History : From its origins to 1967
Rugby Football was born in 1823 at Rugby School in England thanks to moment of madness from William Web Ellis (buried in Menton) and a code of practice was first drawn up in 1846. The game was imported into France via Le Havre in around 1872, but the first French final, between the Racing Club de France (Parisian club founded in 1882) and the Stade Français (another Parisian club founded in 1883) did not take place until 1892. It was refereed by Baron Pierre de Coubertin (of modern Olympic Games fame) and the Racing Club won 4-3.
Rugby spread all over France and reached the shores of the Mediterranean in around 1897, beginning in Marseilles with the formation of three clubs, one of which was the Olympique de Marseille.
It was in Hyères, a popular destination for British tourists, that the first Var football association was created in April 1899 - the Football Club Hyèrois - which became the Union Sportive Hyèroise the following May.
The next stop along the coast was La Seyne, with the founding in 1902 of the Union Sportive Seynoise. The founding President, Victor Marquet, was born in Paris and had frequented Frantz Reichel at the Lycée Lakanal. Personnel manager in the electrical department of the Forges et Chantiers, the local shipyard, Marquet was said to be an authoritarian and rather shady character.
The first rugby match to be played in Toulon was on 17th November 1902 after Victor Marquet had encouraged the formation of the Etoile Sportive Toulonnaise the previous June. The EST set up its headquarters in the Montéty housing estate and its first President was Dusselier, referee for the Comité du Littoral (whose headquarters were in Marseilles at the time). The pioneers of Toulon Rugby were Victor Seguin, Joseph Schmusk and Aimé Papel.
During the 1904-1905 season, two clubs, the US Seynoise and the ES Toulonnaise, competed for the Var Championship.
In December 1906, dissidents from the US Seynoise and the Velo Sport Seynois founded the Olympique Seynois.
In February 1907, « Le Var Sportif », a local sports newspaper, called for the US Seynoise and the Olympique Seynois to merge. This appeal did not go unheeded by the members of the USS and the Etoile Sportive Toulonnaise, which merged under the name of the Stade Varois.
And so it was that in 1908 the Rugby Club Toulonnais was born...
The Stade Varois only lasted one season, just enough time for its members to clash with the Comité du Littoral which had not selected any of its player to confront the French Navy national selection.
And so a mixed team made up of six players from the Navy Selection, three from the Sporting Club Télégraphique (telegraph operators from the colonial regiments) and six from the Stade Varois confronted the Selection du Littoral in March 1908.
It was in this way that in June 1908, in the « Coq Hardi », a pub located on the Boulevard de Strasbourg at the beginning of the 20th century, the Rugby Club Toulonnais was formed.
The Club was not registered with the Toulon Sub-prefecture (the main prefecture was still located in Draguignan at the time) until 8th February 1917 and its existence was published in the Journal Officiel, the equivalent of the London Gazette, on 17 February 1917 (n° 162, page 1314).
Louis Gorlier, son of a local pharmacist and himself a student in pharmacy, was the first President of the Club and Marius Raymond its first Secretary-General (until 1926).
Louis Gorlier also played in team's pack and, furthermore, was one of the only native Toulon players, the others originating from Grenoble, Dijon, Auch, Tarbes, Toulouse, Bordeaux and even Brittany (Brest and Saint Nazaire), since the vast majority came from the Navy.
At the end of its first season, the Rugby Club Toulonnais won the Championnat du Littoral (symbolised by the Trophée du Mousse Souffleur) beating the Olympique de Marseille and went on to play its first national final in the 2nd series against Montauban. Initially planned in Marseilles, the final was eventually played in Montauban; the RCT had received a telegram advising them that the final had been postponed, even though the Montauban team were already in Marseilles at the time ! The « Red and Blacks » lost 15-3.
The Club trained on a rented pitch in the La Marquisanne district, located 3 km from the town centre but within easy reach by tram.
When the land was transformed into a track for donkey races (quite popular at the time) the players transferred to « Le Potager », a pitch alongside the Rivière des Amoureux. It was on this pitch that, in December 1913, the Rugby Club Toulonnais defeated a team made up of English officers during the Anglo-French celebrations. A real feat for an era when the British teams were regularly giving the French a severe beating.
