OVER 100 YEARS OF SHARKS CIRCLING
Founded in 1861, we’re the oldest rugby union club in the Premiership, steeped in history. Born in Manchester and proud of our roots, we’re the elite sports team every northerner can get behind. No matter whether you’re red or blue (or claret…or white…) we’re all Sharks.
Playing top-flight rugby in the Gallagher Premiership, going head-to-head in Europe for the Champions Cup, and our emerging Sharks Women competing in the Allianz Premier 15s. Showing our teeth to fight for position and silverware.
Sale FC was founded by a group of enthusiastic sportsmen, mainly based at Sale Cricket Club, who still play at Dane Road. The date of formation, proudly displayed on the Sharks’ playing kit, makes the FC one of the oldest-established clubs in England. In those early days, rules were deemed unnecessary but if demanded were usually made up ‘on the spot’. As the game evolved, ten rules were stipulated and recorded in an 1865 Minute Book, a treasured possession at the Sale club and thought to be the World’s oldest existing rugby rule book.
Harry ‘Pat’ Davies was Sale’s first international player, appearing in just one game at flanker, an 8-6 triumph for England v. Ireland at Twickenham on February 12th. During the Thirties, the club fielded an all-international three quarter line, comprising Hal Sever (England), Claude Davey, Wilf Wooller (both Wales) and Scotland’s Ken Fyffe. Sale players awarded international caps have been in abundance from the Sixties to the present day.
Success in the prestigious Middlesex Sevens at Twickenham, featuring many of that Thirties’ line up, brought the name of Sale into national notice. They were recognised as the ‘Northern Force’ when many in London SW 19 may well have believed that everyone the ‘other’ side of the Watford Gap played the 13-man rugby code.
Sale FC were promoted from Courage League Division 2 into English rugby’s top flight, where the Sale name has remained ever since. Initially, the club went semi-professional, and under the guidance of Paul Turner and John Mitchell, onfield exploits showed marked improvement and excitement, leading to a national final in the club’s 133rd year. European Rugby was in its infancy from 1996, too. Times were changing.
The club had long been trying to make their mark in the RFU National Club Knockout competition. The highlight of the 1996-7 season came on Easter Saturday, when the aristocratic Harlequins side, England captain Will Carling and all, were defeated 26-16. So it was a Twickenham appearance for the North Westerners, but on a drizzly day, with a reported 20,000 fans at HQ from the ‘small town in Cheshire’, the tries dried up and the Leicester machine took the spoils 9-3.
Some clubs changed their names, others didn’t. Bath, Gloucester, London Irish and Saracens remained, but Bristol Shoguns, NEC Harlequins, Leicester Tigers, Northampton Saints, Newcastle Falcons and Sale Sharks added to their titles. Wasps came from London, and Blues from Bedford. The top professional side have been Sharks ever since. Sale FC revived in spectacular fashion, rising to the higher reaches of National One during season 2021-22.
James Wade ran the club’s development side, Sale Jets as Academy Manager until 2010. It’s believed that the Sharks/Jets names derive from West Side Story. The Academy has continually broadened, in line with Player Pathway and Development Player Programmes. For many years, Ray Unsworth and Brendan Thomas were in charge, but currently Fergus Mulchrone, Gareth Harris, Johnny Leota, Neil Briggs, Andrew Jibson, Warren Spragg, Noel Speed and Andy Groves hold roles and are in full contact with Schools, Clubs and Myerscough College.
Cheshire-based businessman Brian Kennedy took over as the Sharks’ new owner. A playing member of Wilmslow RUFC, he gave The Sharks lots of hope for the future. Outstanding news came when Jason Robinson signed from Wigan Warriors. Jason had played well over 300 times for club, GB and England Rugby League (also 13 games of RU for Bath in 1996). Honoured by his country in both rugby codes, with 159 appearances for the Sharks, 51 caps for England including scoring the Red Rose’s only try in two World Cup Finals (the first a winning one) and five caps for the Lions. Affectionately known as ‘Billy Whizz’, he was awarded the MBE in the 2008 New Year’s Honours list.
Sale Sharks, under the guidance of former players Jim Mallinder and Steve Diamond, held a high league position but it was their exploits on the European stage which caught the attention. After winning all six games in a group containing Connacht, Narbonne and Rugby Roma, The Sharks overcame Bristol Shoguns 25-20 in the quarter final, a nailbiting 28-27 against Gloucester at Northampton in the semi final saw them contesting the Parker Pen Shield Final against Pontypridd at Oxford’s Kassam Stadium. 25-22 was the winning score – the Sale club’s first 15-a-side silverware outside of Cheshire in 141 years.
Towards the end of a season where Heineken Cup rugby was played at Heywood Road for the first time ever, including a visit from a Bourgoin side coached by ex-Gloucester supremo Philippe St.Andre, all the talk was of a move to a bigger ground. Bury’s Gigg Lane was mooted, but Brian Kennedy ended up as owner of Stockport County FC as well as Sale Sharks. So a move to the 10,641 capacity, all-seater Edgeley Park happened, with the first game ending a 37-37 draw against Northampton Saints. Alex Sanderson played in that match.
