Thursday, 22 December 2011

An orderly succession?

In 1976 I was elected as secretary of the Doncaster Amateur League in quite strange circumstances. The Derx family who organised the Hatfield Wasps club also organised the Doncaster Amateur League. I began attending League meetings in early 1976, representing Bentley, the club I played for. After a few meetings I was becoming frustrated by what was happening. The meetings were chaotic, an opportunity for club representatives to argue with each other, and worse still no decisions ever seemed to be made. George Derx, who was the secretary, announced at one particular meeting that he wanted to resign. I volunteered to take over and was duly elected as secretary. At the next meeting, a few weeks later, George announced that he hadn't actually resigned and that he really wanted to carry on as secretary. He said I had ousted him from power illegally and he wanted his position back. The people at the meeting did not agree with him so he appealed to the British Amateur Rugby League Association, the governing body for the sport. We both attended an appeals meeting in Huddersfield. I took the minute book with me as evidence of what had happened. The minutes stated that George had resigned and that I had been elected as secretary. As George had actually written the minutes himself it was very difficult for him to argue that I had ousted him from power! The decision of the appeals panel obviously went in my favour as George didn't have any other evidence to support his allegations. Both George and his father, a very fiery character who had lost an arm in an accident, and who attended the meeting as his witness, were outraged by the decision. They left the room issuing threats about retribution, but I never heard from them again!

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Morley Rugby League Club?

I found the information below on Morley Rugby Union Club's website- I think it makes interesting reading!

On the 29th of August 1895, in the George Hotel in Huddersfield, 21 representatives of Clubs from Yorkshire and Lancashire met to form what is now the Rugby League. 
There should have been another two persons present, i.e. representing MORLEY RFC, but since travel in those days could only be done by train, and was considered a long journey, our two notable gentlemen decided to fortify themselves in readiness for their arduous trip. This they did by calling at several hostelries on route to the station, needless to say they missed their train, and the rest as they say history.’
So should there have been an extra club taking part in the first season of  the Northern Union?

 Is the story true? 

Friday, 9 December 2011

Who was Bob Oakes?


Probably the most influential figure in Yorkshire Rugby Union in the last century, Robert Frederick Oakes was the Yorkshire secretary from 1907 until 1947 who represented the County at the Rugby Football Union from 1920 until 1945 and was the RFU President in 1933/34.
Bob Oakes was born in 1873 and died in 1952. He had an illustrious playing career, beginning with Hartlepool Trinity. He joined Hartlepool Rovers in 1890, playing for the club for nine years. During his time with Hartlepool Rovers, Bob captained the team for six seasons, played for Durham and the North and gained eight England caps. He moved to Yorkshire at the turn of the century and played for Headingley from 1902 until 1904.
Bob Oakes is remembered by Hartlepool Rovers every year by the R. F. Oakes Memorial match. This is a fixture that in the past has featured many International players. These days it is the final game of the season for Hartlepool, who play a Select XV.
Perhaps Bob Oakes contribution to Yorkshire Rugby Union should be recognised in a similar way. In 2012 it will be 125 years since his birth, a very fitting time to establish a memorial tradition to this remarkable rugby man.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Where are they now?

1969/70 was my first season at Barnsley and when I recently looked at the fixture list for that season I was struck by how things have changed in rugby union over the past 40 years. Exactly why some clubs have disappeared, while others have improved their status and still another group has declined is hard to explain. Was the reason the impact of leagues, professionalism or the increasing range of leisure activities available? Notably, rugby union has suffered a decline in playing numbers. Clubs that once organised four or five teams now only organise two or three. Players can now move freely between the two codes but that hasn’t had a significant impact on player numbers.
The reality is that the reasons for the changes are complex. There isn’t just one reason for clubs disappearing, improving their status or declining. I have listed below the clubs that were in the 1969/70 Barnsley fixture list, the name they go by today and, if they are still in existence, which league they are in.

2011/12 LEAGUE





Barnsley currently play in Yorkshire Two and in 2011/12 only have fixtures against three of the twenty three clubs listed above.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Liversedge Football Club - Part Four

Liversedge Football Club played its first few home games on a field owned by a Mr Hemingway. It is not clear where in Liversedge the pitch was located but it was described in match reports as hilly terrain. Presumably, that meant it had a slope from one end to the other. In the 1880s Liversedge developed their ground in Hightown on an area of land next to Halifax Road that is now the King George V Playing Fields. The ground was enclosed. It had a stand and for some of the time Liversedge played there it also had a clubroom.

During the period that the club used the ground in Hightown it also used a number of local public houses as its headquarters. One of them the Shoulder of Mutton, which was about a mile from the ground, was demolished a few years ago.