The First World War brought things to a halt by mobilising several of the players (one of whom was Gorlier) who died on the front.
On 2nd October 1918 the Rugby Club Toulonnais was accredited by the Government.
In the aftermath of the war, although the Rugby Club Toulonnais was the only club from the Var in the Comité du Littoral, it carried off the Championnat du Littoral every year.
In May 1919, with the Navy Doctor Busquet as President, the Rugby Club Toulonnais merged with the Etoile Sportive Toulonnaise, the Sporting Club and the Racing Club (two football clubs). The RCT thus became a multi-sports club with divisions for athletics and tennis, and organised a bowls championship and the walking tour of Toulon. Not to mention its participation in various swimming competitions..
In 1920, thanks to the generosity of Felix Mayol, the Club at last had its own stadium.
In March 1922, the Rugby Club Toulonnais boasted 372 members. Although most of these still came from the ranks of the navy and the colonial infantry regiments, native Touloners - and notably from the Besagne district - were growing in numbers.
1931 and the First Brennus Shield
The Reserve Team played against Tarbes in the 1924 final and lost 0-3. The match took place in Béziers and, if we are to believe Toulon's legendary good faith, they were refused « at least » three tries, while the only try of the match, scored by Tarbes, was marred by a « hideous » knock-forward. ....
However, things were not necessarily going well for the Club and in May 1925 they had to raise funds to cover debts of 60,000 Francs. They were extremely successful. Local shopkeepers organised raffles in support, offering such fabulous prizes as a Citroën, a piano, a hunting rifle, a sewing machine etc.
Although the results were not yet meeting the expectations of club management, the 4th Team won the 1925 national title against the Sporting Club Universitaire de France with a score of 8-0.
In the 1926-1927 season the Rugby Club Toulonnais, was almost relegated from the equivalent of the 1st division (Excellence) to the 2nd division (Honneur) and were only saved by a drawn match with Oyannax (8-8).
In 1928, the Rugby Club Toulonnais further widened its range of activities by creating a basket-ball division. They even had a women's basket-ball division and, in 1938, with eight other clubs from the Var, created the Comité Varois de Basket during a general assembly held at the Rugby Club Toulonnais headquarters.
Around the same time the RCT abandoned its football division and a Basque pelota division was formed by the players from SW France, though this disappeared in 1930 in favour of the « Pelotaris Toulonnais ».
During the 1928-1929 season, Toulon had a string of wins, and in particular against the Stade Toulousain, who were at the height of their glory, and where there was as much fighting on the pitch as in the stands. Charles Lévy was later to comment that the match was « the most violent in RCT history ». The Rugby Club Toulonnais qualified and went on to play against Quillan in the semi-final of the French Championship. They lost 13-0 to an "armada" built up by the milliner Bourrel (who had poached a number of international players from Perpignan - Baillette, Ribere, Galia ...).
The Club won its first Brennus Shield - trophy symbolising victory in the French Championship Final - in 1931. After beating Narbonne in the semi-final, Toulon played against Lyon Olympique Universitaire at the Parc Lescure in Bordeaux and claimed victory with a score of 6-3 (2 tries to 1).
Scenes of mass hysteria met the team on their return to Toulon, with 30,000 people accompanying them from the station to the Club's headquarters (« Cafe de la Paix at du Sport »). In the heat of the night that followed, the police received a number of telephone calls from a few misguided citizens who thought there was a riot going on.
It should be noted here that the Reserve Team were French champions for three consecutive seasons (1930-1931 and 1931-1932 against Montferrand and 1932-1933 against the Stade Français).
In the 1931-1932 season, Toulon were eliminated by Narbonne in the quarter-finals in Lyon. In the following season, the Club played in a pool of three qualifiers for the final stages but lost by a small margin to Narbonne and Bayonne.
In 1934 the RCT, now under the presidency of the solicitor Me Lanflé - was invited for the first time to take part in the Challenge Yves du Manoir. After beating Albi, Bézier, Bègles, Tarbes, Perpignan and Bayonne, the « Red and Blacks » from Toulon came up against the « Red and Blacks » from the StadeToulousain in Lyon. After 110 minutes of play, they were still drawn (0-0) and the title was shared by the two teams !
