Army Rugby (Aldershot, The Army RFU, 1986)

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