The stand, clubroom and pitch boundaries were made of wood and, as you can see from this photograph of the King George V Playing Fields taken in the 1990s no trace of the ground remains.

Thursday, 17 November 2011


This will be the title of my new book on Yorkshire Rugby Union in World War Two. I hope to have the book in print in early March 2012. I have nearly completed my research and I hope that the book will tell the story of what happened in Yorkshire rugby between 1939 and 1946. If anyone reading this article has any connections with a club that played during World War Two, I would be grateful if they would get in touch. I can be contacted by email. Please click on the contact page for address details.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Lversedge Football Club - Part Three

After a difficult first season as members of the Northern Union the 1896/97 season, their second in the new breakaway competition was one of consolidation for Liversedge Football Club. At the end of the 1895/96 season the Northern Union had decided to spit into Lancashire and Yorkshire sections, a change that would help clubs with the cost of travel, which was an issue for small organisations like Liversedge.
On the field the club was a little more consistent, finishing in 11th place in a league of 16 clubs. There were also some notable victories, including a10 points to 0 away win at Huddersfield and a 23 points to 7 home victory against Wakefield Trinity. The club also had the advantage, in the 1896/97 season, of local derbies against near neighbours Heckmondwike. The home game against Heckmondwike, on 16th January 1897, produced one of the best gates of the season, with receipts of £29 6s and 10d. However, it wasn’t the league games that produced the best gates in 1896/97; it was the Rugby League Challenge Cup. On 27th March 1897, Liversedge were at home, in the first round, against their local rivals Heckmondwike and won the cup-tie by 9 points to 4. Better still was a half share of the gate receipts which amounted to £37 15s 10d. In the next round of the Challenge Cup Liversedge had to travel to Warrington on Saturday 3rd April. Unfortunately it wasn’t a successful visit on the field, as Liversedge lost by 6 points to 0, but off the field it was a different story - a half share of the gate amounting to £40 8s 2d, easily the best of the season.
During the close season the club had undertaken some fund raising, so that when Mr J.E. Hampshire, the financial secretary, presented his balance sheet it showed that £50 9s 3d was owed to the bank. This balance was regarded as quite acceptable by the President, Mr Herbert Heaton JP. He felt that as long as every player and member continued to work hard, then the club could look forward to reducing its liabilities. He also said that the sum owed was very small for a club like Liversedge.
The large attendance of members at the Annual General Meeting on 28th June 1897 must have left the Liversedge club rooms encouraged by what they had heard and looking forward to September and the start of the new season.

Thursday, 3 November 2011

Liversedge Football Club - Part Two

At the 1896 Annual General Meeting of the Liversedge Football Club the balance sheet presented by Mr G.W. Halmshaw, the financial secretary, made interesting reading. Liversedge’s gate receipts from their first season as members of the Northern Union were £294 compared with the previous season as members of the Yorkshire Rugby Football Union, when £817 was taken in gate receipts. It seems that even in the 1890s gates were greatly affected by results on the field. In the 1894/95, season Liversedge had a very good campaign, finishing as Champions of the Yorkshire Senior Competition. While in the 1895/95 season in the Northern Union, Liversedge finished fifteenth in a league of twenty two clubs. Attendances at Liversedge games declined as the season progressed, obviously reflecting the decline in playing performances. The largest home gate of the season was £30 7s, when Bradford visited Liversedge. The Manningham gate of £25 12s 3d was the next best, with only the home games against Leeds £20 18s 9d and Brighouse Rangers £21 12s producing receipts in excess of £20. Despite these poor gate receipts, Mr Halmshaw gave a positive report suggesting that the situation was not as disastrous as many people thought it would be. He pointed out that the club’s capital account showed a balance in favour of the club of £19 4s 3d. Liversedge had some interesting assets as you will see below.

New Grand Stand Shares
New Grand Stand Shares 3 years interest
Accounts owing
Owing Bank
Balance Assets in excess of Liabilities



Grand Stands, Field Fencing, Tackling and Football Requisites, Billiard Table, Bath and Club Rooms fittings, as per stock book (less depreciation)



Outstanding Members Subscriptions
Stock of Aerated Waters and Cigars in Club Room Curator’s hands

Cash in Club Room Curator’s hands

Cash in Treasurer’s hands



For a small village club, like Liversedge, life in the first season of the Northern Union was very tough. How did the club fare in its second season? I will review the 1896/97 season next week.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

Liversedge Football Club - Part One

Over the next few weeks I will be posting a number of articles about Liversedge Football Club. This is the first one.

Following its first season as members of the Northern Union, the Liversedge Football Club held its Annual General Meeting on Friday 12th June, 1896. The report given by the secretary, Mr J.E. Hampshire, published in the Cleckheaton Guardian on 19th June 1896 makes interesting reading.