In the French Championship that same season, the Club got through the pools (beating Lyon and Bègles) to play the Aviron Bayonnais in the semi-finals. The match was a draw (0-0) but the Basque team won the replay 12-6 and went on to win the final against Biarritz Olympique.
At the end of the season, Léo Servole (fly-half for France), Jean Prin-Clary, Dino Scargigly, Paul Barrère and Emile Girard left for Hyères in the 2nd series, lured by a « sponsor », the promoter Samaran. They returned the following season.
Note here that at the beginning of the 1935-1936 season, Toulon numbered 18 « civilian » rugby clubs and around 40 « naval » teams.
At the 1936 Olympic Games in Berlin, the athletics division of the Rugby Club Toulonnais was represented by hammer thrower, Wirtz, who reached the final. In September 1936, Mazoyer, a member of the shooting team, represented France in the World Championships. This division was founded in 1935 and used to train on the terraces of the Stade Mayol. It became an independent entity after the Second World War using the name Société de Tir Toulonnaise. This association exists to this day and, in recognition of its past connection, still wears red and black.
On the rugby side, the Club was beaten by Narbonne at Grenoble in the quarter-finals.
In 1937, the Rugby Club Toulonnais boasted five divisions (rugby, basketball, athletics, shooting and military preparation) for 288 members.
1938 was a bad season for the Club and they were knocked out by Pézénas 3-0 in the repechage for last sixteen.
The 1938-1939 season was a more inspiring one. The RCT was once again in the Challenge Yves du Manoir final against Pau, who beat them 5-0. In the French Championship, after defeating Tulle in the last sixteen, and Bayonne 13-0 in Toulouse, Toulon was knocked out by Biarritz in the semi-finals in Lyon with a score of 7-0.
The Club quickly recovered from the torments of the Second World War and in the 1945-1946 season reached the semi-finals to play against Lourdes. After 110 minutes of play, Lourdes won 5-4 - a try converted by Jean Prat against a drop kick from Eugène Chaud, who terminated his career after this match.
A second French Championship Final in 1948
The following season, Toulon was eliminated 16-3 in the last sixteen by the Stade Toulousain (who went on to beat Agen and become French champions) during a match which took place in Perpignan and on which Gearges Pastre commented "the shock (...) created excessive behaviour on the touch line that they are still talking about in Toulouse; knives were drawn!"
After beating Biarritz in the last sixteen (13-7), Toulon beat Bayonne 7-5 in the quarter-finals with a try from Jaffrain 20 seconds from the end, and then Vienne, 11-6, in the semi-finals.
The Rugby Club Toulonnais lost 11-3 to the great Lourdes in Toulouse in front of 5,000 Toulon supporters who broke all the records for their rig-out and sirens, "borrowed" from the Arsenal (Navy shipyard).
According to George Pastre "we can say that all the great rugby folklore started with this final" : so Toulon supporters can be considered the forerunners !
During the 1948-1949 season the RCT played two quarter-finals : against Castres (future French champions against Mont-de Marsan) in the Championship where they lost 17-6, and against Lyon in the French Cup.
The following years were not quite so inspiring : elimination in the early stages by Carmaux in 1950 (6-5), in the quarter-finals by Tarbes in 1951 (6-3) and in the last sixteen by Agen in 1952 (9-3); unqualified for the final stages of the competition in 1953; elimination in the last sixteen by Toulouse in 1954 (14-0)
Toulon did however compete in another Challenge Yves du Manoir final in 1954. The match was played in the Stade Mayol against Lourdes, who won 28-12.
In 1955 the Club won the Challenge du Club Complet while losing 13-0 to Levalanet in the last sixteen of the French Championship.
In the 1955-1956 season Toulon were once again knocked out of the last sixteen by Mont-de-Marsan (8-0). In the same year, 1956, the young Toulon team won the Challenge Michelin.
From 1957 to 1967, the French Championship adventure came to an end eight times in the last sixteen : against Perpignan in 1957(8-3); against Grenoble in 1959 (5-3); against Béziers in 1961 (14-0); against La Rochelle in 1962 (3-0); against Dax in 1963 (8-3); against Brive in 1965 (8-3); against Graulhet in 1966 (8-6) after extra time; and against Brive in 1967 (6-3).
