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Courage League Three Victory - 25 years on

Posted: 29th April 2020

It’s been a month of notable Blues anniversaries, and today marks 25 years since Bedford won the 1994/95 Courage League Three title in a thrilling final day victory against Richmond at Goldington Road to seal promotion.

In the penultimate season of amateur rugby and after narrowly missing out on an instant return back to the second-tier in the previous season, Bedford made no mistake and led the league standings from virtually the first whistle to the last.

Coached by former Bristol and England flanker Mike Rafter and captained by Paul Alston, who skippered the side from 1992-96, Bedford employed their well-known expansive and free flowing attitude towards rugby to finish the campaign as top points scorers with 421 from 18 matches.

Blues’ defensive capabilities were also reason for success; they possessed the second best defensive record in the division (238), only behind Blackheath who were also promoted and ran Bedford mightily close throughout the campaign.

Bedford made the early running by winning seven of their first eight games, including a 12-3 home success over challengers Blackheath, thanks mostly to the ever-reliable boot of outside-half and club legend Andy Finnie.

Defeats away from home to Otley and Morley in January and February saw Bedford lose some of their early season momentum; leaving Blues to head to Blackheath needing a result to maintain the advantage in the title race.

A determined performance saw the spoils shared in a 12-12 stalemate, Finnie converting tries from Alston and Ben Whetstone, leaving Bedford in the driving seat with five league matches remaining.

Three wins and a defeat left a simple objective for Bedford on the final day; win at home against Richmond and the title would be added to Blues’ illustrious trophy cabinet at Goldington Road.

Both Blues and Blackheath already knew they had secured promotion but there was no let-up in determination as they went in search of the title.

Nothing’s ever done easy in Bedford and so it proved on Saturday 29th April 1995 as Richmond tried to stop the Goldington Road party.

Rafter was forced to gamble on youth to bolster what was a severely depleted squad through injury. There were schoolboys on either wing; Matt Oliver (Bedford School) and Giles Witheat (Bedford Modern).

Bedford again started well and led 21-20 with 27 minutes remaining after club legend Whetstone, crowd favourite Steve Harris and Marcus Cook all had tries converted by Finnie.

Richmond bombarded the try line from then on, missing several kicks, leaving Bedford to desperately defend their lead and ensure they clinched the title.

Notable statistics from the 1994/95 season:

Finnie was the club’s top scorer for the tenth time with 338 points. He would finish his renowned Goldington Road career as top scorer for a season on 11 different occasions. His total of 2,616 points has only been beaten by fellow Blues legend James Pritchard.  

Jason Simons ended the season as top try scorer with 15 from 19 appearances.

Alston made the most appearances (35) for the third successive campaign.

A total of 56 players made at least one appearance for Bedford in 1994/95.

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