Wednesday 29 June 2011

Hunslet Engine Company

During the course of my research into Yorkshire Rugby during World War Two I have found references to a club called Hunslet Engine Company. This club did not exist prior to the War and I cannot find any references to the club post 1945.

The first mention of Hunslet Engine Company is in September 1942 when the Yorkshire Post reports that they played a fixture against Wakefield Old Boys.I am not sure where their home ground was in 1942/43 but I do know that some of Hunslet Engine Company's games were played at Parkside, the home of Hunslet Rugby League Club. From 1942 on the club played fairly regular fixtures, competing successfully against other Leeds clubs such as Roundhay and Headingley Old Boys.

I would be very interested in hearing from anyone who has any information about this club. Where did the players come from? Were they all employees of the Engine Company? Why didn't the club continue after 1945?

Tuesday 28 June 2011

Leeds Chirons Golden Jubilee 1980/81

An action shot from the Golden Jubilee game held on 15th November 1980 between Chirons past and Chirons present players. The present team won the game by 13-0. I was hoping to include this picture in Leeds Who? but ran out of space.

Monday 20 June 2011

Rugby League in Rotherham - the early days

Rugby league came to Rotherham thirty seven years ago. A ‘get together’ in the Charter Arms took place on 5th April 1977 and was the inaugural meeting of a rugby league club that after much discussion was finally called Rotherham Rangers. To get to this first meeting had taken a few weeks of articles in the local weekly newspaper the Rotherham Advertiser that attempted to drum up support. As a result of the articles a few people had contacted me. Tony Lidster was keen on playing and had a few mates who wanted to try the game. Harry Brooks was a rugby enthusiast, who although he was well past the age when he could have played the game, was very keen to see rugby league established in Rotherham. It was decided by Tony, Harry and I that we had to try to form the club or forget the whole idea.

After the first meeting training sessions were held and new players appeared. Three friendlies were played and it was decided to enter the West Yorkshire League. The League played its games on Sunday mornings and so on Sunday September 18th 1977 the Rotherham Rangers club played its opening league fixture against Sheffield Concord. The game was played on a pitch on the grass area in front of Thomas Rotherham College, on Moorgate, near to the centre of the town. Sheffield Concord was a very poor team and despite Rangers only having fourteen players they still managed to win 33-25. In those days rugby league teams only had two substitutes which certainly made it easier to get a full team out.

Wins during the first three or four years of the club were not that frequent, but there were a lot of players who joined and went on to form the backbone of the club. Roger Render, Mike McLoughlin, Howard Charlesworth, Bernie Hunter, Andy Tyers and Jon Cook were some of the people who made massive contributions during the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s.

Rangers appeared in local cup finals on a number of occasions. They also managed to be promoted fairly regularly ending up in the 1st division of the West Yorkshire League. An ‘A’ team was formed in the mid 1980s and the Rangers also had an under 17 team for one season.

The club had a number of grounds during the 1970s and 1980s. Thomas Rotherham College was the base for nearly two seasons, followed by the Rotherham Co-op Club (now called Pitches) and then the Council sports ground -Herringthorpe Playing Fields. The club ended the 1980s playing on Herringthorpe with a team in the Yorkshire League, playing on Saturdays and an ‘A’ team playing in the West Yorkshire League on Sunday mornings.

In 2014 I am planning to produce a history of Rugby League in Rotherham that will trace the development of the sport in the town.

A Rotherham Rangers team from the 1970s 

Thursday 16 June 2011

Drop Kick Books - Poster

The Lost Rugby Clubs of Leeds

What happened to a number of successful rugby clubs that operated in the Leeds area prior to World War Two. Most of these clubs were formed in the ‘rugby boom’ of the 1920s. However, none of the clubs appeared to have the infrastructure or support required to challenge Headingley and Roundhay the two clubs that could be regarded as Senior in the pre-war era. Roundhay, who were late on the scene compared with Headingley, obviously had the sort of backing, player pool and possibly more important a ground and that enabled them to make rapid progress. In the 1930s they were developing a ‘Senior ‘fixture list and were strong challengers, every season, in the Yorkshire Cup.