History from 1968 to 2000
During the 1967-1968 season, Toulon eliminated Grenoble 18-3 in the quarter-finals and beat Narbonne 14-9 at Lyon in the semi-finals. The Final was scheduled for 26th May 1968 in Toulouse where, 20 years on, Toulon were once again up against Lourdes.
After several postponements due to the "events" of May'68, the match eventually took place on 16th June. Under heavy skies (it had been raining all morning) Toulon played in white. Trailing 6-0 at half time, André Herrero's men got back into the match in the second half and at full time the score stood at 6 all. After extra time the score had changed but was still a draw (9-9).
According Federation regulations, in the event of a draw, there is one replay. Alas, this was not to be! Because of the delay already encountered and the departure of the French National Team for a Tour of New Zealand, Lourdes was declared the winner based on the number of tries scored (2 tries to none).
The same year, the French National Team, led by the Toulon flanker Christian Carrère, won the first "Grand Slam" in its history.
In the 1968-1969 season, Toulon was eliminated in last sixteen by Dax with a score of 11-9.
1970 saw the Club du Muguet (muguet : lily-of the valley, the RCT emblem) win the Challenge du Manoir 25-22 against Agen, and this despite the sending-off of Jean-Claude Ballatore. 1971, and another Chamionship Final against A.S Béziers in Bordeaux. A very tense match. André Herrero suffered two broken ribs as the result of a kick from an unknown source (Saisset? Estève? a Toulon player?). Substitutes did not exist in those days and so Herrero carried on playing. The Rugby Club Toulonnais was defeated 9-15 after extra time.
In July 1971, after a "difference of opinion", 11 permanent players left the Club (led by André Herrero) and joined Nice, then in the 2nd division. The 11 were André et Daniel Herrero, Carreras, Fabien, Giabicconi, Irastorza, Hache, Sappa, Vadella, Banisette et Ballatore.
Under the leadership of Marcel Brodéro and Christian Carrère, the players remaining loyal to the "Muguet" , together with a number of young players, reached the semi-finals of the 1972 French Championship, which they went on to lose 19-6 to Béziers.
But the young Toulon players did not live up to expectations with defeats in the quarter finals against La Voulte in 1973 (7-14) and in the last sixteen in 1974 against Tarbes (12-16).
In 1974, the RCT won its second Challenge du Club Complet thanks to its National B and Junior teams, who became French champions.
The dark years and the revival
From 1974 to 1983 the Rugby Club Toulonnais failed to get past the last sixteen : Béziers, 13-7 in 1975; Bayonne, 13-6 in 1977; Valence, 22-9 in 1978; Montferrand, 21-14 in 1979; Bayonne, 25-14 in 1980.
In 1981 they were even eliminated in the last sixteen by Nice, the "brothers at odds", with a score of 15-6..
The 1981-1982 season was a tragedy and, with no away wins, the RCT did not even qualify for the final stages.
After being knocked out of the 1982-1983 Championship by Perpignan (13-9), Toulon met Agen in the final of the Challenge Yves du Manoir and were beaten 7-29.
During the interseason, André Herrero was replaced as coach by Daniel Herrero, a change which led to the departure of several players for the R.C. Hyères (Guilbert, Farrugia, Alliou).
In the 1983-1984 season Toulon was once again eliminated in the last sixteen by Grenoble, 4-6.
1984-1985 : the Var team produced some excellent rugby and after beating Aurillac, Nice and Lourdes, Toulon went on to play in French Championship final on 25th May 1985 against the Stade Toulousain.
After a disastrous extra time period, the RCT lost 22-36. Daniel Herrero made the still famous statement "Happiness is in the field. Hurry, hurry. Happiness is in the field, hurry... it's getting away "
The 1985-1986 season came to a halt in the semi-final against Agen with a score of 18-38.
And then on 2nd May 1987 the lily-of-the-valley finally flowered over the French rugby world and was harvested in the Parc des Princes. 56 years after winning the title against Lyon, Toulon carried off its second Brennus Shield beating the Racing Club de France 15-12 (it was here that its fullbacks' pink bow ties became famous).
1988, and after a stormy Championship quarter-final against the Stade Toulousain (where Christian Cauvy was "assassinated" by a Toulouse player, with a "savage" reaction from the Toulon team), the President of the FFR, Albert Ferrasse from Agen, publicly expressed the hope that Toulon would be eliminated. But there was no need to put pressure on the referee as Daniel Herrero's men wavered against the Stadocenste Tarbais in the semi-finals and lost 31-12 in Lyon.
