A Golden Era
The 1987-88 season saw a revolution in Community Rugby with the introduction of Leagues. Novos were in a strong position and were allocated above the Durham & Northumberland leagues into North 2 East. In the first season an unbeaten record saw promotion to North 1 East where they played with mixed fortunes for six years. Whilst in North 1 East, Novos would compete with sides like Rotherham, Blaydon and Westoe. During this period seven sides were fielded most Saturdays, with four sides playing at home; with a side playing at the nearby Paddy Freeman’s field. A great camaraderie set over the club with vast playing numbers and a busy bar. In 1989 the club became a Limited Company and has been self-financing ever since.
Novos' annual New Year’s Day game against Gosforth, dating from the 1920’s, was still being played. This was the match everybody looked forward to each season. It normally produced a spirited performance from Novos (even if it was mainly stale beer which dominated the scrum) but invariably ended in defeat. This was always compensated for by playing in front of a large crowd and a hangover top up in the bar afterwards with many old friends. However, on 1st January 1988 the script was different and Novos came out on top with a 10-9 score-line, and then repeated the result the following year at Gosforth, this time by 10-6. Unfortunately with the creation of Newcastle Gosforth (now Newcastle Falcons) the gulf became too wide and the fixture was dropped in the mid 1990’s, but at least we had two victories near the end. In the same year, of 1989, Novos also recorded their highest ever finish in the league system – a 5th place finish in North 1 East.
In 1992 Novocastrians reached their fifth Northumberland Senior Cup Final. It was our first appearance in the final for 54 years but once again had to settle for the runner up spot after a 15-3 defeat to Tynedale. Highlights of this game and the rest of the 1991-92 season were recorded on camera, courtesy of a Panasonic sponsorship for the club. Sutherland Park would wait in anticipation to watch the day’s game and listen to the legendary commentary partnership of Mike Shoesmith and Stevie Nicholson.
1992 saw the introduction of Ladies Rugby to the Club. A meeting between Annie Lees and Club captain, Phil Getty resulted in Lees attending a Club committee executive. At the meeting plans were discussed for the Ladies side to leave Newcastle Gosforth and to create a set up at Novocastrians. At the end of the 1991/92 season, the decision was made to leave Kingston Park and join Sutherland Park, as conditions had deteriorated too far. Though there were several die hard dissenters at the time the venture has proved to be a successful one both on and off the pitch with the section receiving national prominence in early years and the award of several International caps. In 1994 the Ladies won the National Division Three title with a perfect season. They won all thirteen matches in the league and knockout stages and conceded a total of zero points against. This remarkable achievement could be the only of its kind in world rugby! The following season the Ladies were promoted again, this time in second place. This placed them in the Ladies Premiership, a feat that hasn’t been repeated.
The need for more space in the clubhouse to accommodate all the teams playing on a Saturday resulted in the cocktail bar room being extended again in 1994. Years of hard work to raise funds had finally paid off, and the clubhouse had increased in size; with the added bonus of a second balcony. This allowed unrivalled viewing of the first team pitch across the county and beyond.
In 1994 Novos were relegated from North 1 East after a 3-3 draw against Morpeth on the final day of the season. Both sides were playing for safety and both thought they had done enough to stay in the division. However, Redcar won away to an under strength, fourth placed Blaydon, much to the amazement of both sides who had left the field. This result saw Novos relegated by a solitary point.
Novos' New Year's Day victory over Gosforth is shown on Teletext.