Before the 1940s the main winter sport in Stoke was hockey and, in summer, tennis was played on the ground adjacent to the Stoke Memorial hall. Rugby football was not played at Stoke in those early years, although it soon thrived (see below).
Land adjacent to Isel Park became Marsden Recreation Reserve in 1952 and sports grounds were established in 1961 to cater for a growing population. In the early 1980s tennis, bowls, rugby, netball, softball and cricket were established. In 1982, the Stoke Rugby Club opened a Sports and Recreation Centre on the corner of Songer and Neale Streets, and the hall was used by a range of community groups.
The development of nearby Saxton Field has created a modern sports ground capable of hosting international events. The grounds cater for softball, cricket, football, hockey, netball, archery and track/field activities. The Saxton Stadium facilitates many indoor sports including futsal, handball, basketball, table tennis, volleyball and others.
Stoke Tennis Club
The Tennis Club was founded in December 1908, on a section of the newly formed Marsden Recreation Ground. By 1911 it had three Courts and membership flourished. However, it struggled to retain members through the depression, war and post war years, only coming back to full strength in the 1960s thanks to new member, and Club captain, Jack Cameron from Wakefield. Membership grew and in 1968 the Club moved to Greenmeadows, the courts were lit and two new laycol courts were laid. The club remains in good heart today.
The first horse race meeting in Nelson was a feature of Anniversary Day in 1843, when horses raced a makeshift course starting in Trafalgar Street. In 1846 horse racing in Stoke was included in the annual celebrations. Early settlers of 1842 who were racing enthusiasts, were H.A. Thompson, the first magistrate, and Henry Redwood who later established an internationally recognised horse stud at Redwood Stables. In 1848 the Nelson Jockey Club formed and was based at Stoke Race Course, which occupied land from the Turf Hotel to Nayland Road. The railway line ran through the race course and was packed with sawdust on race days.
Local enthusiasts included Captain Robert Nicholson residing at ‘Woodstock’ on Main Road Stoke, who used his front paddock as a racecourse and guests viewed the action from the front balcony of the house.
The story of Stoke Rugby, 1947-1990
On 19 March 1947, the Nelson Rugby Union approved an application from Tahuna, Wakatu and Stoke to enter a team in the Nelson Rugby Union competitions. This was the result of much lobbying and work by Messrs Moffatt, Walker and Johnson of Stoke. A third grade team was registered in 1947 as STAR (Stoke Tahuna Annesbrook Rugby).
Milestones in the history of Stoke rugby:
- 1951 - The sixth grade won its grade, in the first championship
- 1953 - All players were required to wear boots.
- 1954 - The first shed and goalposts were provided at Greenmeadows and training lights consisted of two kerosene lanterns on a pole. The Club registered 100 players and the junior team won its first game in four years.
- 1957 - At a meeting convened to discuss the survival of the Club, it was revealed that its net assets were thirteen pounds.
- 1959 - The seventh and sixth grade teams each won their grade championship, each losing only once.
- 27 March 1961 - Star changed its name to Stoke Rugby Football Club, and relocated to Stoke in an effort to form a senior and junior team.
- 1961 - The first senior team, coached by Jack Ashley, won two games and finished sixth of seven teams in the regional competition.
- 1963 - The Club had its first Nelson representatives - Les Coldstream and Bert Smith.
- 1975 - Charles Cowman was elected Chairman of Nelson Bays Rugby Union. The Union decided to maintain a senior team in Stoke, commenced coaching programmes, reorganised the management structures, revised its constitution to provide rugby opportunities for all children in Stoke, and developed club facilities.
- 1976 - A stylised eagle rampant was adopted as the Club's emblem, from the coat of arms of Stoke City in England. This had been approved by the City Corporation of Stoke-on-Trent. Senior, senior reserve, junior, and under 18 teams were created and the Club’s Michael Dore, gained representative Honours and Nelson’s Best and Fairest Player Award. A common law claim was settled which took all the Club’s resources.
- 1977 - Michael Dore became NZ Rugby Almanac’s Most Promising Player. There were contributions from Nelson rugby Clubs to re-establish the club’s cash resources. Andy Sellars became Stoke's first Player of the Year.
- 1978 - Midget rugby commenced. The first time all Stoke senior and Junior Advisory Board (JAB) teams won on the same Saturday.
- 1980 - Stoke was represented in the South Island team by Paul McKay. Fundraising began for Stoke Sports & Recreation Centre and 13 members stood as guarantors of loans to commence building the Sports Centre.
- 1982 - Stoke senior team won its first Nelson Bays Championship beating Riwaka 17–0. Willie Dempster was Stoke and Nelson Bays Player of the Year and played for the South Island Wanganui as No 8.
- 1984 - Stoke Sports and Recreation Centre was opened on 25 August after 6,000 hours of voluntary work. Club membership was 468. Unfortunately a fire burned out the Greenmeadows changing sheds.
- 1988 - Stoke Seniors, unbeaten in 31 consecutive games, fell to Huia Rugby Club (Motueka).
- 1990 - Willie Dempster reached 100 First Class Games
2015 (Stoke rugby notes contributed by Mike Carnahan)
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Further sources - Stoke Sports
- McAloon, Jim. (1997) Nelson: A regional history. Whatamango Bay, N.Z.:Cape Catley Ltd, p.56, 87, 111
- Nelson races (1848, March 18) Nelson Examiner and New Zealand Chronicle, p. 10
- Nelson races (1867, March 22) Colonist, p.3
- Stoke Tennis Club. History. Retrieved 16 October, 2015L
A view of the new Stoke Lawn Tennis Club, during the first day's play. Nelson http://www.stoketennis.co.nz/club-history.cfm