In 1989, another Champioinship Final was lost to the Stade Toulousain, the last for the great Jérôme Gallion, voted "international player of the year". Toulon conceded a try from 80 m by Denis Charvet and lost 18-12. At the beginning of the season Toulon had lost their hooker, Bernard Herrero, after he sustained a gunshot wound during a brawl.
The unexpected title of 1992
In 1991 a new chapter began when Daniel Herrero resigned as coach after a quarter-final lost to Agen in 1990 (6-0), and a defeat in the last sixteen, 18-9, against the future champions Bègles-Bordeaux.
Jean-Claude Ballatore returned to Toulon's benches and André Herrero took over the presidency.
After an arduous start in the Championship, Toulon played in the semi-finals of the Challenge Yves du Manoir and lost 3-12 to Agen. As a result of a "discussion" with Abdel Benazzi, Eric Champ got a red card which cost him his participation in the Final.3
Having got through the replays Toulon, with 4 juniors, found its way into the Championship Final against Serge Blanco's Biarritz Olympique. It would be Blanco's last match.
With a try from Jean-Christophe Repon, penalties from Patrice Teisseire and Pascal Jehl, and three drop kicks from Yann Delaigue(2) and Aubin Heuber, on 6th June 1992 Toulon won by 19-14. This was a first : a club on the verge of collapse which gets back on an even keel and goes on to be French Champion!
Castres got its revenge in the following season by beating Toulon in the semi-finals with a score of 17-6.
The 1994 season came to a halt in the quarter-finals against A.S. Montferrand with a score of 8-15.
In 1995, with Manu Diaz and Michel Michélis as coaches and the Loris Pédri and Jean-Louis Lagadec as Joint Presidents (succeeding Patrick Rouard), Toulon played in the semi-finals of the Challenge Yves du Manoir (losing to Toulouse, 13-21) and the French Championship (beaten by Castres 18-13).
The 1995-1996 season finished in Narbonne with the semi-finals of the Challenge Yves du Manoir (lost 3-5 to Pau after penalties) and with the quarter-finals of the French Championship (lost to Dax, 25-11).
The "Minots"(young players) come into their own
The 1996-1997 season got off to a bad start with the discovery of a deficit of 9 million francs. Jean-Claude Ballatore was nominated President and Gilbert Doucet and Alain Carbonel were appointed as coaches. The Club played in the European Conference and reached the quarter-finals where they were beaten by Castres, 23-15. As for the Championship, the season finished in the last sixteen against A.S Montferrand on a score of 12-6.
Marc de Rougement was unable to participate in France's tour of Australia because of a forearm fracture suffered during the Montferrand match, much to the delight of the young prop, Christian Califano, who trained with Toulon.
On 13 October 1996 the RCT Boutique was opened opposite the Stade Mayol (it has since been transferred underneath the Delangro Stand). In January 1997 the website "Brin de Muguet" dedicated to the RCT was officially launched (after an initial version in November 1996), before the creation in February that same year of the official Rugby Club Toulonnais site.
The 1997-1998 season saw a number of departures which were badly compensated for. Jean-Claude Ballatore was still President but Gilbert Douvet left for Grenoble and Alain Carbonnel "slammed the door". Edmond Jorda, former three-quarter for l'USAP and Toulon, and former coach for R.C. Hyères in the 80's, took charge of the 1st Team, assisted by Alex Dujardin. The RCT found it impossible to get out of its pool in the European Conference. Jorda and Dujardin resigned in November. Jean-Claude Bellatore returned to the field and Roger Vigouroux accepted presidency again ... but only until the end of the season, although he did in fact stay President of the Association for the '98-99 season. A very mediocre season which saw RCT finish 8th in its pool (out of 10), a position which would normally result in relegation to A2. However because the format of the '98-99 Championship had changed from 2 pools of 8 to 2 pools of 12, the RCT was rescued for administrative reasons.
Only Serge Luca and Patrice Blachère's Reichel teams salvaged the Club's honour by winning both the French Championship and the Challenge des Provinces for two years running.
