Born out of crime and corruption, Valley Rugby Football Club celebrates its 25th birthday today. Before Valley cite me, let us hasten to explain. But first, a very happy birthday, Valley. On this day in 1975, 14 men sat down at the China Fleet Club in Wan Chai to talk about a plan to set up a new rugby club in Hong Kong. When the meeting adjourned two hours later, it was decided the club would be known as Valley Rugby Football Club and be based in the middle of the Happy Valley racecourse. 'I remember the meeting ending with a whip round in a tin mug where we raised $50 that was used to pay for the hire of the room,' said Roger Matthews, who was appointed chairman. 'It was the beginning . . . Valley was on the road and we all agreed then on our first training session.' Since those humble beginnings Valley have been transformed into the powerhouse of local rugby and will be defending the First Division League title in its silver jubilee season in 2000-01. They still do not have a clubhouse or a pitch to call their own. But the spirit of camaraderie and friendship survives to this day and is what makes Valley special. 'Our basic philosophy has always been to get on the pitch and have a good time,' said Ian Brownlee, another Valley veteran. Like so many others whose lives have been enriched by the Hong Kong experience before moving on, Matthews is today living in the Channel Islands. But he was in the territory in those 'good old days' and is best placed to tell the story of Valley. Matthews was the catalyst for the formation of the new club in the summer of 1975 when Sir Murray MacLehose was the governor of Hong Kong. Then occurred an event that was to prove crucial in the history of local rugby. Funnily enough, its origins had nothing to do with the game itself, but rather with crime and corruption. The government had decided to separate the Anti Corruption Unit from the Royal Hong Kong Police, forming the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). It resulted in the Police Rugby Club passing a resolution that no person could play for them unless they were employed by the Police. 'At the time it was hard for people newly arrived to continue a sporting pursuit. Police and Hong Kong Football Club were the two powerhouses of rugby in the colony and the game was of a high standard. But they were both somewhat aloof,' Matthews said. Having arrived the year before, at the age of 27, to start up and work for the Bank of Bermuda, Matthews, a rower and rugby player, was frustrated at the lack of avenues for an active sportsman to vent his energies. 'There were waiting lists for all the traditional expat enclaves and they were extremely expensive to join. I was rowing with people from the newly formed ICAC and we talked about how we were going to play rugby. When it was dictated that no former police members who had joined the ICAC could play for the very strong Police RFC, it strengthened my resolve to form a new club. 'I canvassed the idea and when I found that there was support for it, I called a meeting on June 19, 1975, at the China Fleet Club. At 8pm, 14 of us sat down,' said Matthews. The 14 were Matthews, Robey, Furze, Lockran, Kendall, Bullen, Smith, Airth, Carnochon, Benwell, Williams, Hanforth, Nattrass and Guy. It was decided to change the name from what was first mooted, The Exiles, to Valley RFU. 'We chose the chess knight as the emblem of the club to depict strategy and also horse racing, the sport best known to Happy Valley. The colours were chosen as all black because, no doubt, of Kiwi influence among us, but later became black and yellow,' Matthews said. Jamie Scott, the last remaining active member of Valley who played in that first season and is now secretary-general of the Asian Rugby Football Union, takes up the story. 'The officers of that committee read like an ICAC's 'Who's Who'. But by season's end our ranks had diversified to include lawyers, doctors, teachers, students, Forces personnel and even some police players,' he said. 'Valley's first game was a non-league fixture against the Royal Navy on September 3, 1975. A try by Tony Robey, converted by Tim Scott, saw Valley win 6-4.'. With word spreading, more members were joining. A semblance of a team was put together under the captaincy of Jim Benwell, a South African, and coach Terry Ryan, who went on to become a High Court judge. Valley were ready for the 1975-76 season. The fixtures secretary of the day at the Hong Kong Rugby Football Union, with a sense of humour, had seen to it that Valley's first league game would be against Police. 'They were all out to get us. There was no love lost and it was nothing short of a battle,' Matthews said. Police overwhelmed Valley 51-0 after being up 14-0 at half-time. But in defeat there were still signs of encouragement. And it proved so when they defeated Forces outfit Kukris 44-0 and YMCA, the forerunner to Kowloon, 33-6. The last game of the inaugural season was against Football Club. It was another heavy defeat. 'The season ended with Valley being awarded the Referees 31 Trophy . . . an award given by the referees to the team which in their eyes had done most to enhance the spirit of the game of rugby,' Scott said. That momentous season ended for Valley in a string of social events, a membership of about 40, assets of $2,109.35, one set of shirts and three rugby balls. During the season, Valley had adopted Popeye's Bar in Lockhart Road as its corporate headquarters. 'After training we would cram into the Derby, overshadowed by arch-rivals Football Club's luxurious premises. We knew that in real terms we would always be the poor relation and that the luxury of a clubhouse or premises was a long way off,' Matthews said. Brownlee said: 'People joining Valley came with a commitment. It was not as if you were joining a club so your kids could go and use the swimming pool. People came to have a good time.' Was it a coincidence that the Hong Kong Sevens began in that same inaugural season? Rabid Valley-ites will vouch it was no coincidence. As present chairman Toby Bland once said, Valley not only invented the Sevens, but also the wheel, electricity, margin trading and women's rugby. We are not so sure about the wheel, electricity and trading, but prominent Valley members were involved with the first Sevens and the start of women's rugby. The lesson was quickly learned at Valley that if the men were to play rugby, then the women must follow the menfolk into battle. Which was why Valley diversified from rugby into hockey and netball. Rugby is now the third sport for Valley's women. Valley entered two teams in its second season, Valley and Knights (sticking to the equine theme) and the club was on its way. But it took until the 1989-90 season for Valley to win the First Division title. Since then they have dominated the local scene. It is not widely known, but during the 1994-95 season, Valley boasted three world record holders in their line-up: Geoff Piper, who scored 30 individual points for Hong Kong in an international against Taiwan. This equalled the world record set in 1987 by Didier Camberabero. The other two marks were set in 1994, when in a Rugby World Cup qualifier, Hong Kong beat Singapore by the world record score of 164-13. Ashley Billington scored 10 tries and Jamie McKee kicked 17 conversions. The latter's mark was broken by Simon Culhane who put over 20 conversions when New Zealand beat Japan at the 1995 World Cup. Billington's record still stands. But it has not all been about rugby and beer down at Valley. Following a life-threatening spinal injury to Valley hooker Richard Dixon in the early 90s, fundraisers have been started where annually hundreds of thousands of dollars are raised for charity. This year, Valley raised $385,000 for the needy. 'Some people say that if you have half a mind to join Valley, that is all you need,' said Bland. That ability to laugh at themselves and the reputation as a fun club has been the glue that has cemented Valley's place in Hong Kong rugby - which presently is at the top of the pile. Twenty-five and full of life. The founding fathers will be proud of this strapping youth born from crime and corruption.