Mr Hampshire said:
As you are all aware the past season has been a very peculiar and exceptional one. A new Union has been formed by twenty two of the best clubs in the North of England. The latest events have proved that it was a step in the right direction, and something that should have been done years ago. As we are situated today, each club connected with the Northern Union has a voice at headquarters and may have a representative there to defend anything that may be brought against his club, which was not the case under the old rules. I think I may venture to say that before five years today the Northern Union will be the only one in the North of England, and if we make the same rapid strides we have done this season less than that time will see all the clubs members of the new organisation. It is all very well and sounds large for such gentlemen as Mr Mark Newsome, Mr J.A. Miller, Mr H.H. Watson and Mr A. Hartley to talk about pure amateurism when they know perfectly well that there is no such thing in the Yorkshire Union. This season, if anyone will take the trouble to get one or all the balance sheets of the clubs connected with the Northern Union, I will be bound they will find that the expenses of players have been curtailed to the extent of £100 to £400, which speaks volumes for the new Union.’
Mr Hampshire's statement that all the clubs in the North of England would, within five years, join the Northern Union wasn't proved correct. The Yorkshire Rugby Football Union lost most of its leading clubs in 1895, but, over the next thirty years, new rugby union clubs were formed all over the county. The hopes of Northern Union pioneers like Mr Hampshire were not fulfilled, and the Northern Union did not expand at the same rate. Some new clubs joined but the numbers were small, and the next thirty years for the Northern Union was mainly about consolidation rather than rapid expansion. Many of the clubs that broke away did survive and prosper, but unfortunately Liversedge wasn't one of them. By 1900 the club was in severe difficulties and had to merge with Cleckheaton.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

2012 - A new opportunity for South Yorkshire

Dodworth and Sheffield Hillsborough are the two South Yorkshire clubs that attempted to improve their playing standards by joining the National Conference League. The facilities at both clubs were excellent. The complex at Hillsborough was built in that late 1990s and had two pitches, modern off field facilities and a bar and function room all for the exclusive use of the rugby club. Dodworth’s facilities, although not as up to date as Hillsborough’s, were more than adequate. A large flat pitch, changing rooms, a bar and club room on the site meant that Dodworth more than met the NCL criteria. Both Dodworth and Hillsborough had good support at home games and initially there appeared to be enough good players at both clubs in order to sustain a competitive team
So why have both attempts to establish National Conference League clubs in South Yorkshire failed? I think there are three main reasons why South Yorkshire hasn’t been able to sustain this level of rugby: player supply, coaching and the commitment of the professional club
Player supply
Hillsborough and Dodworth were competitive on the field when they had their best team available but if any key players were missing both clubs struggled. There is no real player depth in South Yorkshire. The standard of Conference rugby is so much higher than the standard of the local open age clubs. If a player was recruited by Hillsborough or Dodworth from a local club he would often struggle to adapt to what was required of him both skill wise and physically. Also, when the two clubs were in the NCL neither of them had developed their junior structures to a standard that meant that a young player could move successfully from youth rugby into open age.
Both clubs struggled to find coaches who had sufficient experience in the game in order to ensure the players were well prepared for the tough environment they were being thrust into. Paul Harkin, who coached Dodworth for a period, was an exception. Paul had been a successful professional and his experience meant that when he was coaching Dodworth they had their most successful period. However, once Paul departed standards declined rapidly and this resulted in Dodworth leaving the NCL. A coaching structure, at both clubs, that had experienced men at the top could have ensured that an environment was created for players that enabled them to adjust to the demands of Conference rugby.
The professional club
 I am not convinced that Sheffield Eagles recognised the value of having a successful Conference club in their catchment area. There appeared to be initial enthusiasm for the idea. However, very soon friction between the professionals and amateurs resulted in both clubs suffering. Sheffield Eagles appeared to see no real value in the presence of the Conference club and the amateurs seemed to believe that the professionals were working against them.
Although Amateur Rugby League has been played in South Yorkshire for nearly forty years it is still seen as an 'alien invader'. Soccer dominates and the sport has hundreds of clubs playing at all levels. Rugby League, in South Yorkshire, is never going to challenge soccer's dominance but the sport does need to provide an opportunity for the best amateur players to test themselves at a higher level.  In 2012 Rugby League will have a new four tier pyramid structure based on a March to November playing season.This new structure will provide South Yorkshire clubs with a great opportunity to improve their playing standards and develop teams that can compete at a much higher level. I hope they will rise to the challenge.

Monday, 10 October 2011

An anecdote from Leeds Who?