The clubs I am interested in are those that were really flourishing in the 1920s and 1930s such as Cross Gates, The Bohemians, Leeds Rifles, Pudsey and the Hostel of the Resurrection. Plus a number of works teams such as Lewis’s Ltd, Appleyard of Leeds and J and H.Maclaren’s Ltd. These works teams lasted for a few years in the 1930s and mainly played mid-week games.

Cross Gates were a vibrant organisation but seemed to struggle, for most of their existence, to find a ground that was close to Cross Gates which in those days was a village on the outskirts of Leeds rather than the suburb it is today. Cross Gates had three teams for many years and competed successfully with the other junior clubs in the area. Ironically it appears that towards the end of the 1930s just as Cross Gates managed to get a settled playing base they disappeared from the rugby scene in Leeds.

The Bohemians were another club that struggled to find a settled base they moved grounds a number of times and didn’t seem to reflect a geographical area of Leeds as their ground moved from North Leeds to West Leeds without any obvious loss of members. They continued to field three teams for most of the 1930s. The Bohemians were one of the more successful junior clubs they had a good playing record most seasons and often made progress in the Yorkshire Cup and Shield competitions.

Leeds Rifles, as their name suggests, were a military team and interestingly played their games on the Military Field at Roundhay, later to be named Soldiers Field. They were based at the Carlton Barracks in Leeds. Despite being a club obviously based on an army battalion they were an integral part of the rugby scene in Leeds with a regular fixture list that was mainly made up of club teams. Leeds Rifles disappeared from the scene in the late 1920s

The Pudsey club was located in the small town of the same name between Leeds and Bradford. Like two of the clubs I mention earlier they had problems finding a settled base. They moved grounds regularly in the 1920s and in the early 1930s. It may have been the constant movement and competition from Bramley Old Boys that caused their early demise. The club didn’t make it to the end of the 1930s.

The Hostel of the Resurrection had connections to the Mirfield based College of the Resurrection. The Hostel housed students who were studying for theology degrees at Leeds University. The Hostel building was on Springfield Mount in Leeds and the club played their games at the Leeds University Sports Grounds at Weetwood. They didn’t have a very strong fixture list and of the clubs I am interested in they were the least successful.

I believe there are some interesting stories about the lost clubs.

Monday 13 June 2011

A New Dawn ?

I had been watching Bradford Northern since I was a toddler. Although in those early years playing on the ash banks surrounding the pitch and in the tram that served as a scoreboard were more important than what happened on the field. Over the years, after I realised that what was happening on the field was interesting and exciting, Northern had struggled. In the early 1960s Odsal Stadium was largely empty on match days. I remember getting excited at the thought of a 1,000 spectators being present. It didn’t happen very often! Northern obviously still had ambitions to be successful again, but it seemed that the people running the club didn’t really have the necessary resources to make that happen.

The 1961/62 Season for Northern had been particularly depressing. Week after week I went along to watch, hoping for the best, but results were very poor. The season was probably going to turn out to be Northern’s worst for thirty years. There had been two wins and a draw. In September 1961 Castleford were beaten by 8-0 at home. We then had to wait until February 1962 for a 3-0 win over Dewsbury and the 10 all draw with Keighley. So it came to Saturday 28th April 1962, Northern were due to face Batley at Odsal. The Batley game was the first of three home games that had to be played in the following seven days to complete the season.

The long season had moved towards its conclusion with Northern at the bottom of the League and with no prospect of an improved position, even with the three matches to go. Liverpool City were next to the bottom but had twelve points and so, even if Northern won their last three games, they couldn’t move from bottom place. The Rugby Football League decided that the following year the competition would have two divisions, perhaps to help strugglers like Northern win a few more games.

I am sure the club and its long suffering supporters were resigned to three more defeats Batley had beaten Northern at Mount Pleasant in the previous December. Hull KR, who we were to play in the second game, were in the top half of the League and had reached the Challenge Cup Semi Final. While Barrow, who had not had a brilliant season had never the less managed 14 wins and were in mid table. Northern’s three remaining games were crammed into a seven day period at the end of April and beginning of May, a test of stamina and endurance as well as skill.