1998-1999 interseason was an eventful period with the departure of a dozen or so players from the 1st Team and the ambiguity reigning between the President of the new entity, RCT SAOS (a public company for sports activities) which handled the "professional" side of the Club, and the coaches. Eventually, Jean-Claude Meiffret agreed to take over the SAOS and the Reichel pair, Serge Luca and Patrice Blachère, were pushed onto the benches of the 1st Team carried by the Junior current. The new team, a mixture of the Reichel and the old guard, brought satisfied supporters back to Mayol, thanks to the exploits of the "minots". After qualifying for the Top 16, and despite a superb win at Brive, the RCT missed by a hair's breadth (a red card) a well-deserved place in the ultimate stages of the 98-99 French Championship. A fine season, as a result of which Guillaume Delmotte and Jean-Luc Aqua were called to play for France.
In their quest for a heavyweight sponsor, the RCT managed to attract a Lyon businessman called Jean-Luc Bertrand who was nominated President of the SAOS, while Jean-Pierre Etienne became President of the Association. However, management of the Team was not easy. Luca and Blachère packed their bags in November 1999 and Manu Diaz and Philippe Sauton moved from the B team to the 1st Team. A mediocre season with Toulon finishing 9th in its Pool
History From 2000 to the present day
Unfortunately, even though the Club managed to salvage its position as part of the Elite on the field, the same was not true behind the scenes and because of an accumulated deficit of 10 million francs, the National Rugby League decided to relegate the Rugby Club Toulonnais to the Second Division on 24th July 2000.
Jérôme Gallion took control and the Club and undertook a general mobilisation of his forces. A number of "old guard" made a come-back (Philippe Coulais, Bruno Motteroz, Alain Guilbert, Alain Carbonel...) and the 1st Team was entrusted to a threesome made up of Manu Diaz, Éric Dasalmartini et Michel Bonnus. Eric Melville was made General Manager. The objective was an immediate return to the First Division and a reduction of the deficit.
Despite a fine season including several great rugby moments, on 20th May 2001 in Nimes, Toulon lost to Montauban in the Final. 92 years on, the U.S.M. once again deprived the RCT of the Title.
The 2001-2002 season proved disappointing from a sporting point of view with the Club's performance alternating between good and appalling. The bottom line, a modest 6th place and the ensuing departure of Manu Diaz and Michel Bonnus, who were replaced by Philippe Sauton, French champion that same season in Pro D2 with Mont-de-Marsan.
The 2002-2003 results were hardly better with the RCT finishing 10th and losing all their away matches.
Things were changing behind the scenes with Jérôme Gallion being replaced by Eric Champ, while Aubin Hueber returned to Toulon as coach-player with Thierry Louvet in charge of the Forwards.
2003-2004 saw the Club finishing in 8th position but the Rugby Club Toulonnais found its marks in the 2004-2005 season with a 30-16 win over Tarbes on 21st May 2005. Toulon was back in the Rugby Elite and the Rugby Club Toulonnais participated in the Top 14.
Unfortunately Toulon's courage was not enough. After a painful separation with the Louvet-Hueber couple in January 2006, the Catalan Alain Teixidor tried to save the Club's place, assisted by Olivier Beaudon. Despite their efforts, Toulon was relegated to Pro D2, but for sporting reasons this time.
The end of the season saw significant progress for the Club's future since the business section was transformed into an SASP (another type of public company for sports activities) and two local businessmen, Mourad Boudjellal and Stéphane Lelivère invested and took control of 51% of the company, with the clear objective of an immediate return to the Top 14.
- Sources :
- Gilles GAUTHEY, Edouard SEIDLER, "Le Rugby Français" Edité par les auteurs, 1961.
- Henri GARCIA, "Les grandes équipes françaises de Rugby", Editions Famot, 1979.
- Georges PASTRE, "Les volcans du dimanche", Editions Midi-Olympique / Rugby-France, 1969.
- "Le livre d’or du RCT", Editions S.E.P., 1969
- Marcel BODRERO, "Au soleil de Besagne", Editions Var Matin, 1989.
- Jean-Claude GAUGAIN, "Jeux, gymnastique et sports dans le Var (1860-1940)", Editions L’Harmattan, 2000.
- François DUBOISSET, "RugbyGuide", Editions De Vecchi, 2003.