Leeds Who? contains many anecdotes from former Chirons players. This is an incident from the 1980s recalled by Ian Benn.

Ian was a very hard working forward who was missed whenever he was unable to play. He remained committed to the club right up to the 'dark days' of the 1980s. He has a particularly fond memory of that period about a player called Dave Barker who had a pet python that he always took to games in a pillow case. Dave left the snake in the dressing room for a particular game at Burley. A thief broke into the clubhouse and ransacked the home dressing room, but hardly touched Chirons valuables. When the thefts were discovered after the game, it was assumed that the Chirons players' valuables were largely untouched because the thief had opened the pillow case, found the python and beat a hasty retreat.

Leeds Who? The story of a forgotten rugby union club is available from:

YPD Books - see the link from this site.

Philip Howard Books, Street Lane, Leeds



Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Cleckheaton Football Club - Part Two

Cleckheaton did not join the Northern Union until a merger with Liversedge in 1900 when, under the Liversedge name, the club took part in the Yorkshire Senior Competition. The Cleckheaton section was the dominant partner and, even though the club was known as Liversedge, games were played at Cleckheaton's Whitcliffe Ground. The Cleckheaton colours of red and white were adopted and the club had Cleckheaton based officials. The name was changed to Cleckheaton at a meeting at the Punch Bowl Hotel on Monday 18th August 1902. The club continued until 1905/06 in the Yorkshire Senior Competition and then in the Yorkshire Combination. In the final season, Cleckheaton took part in a series of Workshop Competitions.

During the 1890s the Spen Valley clubs were great rivals. Local derbies and Yorkshire Cup-ties at Whitcliffe often produced large attendances. In March 1892, a Yorkshire Cup game against Leeds Parish Church had an attendance of over 6,000. The Whitcliffe Ground in 1892 was described as 'well looked after'. It had baths and turnstiles and the boundary had been improved. The hoardings around the field had been repaired and the boards at the White Chapel end of the ground moved back to allow more spectators.

The 1894 Ordinance Survey Map showing the Cleckheaton Ground

Cleckheaton's decision not to join Liversedge and Heckmondwike in the Northern Union was thought to be one of the causes of the club's decline during the late 1890s. The local derbies had ceased and, because of the Northern Union opportunities offered at Liversedge and Heckmondwike, the fortunes of the club were described in 1900 as at 'a very low ebb' by Mr Balderson, one of the members. According to Mr B. Roberts, the club treasurer, at the 1902 Annual General Meeting, not joining the Second Division of the Northern Union in 1900, as the players had wished to do, had resulted in a missed opportunity for Cleckheaton.

Soccer began to dominate the sporting scene in the area in the early 1900s and, following the demise of Cleckheaton, it was many years before rugby could regain some of the ground it once held in the Spen Valley.

Trevor Delaney has written a very interesting 'Brief History of Liversedge Old Rugby Club', including mentions of Cleckheaton, in issue 11 of a publication called Code 13 that appeared in June 1989.

I will be writing some articles about Liversedge that will be posted on this site in the coming weeks.

Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Cleckheaton Football Club - Part One

The club was formed at a meeting held at the Royal Hotel, in the town, on Tuesday 21st September 1875. It was reported in the Cleckheaton Advertiser on 23rd December 1875 that there was a 'satisfactory attendance of young men, that a resolution be adopted that the club be called Cleckheaton Football Club and that there was to be an entrance fee of one shilling per member.' A committee was formed at the meeting in order to secure a field, and Mr George Siddall was appointed secretary and treasurer. It was also agreed that rugby rules would be followed by the club.

Prior to the meeting at the Royal Hotel, a notice had appeared in the Cleckheaton notes in the Cleckheaton Advertiser on 10th December 1875. The notice posed the following question that was being asked by young men in the district: 'Cannot a football club be formed in Cleckheaton and other places?' The newspaper article used a quote from Shakespeare's A Comedy of Errors to support the argument of the young men. Apparently a speech by Dronios, one of the characters in the play, in which he complains to his mistress about his ill treatment at the hands of his master, mentions a football. Quite what relevance a quote from Shakespeare, who had obviously never heard of rugby, had on the debate regarding the formation of a Cleckheaton club is not clear. However, it is clear that the Cleckheaton Advertiser thought the quote was relevant and, as a new club was formed, they seemed to have been proved right.

Cleckheaton played four games in their first season 1875/76, two against Heckmondwike and two against Bierley. Their first ground was Waterslacks, a field off Balne Lane, that after a few games proved unsuitable as it had ruts and holes and in wet weather miniature lakes formed on the pitch. The club eventually developed its home ground at Whitcliffe Mount, a site now occupied by school buildings.

Part two of the story of Cleckheaton Football Club will appear next week.