Moseley’s 1903 Boxing Day derby fixture with Coventry, at The Reddings, resulted in a controversial encounter. In the first minute the home side’s Birtles was charged by a Coventry player after getting rid of the ball and the offender received a caution from the referee. This incident was followed shortly afterwards by similar cautions to one player from each side after more foul play. Following these incidents it appeared that the first half of the match would remain scoreless until Moseley scored an unconverted try shortly before the interval.
As the second half progressed the rough play worsened and two Coventry players were sent off following separate incidents. With a two-man advantage Moseley began to get on top and later in the half this advantage was increased when the visitors lost a further player due to injury when he received a kick over his eye. Not surprisingly the home side scored a further four tries all of which were converted and they won the match by 23 points to nil.
A writer in The Athletic News referring to the fixture commented that ‘The game is not in a healthy state here, and the fault is solely that of the players, who have it in their power to either make or mar the pastime.’
There were suggestions, in some quarters, that the return game in January should not be played, however, it went ahead, at Coventry, on 30th, and there was more ill feeling. As in the previous match the play was rough almost from the start and two Coventry players were struck without any action being taken by the referee. During this first period each side scored a try. In the second half the Moseley full back was struck by his opposite number’s knee and was winded when both players were jumping for the ball but the referee turned down an appeal for foul charging.
Throughout the afternoon the Moseley touch judge, J.F. Byrne, was subjected to a stream of ill-mannered abuse from sections of the Coventry crowd and following the above incident he walked onto the field and ‘was engaged in expostulation’ when he was requested to leave the field by several Coventry players, one of who challenged him to a fight. Byrne did return to the touchline and as he did so the Coventry supporters howled abuse at him. One of the Coventry players also addressed some ‘provocative remarks’ at him to which Byrne replied in an ‘abusive manner.’ The same player then grabbed Byrne around the shoulders near to his throat and Byrne defended himself but did not strike the player. Another player then attempted to strike Byrne, the crowd invaded the pitch and a general free for all ensued. The Moseley side left the field and as they did so they were pelted and abused by the Coventry spectators and following these events the match was wisely abandoned.
The Birmingham Daily Post commented that the disturbance ‘will rank as one of the most disgraceful in the history of Rugby football’ and such was the widespread disgust that the match aroused that it was reported by newspapers as far away as Cheltenham, Devon, Edinburgh, Gloucester, Manchester and Sheffield.
A few days after the match the Coventry committee expressed its regret at what had happened to both Moseley and to the Midland Counties Football Union and submitted a report to the union regarding the causes of the disturbances. Despite this the Moseley committee cancelled the following season’s fixtures with the Coventry club and the two sides did not meet, except in the Midland Counties Challenge Cup, for a number of seasons.
A fortnight after the game the Rugby Football Union appointed a special sub committee to enquire into the circumstances surrounding the disturbance and this committee delivered its findings on 12th March. The committee was critical of the Coventry club’s failure to make adequate precautions following the ill feeling at the Boxing Day match and Coventry were furthered criticised for having failed to take action against rowdy spectators in the past. J.F. Byrne was also reprimanded for replying to remarks made by the crowd and for addressing the Coventry players. Contrary to the decision of the referee the committee also found that the challenge by a Coventry player that had precipitated the trouble was deliberate foul play. The committee suspended two Coventry players while J.F. Byrne and another Coventry player were severely reprimanded. The Coventry club were forbidden from playing their first four home matches of the following season on their own ground and were fined £15.
Having defeated Stratford-on-Avon in their opening Midland Counties Challenge Cup tie, on the following Saturday, in the second round, as luck would have it, Moseley were drawn against Coventry and, no doubt, encouraged by previous events, a crowd of 3,000 assembled at The Reddings to witness the match. Prior to the game both clubs looked forward ‘with a certain amount of anxiety and responsibility’ to the coming encounter, however, The Birmingham Daily Post, sounding almost disappointed, reported that ‘the match was contested in the best possible spirit throughout, and was singularly free from any of that strenuous play that usually marks a cup-tie’ although it did add that the game ‘should go a long way towards healing the unfortunate breach between the two clubs.’ The fixture was won by Moseley who scored one goal and one try (eight points) to their opponents’ nil.
Moseley then defeated Rugby in the semi-finals but were themselves defeated in the final, by Leicester, who claimed the trophy for the seventh consecutive season.
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