CLUB HISTORY

The Alhambra Union Rugby Football Club as we know it today was formed at the end of the 1986 season and first took the paddock in 1987. The two north end clubs of Dunedin had each operated in excess of 100 years but after years of informal discussions it was agreed to merge the clubs.

Union had the numbers but lacked the grounds. After a season of training and playing the picturesque North Ground was far from a picture. Alhambra had the grounds but was losing numbers after it lost its senior status at the end of 1983.

Alhambra

Formed in 1884 the club was founded from members of the old Albany Street school who arranged a ‘kick around’ at Thompson’s paddock, now known as Harbour Terrace. At the end of that first season members began clearing bush at Opoho and permission was obtained to play games there in 1885. That same year the club joined the ORFU and was given the colours of red & black. In 1886 it played its first senior game, drawing against Kaikorai.

In 1891 the club had its first taste of success winning the senior and junior banner. The seniors repeated the feat the following season. In the first decade of the 1900’s the club enjoyed a purple patch winning the senior banner in 1902 (13 games undefeated) 1905, 1909 and 1910. They were runner up twice in that period as well.

Union

The Union Football Club was formed in 1872, or possibly earlier, after a special meeting on the 24th February 1871 at the Annadale Arms Hotel. This meeting took place after the boys of the Otago Boys High School had played a game against the Dunedin club, which had just been formed.

First reports of the games played by Union appeared in local papers in 1874, although a report on a game played between Dunedin and North Dunedin almost certainly involved the Union club. The Union club was the first in Dunedin to play rugby football as the Dunedin Football Club, founded nine months earlier, adopted association football (soccer) rules.

The first club President was Robert Stout who later became Sir Robert Stout. He would go on to be a Provincial Councilor, Prime Minister and later Chief Justice. He would become a long serving patron of the club.

After some tough times in the depression of 1880’s the club won its first senior banner in 1887. It repeated the title again in 1890. Games were played on the North Ground which at that stage was surrounded by a picket fence.

War, Depression and the Baby Boomers

Leading up to the First World War both clubs struggled and were only held together by enthusiastic administrators determined to keep them playing. Union picked up the senior banner in 1916. Alhambra won the title again in 1920 with Jock Richardson playing his part. He would later go onto captain the All Black test team on the famous 1924 Invincibles tour.

In 1926 the Union club amalgamated with the YMCA second grade team. A new monogram was developed with the triangle appearing for the first time.

The depression years in the 1930’s were tough for all clubs but games continued to be played. Alhambra played Kaikorai for the Murphy memorial for the first time in 1938 going down 3-0.

After finishing last in 1938 the Union club was guided to the title in 1939 by All Black ‘Did’ Vorrath defeating Southern 9-6 in the final thanks to a last minute Ron Silver penalty.

The Second World War was again tough for clubs. Often rival clubs like Alhambra and Kaikorai would combine to ensure games would be played.

By the late 1960’s the peak of the baby boomers had occurred at primary schools and both clubs benefited with large schoolboy numbers. Ten to fifteen years later these numbers had progressed through to the senior club.

In 1975 the Union club had nine teams training on the North Ground. Alhambra had a mini-revival in the late 1970’s with talented students Tim Burcher and Rex Smith leading them to the Galloway Shield in 1977.

The Merged Club

The most obvious benefit of the merged club was the increased playing numbers. In 1987 the four senior teams all played in the finals with the fourth’s winning the banner. University A beat the seniors with a penalty in the last action of the day.

The strength continued in the early 90’s with impressive performances across the club. The seniors were consistently in the top four contesting the final twice. The colts’ teams were also strong during this period picking up the banner in 1993.

Into the late nineties through to the current times the club has been buoyed by the success of the 2nd grade and woman’s who have consistently made the top four. The woman’s team won the banner once in the 1990's on the back of strong performances from its three Black Ferns, Farah Palmer, Jacinta Nielson and Maree Edwards.

In 1999 club had the unique honour of having both the men and woman’s NZ Rugby Player of the Year in Josh Kronfield and Farah Palmer. Both were playing for the club at the time, a situation that is unlikely to ever be repeated.

In 2003 the club had three players in the Highlanders with Filipo Levi, Seru Rabeni and Ben Herring all being selected. Rabeni went onto play for Fiji in the World Cup.

Leading up to the 2007 rugby and cricket world cups, both of the national coaches in these sports, Graham Henry and John Bracewell, had played for the Union club.

Various Successes Moving Towards 150th Years

Mike Moeahu in 2006 took over the Premier, which the previous season had finished a creditable fifth. Under the captaincy of Matt Clutterbuck the team achieved what supporters had waited 67 years for. The Premier Men's team won the banner, by beating University A 23-17 at Carisbrook. The semi-final against Southern had gone into extra-time before the team won 42-23. The double was almost achieved with the women just losing 24-20 to University team, which made up by far the bulk of the Otago team.

In 2007 the semi-final was lost but victory occurred in 2008 with a win over Dunedin 26-10 in the final. The following year a place in the final was 34sec away but Southern took revenge for the 2006 semi-final loss by scoring on full time and winning 20-19.

Nannette Haua produced four wins with the Women’s team remaining unbeaten 2007 to 2010 and winning respective finals 84-3 over Southern, 25-13, 50-15 and 43-0 over Pirates. The stars of the team were Kelly Brazier and Carla Hohepa who both played for the Black Ferns in fifteens and sevens. Other Black Ferns to emerge from those teams were Kat Wilton, Janna Vaughan and Pip Love. Nan, with husband Phil coached the Women's teams from inception in 1991 to 2015. Former Black Fern captain Farah Palmer was the first woman to be on the NZ Rugby Union Board in 2016.

Marty Grey was Premier coach in 2010-14 and the team made the final in 2010 but lost 3-14 when University scored a try with eight minutes to go. The merged club's second All Black was Liam Coltman in 2016 after being in the wider squad for a number of years.  Before becoming an All Black George Whitelock played for the club, and while being based in Dunedin with the Highlanders, his brother and All Black, Luke Whitelock made appearances for the club.

As the club moves to celebrate 150th years of north-end Dunedin community rugby in 2022 three players are in the Highlanders: Liam Coltman, Villimoni Karoi and Jona Nareki.  Teilah Ferguson will play for the Hurricanes team in the inaugural Super Rugby Aupiki and Kelsie Wills, a 2020 and 2021 Black Fern for the Chiefs.