I decided I would go to all three games and as the eternal optimist, a requirement of a Northern supporter in those days, I hoped there might be a win in one of them. Two months from the end of the season Northern recruited a former Workington Town player called Jock McAvoy to coach and play for the team. However, to date he hadn’t really turned the club’s fortunes round. I assume that everybody at Odsal was looking forward to the end of the season and probably regarded the last three games as an ordeal to be endured before they could have a rest and hope for better things next season.

Surprisingly, the game against Batley was a victory by 18 points to 11. Jock McAvoy played at loose forward scored two tries and inspired the win. The crowd of 738 must have been made up of die hard enthusiasts who at least got the reward for their attendance with Northern recording a rare success. There were 16 less spectators at Odsal on the following Monday evening expecting to see a big victory by Hull KR. What a surprise we got! With McAvoy again at loose forward Northern beat the Robins by 9 points to 3.

On the Friday evening 4th May the game against Barrow was going to bring the curtain down on the season. The two wins, or perhaps the early summer weather, brought an extra 120 fans to Odsal to give a gate of 842 for what we expected was the night the bubble burst. After 79 minutes it appeared that was exactly what was going to happen. Barrow had been the better team and had scored four tries to Northern’s one but had only managed to kick one goal. Northern were still in the game because of the four penalties kicked by Goeli Abed, the club’s South African centre. On the terraces we all knew there was very little time left when a speculative up and under from Northern full back Bill Seddon landed over the try line. The ball was immediately pounced on by prop forward Don Hatfield for the try that levelled the scores at 14 points all. That prompted a pitch invasion from the nearly hysterical Northern supporters who all sensed a remarkable treble. The referee had to clear the spectators from the pitch before Abed could step up to convert the try and win the game.

The scenes afterwards were reminiscent of a famous cup victory and everyone there went home happy, apart from perhaps the club Directors. They had promised the players a special bonus if they managed to achieve the remarkable treble. I am sure that after the club’s dismal season the Directors assumed this was a promise they wouldn’t have to keep. The season ended with great optimism on the terraces with, I am sure, many of the supporters thinking that Jock McAvoy was the new Odsal ‘messiah’. Then in the Bradford Telegraph and Argus on 7th June 1962, a little over a month after the final league game, there was a shock headline that said ‘ Jock McAvoy quits Odsal’.

Apparently, for the two months he was at Bradford McAvoy was an unpaid coach. He only received expenses and players pay when he played in a game. He said that he had taken the job on an unpaid basis with a view to getting an official appointment. Unfortunately, no official position was offered by the club. Perhaps the Directors decided McAvoy was too expensive to keep if it meant they had to pay winning money more often. Whatever the reason the following year Northern returned to their usual losing ways and finished the season at the bottom of the league again. Two wins and a draw in the newly formed second division was all they could manage.

That week in 1962 wasn’t the ‘New Dawn’ but it was certainly memorable. Those three victories and the name Jock McAvoy have lived in my memory for nearly fifty years.

This article appeared in Rugby League Journal in 2009 (issue 28)

Thursday 9 June 2011

My current research

Yorkshire Rugby during World War Two

Whilst researching my recently published book on Leeds Chirons- Leeds Who? I became interested in what happened to a number of Leeds rugby clubs that were flourishing in the 1930s. As a result of that interest I have begun researching the impact of the Second World War on the rugby scene in Yorkshire. Initially, I had planned to focus on the 1939/40 season and write my book based on just one season. However, having spent some time looking at how the Yorkshire RFU and its member clubs reacted to the declaration of war, I decided that in order to understand the full impact War had on the rugby scene I needed to extend my research into the seasons that followed 1939/40.I also intend to look at how clubs adapted to the resumption of peacetime activity in 1945.

Many clubs that played during the War didn’t keep formal records. Fixture lists were largely ‘ad hoc’ and clubs that did hold meetings often didn’t keep minutes of those meetings. However, I am sure that there will be Yorkshire clubs that have discovered documents relating to their Wartime activity that will have perhaps featured in their club history.

Saturday 4 June 2011

Leeds Chirons Reunion- Book Launch

This photo was taken at the White House, in Leeds, on 4th May 2011. All the 'old guys' in the photo are former Chirons players who met up mainly because of the publication of the book about Chirons called Leeds Who? The Reunion was a great success and will be repeated next year when it is hoped more former Chirons will have been located