Transport for away matches was initially on foot, bicycle or horse and cart. With the advent of the train, more away matches could be played against more fitting opposition. After the 2nd World War the services of Fales Coaches of Combe Down were acquired. In or about 1996 Stones Coaches of Bath were engaged to transport the 1st XV players to their away games.
By the 1880s Bath started to travel longer distances by rail to away matches. The railways were also a key factor in transforming the game into a popular spectator sport. On Boxing Day 1882 Bath hosted Kensington Football Club from London. Although in the 1880s travel outside their own localities enabled teams to play against opposition of their own ability, costs were relatively high and excessive for most. Players apparently had to fund their own travel expenses, not to mention finding the time to play away, as most people had to work on a Saturday morning. These constraints probably led to the notion that rugby was essentially a middle-class pursuit.
Lack of punctuality of trains – plus ca change!- often caused matches to be shortened. On the 22nd December 1888, Bath’s match at Clifton was delayed due to a late train and the match kicked off at 20 minutes to 4, only a few minutes before sunset! On the 29th March 1890, Cirencester scratched their match at Bath, claiming that the train service was so inconvenient as to render it impossible for them to send a representative team.
By the 1890s Bath’s horizons were expanding rapidly; regular fixtures were established against Cardiff, Harlequins, Bridgewater, Swindon, Taunton, Exeter, Birmingham OEs, among others. The concept of touring to play matches also caught on and allowed matches against teams from even farther afield, e.g. Dublin University, Jesus College Cambridge, Liverpool, not to mention other Welsh clubs, such as Neath, Llanelli and Swansea, among others.
One negative factor was the regular difficulty of finding players for away matches. On the 1st February 1896, Bath were playing Wellington away. they were two players short at Bath Spa station, so they inveigled ‘two lads’ to play, who proved to be mere passengers; the club would have been better saving their fares! For an away match at Cheltenham Titch Fry was selected, but could not leave work in time for the 1.12 train.
Typical of away match fixtures was a match against the Old Edwardians at Edgbaston in 1896. Middleton just made it at Midland Park Station, jumping into the train as it pulled away. There followed a wearisome two and a half hour journey. To speed things up, ‘footer garb’ was donned en route, then nigh on an hour of tortuous journey by omnibus, through a seemingly endless succession of side and suburban streets. The object of all this locomotion was a rather mediocre game (Bath 3- OEs 0). However, after an hour’s bus journey back into Birmingham, the Old Boys right royally entertained the Bath travellers at the Colonnade Hotel.
The 25th November 1897 v Bridgwater, away. ‘Bath’s match with Bridgwater has been troubling the Committee exceedingly, owing to the difficulty in reaching Bridgwater. The GWR decline to set down the team by the 1.35 and, as the 1135 was the only alternative on that line, the journey will be made on the Somerset and Dorset system, via Evercreech, leaving Bath at 12.18, and the Somerset and Dorset have kindly promised a saloon’.
There is much evidence of the long-standing tradition of Bath taking weakened sides to Wales dating back to early times. In 1900 for the away match at Neath there were ‘lots of cry-offs’ and Combe Down came to the rescue. In the same season Bath played at Penarth with 13 men. Three years later at Neath a number of substitutes were picked up at Bath Spa station! For another visit to Penarth, Bath departed with 12 players. They then entered the wrong train at Cardiff and ended up at Barry. The match kicked off at 4.15pm.
The first mention of motor charabancs comes in 1919, when the Bath party travelled from Newport to Abertillery – ‘a cold affair!’ Two years later in away match against London Welsh, a motor charabanc was chartered for the day. The party lunched at Simpsons in the Strand, dined at Pinoli’s and ended the evening at the Coliseum!
In 1924 the train journey to Plymouth was particularly arduous. The party left Bath Spa at 8.10am and did not arrive at Plymouth until 1220. The return trip took 5 hours. On the outwards trip, Alby Hatherill, the trainer, was left behind at Exeter station. He emerged from the restaurant room with a cup of tea in his hand; he made a dash for the open carriage door, but a rather officious porter slammed it closed.
The first long-distance road journey recorded was in 1927 to play US Portsmouth. The charabanc left Grand Parade at 9am to return at 7pm, 4 hours each way. Mr JT Piper was at the Bath Spa Station to meet the team in and wondered whatever had happened when they did not arrive!
The unmistakeable conclusion to be drawn from away matches in the early years of the club is that the combination of weakened teams, due to players having to work on Saturday mornings, and arduous journeys meant that there were very few away victories. Indeed in the 1935-36 season, no away wins were recorded.
Right through to the 1950s the train continued to be the favoured method of transport to away matches. In fact the railways were a key factor in transforming the game into a popular spectator sport.