Sale Sharks’ time in Stockport began whilst the Rugby World Cup was taking place in Australia. England faced the hosts in Sydney. The final was drawn 14-14 in normal time, but Martin Johnson’s team won 20-17 after extra time thanks to Jonny Wilkinson’s celebrated drop goal to land the trophy. Jason Robinson, scorer of England’s lone try, was thus a World Cup winner just three years after switching from Wigan. There were other future Sharks in that successful tournament squad: Ben Cohen, Trevor Woodman and Dorian West. The trophy (known as ‘Bill’) was paraded at Edgeley Park in December before a Heineken Cup win against Cardiff Blues.
Sharks’ first Edgeley season ended up with a Twickenham Final in the Powergen Cup. A great win at Leicester followed by a home triumph against Saracens saw Sharks beat Leeds Tykes in the home semi final. Newcastle Falcons won a terrific final 37-33 against a Sharks’ starting fifteen containing 12 Englishmen and three Scots.
Jim Mallinder departed to coach England’s up-and-coming players and was replaced by former Gloucester favourite Philippe Saint Andre. Capped by les Bleus 69 times between 1990 and 1997, scoring 32 tries off the wing, PSA was with The Sharks for five seasons, introducing several stellar European names including Sebastien Chabal, Sebastien Bruno and Lionel Faure. PSA took the club to two semi finals and two winning finals starting with a Premiership semi loss at Wasps in 2005.
It was back to Oxford in the European Challenge Cup Final against Pau. Games in the competition had been ‘Home and Away’ affairs, not in Pools, and the Sharks overcame Catania, Narbonne, Agen and Connacht on their way to a comfortable 27-3 win against Section Paloise, to give Pau their full title.
The British and Irish Lions tour of New Zealand party was announced, with Sale Sharks players Andrew Sheridan, Andy Titterrell, Jason Robinson and Charlie Hodgson included. They were later joined by Mark Cueto and Jason White. Still a record for the club, ex -fly half Hodgson is leading points scorer in the Premiership and also scored 44 points on his debut for England against Romania in 2001.
Sale Sharks reached the Heineken Cup quarter final, disappointingly losing 6-11 to Biarritz in San Sebastian. The Basque club proceeded to the final, losing to mighty Munster, whom Sale Sharks had beaten in the Pool stage.
Guinness Premiership Champions! The first club to top the league through the season and then take the title, beating Leicester Tigers 45-20 at Twickenham. A four-try fest on a rainy day. Never to be forgotten by the thousands who were there!
Sharks won their EDF Energy Cup pool, beating Newcastle Falcons, Llanelli Scarlets and Harlequins. This was the revived Anglo-Welsh Cup, with both semi-finals on the same day at the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff. Sharks lost to Leicester Tigers, who beat Ospreys in the Twickenham final.
Sharks involved for England in the Rugby World Cup Final against South Africa in Paris: Robinson, Cueto and Sheridan.
Former All-Black Mike Brewer was brought in as Head Coach. He, in turn, left the club after a European Challenge Cup ‘home’ defeat to Brive in December, held on a Monday night in Galashiels, Scotland.
Steve Diamond re-joined his former club as Director of Sport, following service as Russia’s Team Manager. Diamond had recorded 351 appearances in a Sale shirt during his playing career as a hooker.
The club moved to the newly-built Salford City Stadium. Edgeley Park had provided nine memorable years but was inadequate to meet rugby authority’s requirements. The club was believed to be paying fines because the facilities didn’t meet stipulations. On field, the team initially struggled in their new home, shared with Salford Reds, recording just four wins before the end of January. However, results improved and the club were 2013 LV= Cup finalists, losing 14-31 to Quins at Worcester.
Steve Diamond’s recruitment introduced a strong South African influence to the club’s squad list, with Faf de Klerk, Rohan Janse van Rensburg, Coenie Oosthuizen, Akker van der Merwe, JP du Preez, Cobus Wiese and the three du Preez brothers joining the club over the next three years. They combined with the existing emerging talent, such as the Curry twins Ben and Tom, the James brothers Sam and Luke, plus USA fly half AJ MacGinty – among others – to present a rising force.
In the midst of a Worldwide Pandemic, Sale Sharks won the Premiership Rugby Cup (created in 2018 when the Welsh regions withdrew), beating Quins in Salford 27-19, televised before a crowd of zero at the AJ Bell Stadium. After the presentation, the team wore specially printed tee-shirts commemorating the life of long serving club official Alan Blease, and have named a garden at Carrington in his memory.
Steve Diamond departed in December, citing personal reasons. He was re-united with the club game at Worcester Warriors eleven months later. Sid Sutton joined the club as CEO.
Sale Sharks Women’s team was formed: a rapidly emerging rugby team competing in the top-flight of domestic women’s rugby – the Allianz Premier 15s. Women’s rugby is one of the fastest growing sports in the world, and with the support of co-owner Michelle Orange, Sharks aspire to champion the women’s game across the region. Sharks Women is home to several domestic and international stars, directed by world-class coaches including England centurion Katy Daley Mclean MBE and former Wales coach Rachel Taylor.
Ex-captain Alex Sanderson joined his former club as Director of Rugby. Alex had been Saracens’ successful defence coach in between his two spells with Sale. 2021 also saw the introduction of our new mindgym coach Jamie Langley, an exciting innovative role that’s put the players mindfulness at the forefront of the clubs agenda.