Tuesday, 30 August 2011

What happened to Tadcaster?

Tadcaster has a population of over 7,000, a secondary school that plays rugby, but no rugby club. That hasn't always been the case as there was a rugby club in Tadcaster in the 1930s and again in the 1960s. The Second World War does not appear to have been a factor in the demise of the club in the 1930s as it disappeared before 1939. What happened in the 1960s? I recall playing against Tadcaster in the 1960s when they played their home games at Auster Bank, a ground with changing rooms close to the A64. Tadcaster had a competitive team and games against them were always tough. They had a decent fixture list with games against a number of Leeds clubs including Moortown, Modernians and my club Leeds Chirons.

1968/69 Fixture List

A club in Tadcaster does not really have competition from neighbouring clubs, as the nearest I can find is over seven miles away in Wetherby, so the loss of players to a neighbouring club does not seem a likely reason. I am sure there are people still living in Tadcaster who were involved with the club in the 60s and know why it disappeared. I would be interested in hearing from anyone who can tell me what happened to Tadcaster Rugby Union Club.

Wednesday, 24 August 2011

Leeds Chirons biggest game?

On 21st November 1953 Leeds Chirons played at Selby in the 4th Round of the Yorkshire Cup. The game ended in a 6-6 draw. This was a surprising result as Selby had a better fixture list than Chirons and were therefore, in theory, a stronger club than Chirons.

The replay took place on 28th November, at Chirons home ground on Soldiers Field. The game attracted possibly the largest crowd that had ever watched a Chirons home game. Contemporary sources reporting that spectators lined both sides of the pitch. Selby won the game by 6-0 and progressed in the competition finally losing 9-3 to Wakefield in the 6th Round.

I doubt that there was ever a crowd at a Chirons home game to match the one that lined the pitch on 28th November 1953. Also Chirons never reached the 4th Round of the Yorkshire Cup again, most seasons a defeat in the first or second round was the usual outcome. In my view this was Chirons biggest game.

The report below was published in the Skyrack Express on the 4th December 1953.

Monday, 22 August 2011

Rugby Union Characters - Les Colbourne

I decided to join Barnsley Rugby Union Club, in January 1970, after playing a few games at Rotherham Rugby Union Club. My experiences at Rotherham convinced me that it would be very difficult to make progress there and that it could be months or even years before I managed to get a game with the first team. I had always enjoyed playing against Barnsley as, despite the ramshackle state of the clubhouse, they did have their own ground and also seemed to have a good set up. After six games with the 'A' team I became a first team regular.

Barnsley RUFC 1st XV in 1972

There were a lot of good players at Barnsley who didn't really get the recognition they deserved as they didn't play for a 'fashionable' club. Les Colbourne was one of those players, a very aggressive centre who, whilst he was with Barnsley, also played Amateur Rugby League for a top Wakefield Sunday League team called Black Horse. On one particular Saturday Les was selected to play for the Great Britain Amateur Rugby League team against France and so could not play for Barnsley. Nobody told Dick Endall, the Barnsley club President, why Les was missing. In fact, when Dick enquired about Les's whereabouts he got a variety of misleading answers, none of them the correct one. As well as being Barnsley President, Dick was also one of the leading officials of the Yorkshire Rugby Football Union. In those days players were threatened with being banned from Rugby Union if they played any form of Rugby League. Dick could have been put in a very difficult position had he found out where Les was on that particular afternoon. I am sure he probably had his suspicions but as Les was one of the best players at the club Dick probably thought that it was best not to ask too many questions.

Les Colbourne was one of many 'code breakers' in the 60s and 70s. Most of the players who played both codes were concerned that if their involvement with Amateur Rugby League was ever made public then they could receive a lifetime ban from Rugby Union. Fortunately, bans, although threatened, were never actually imposed and commonsense prevailed. 

Monday, 15 August 2011

First game nerves!

Can you remember your first game of rugby?

My first game for Leeds Chirons was expected to take place on Saturday 7th November 1964 against Bradford Nomads. Unfortunately, Bradford could not find enough players for their 'A' team and so the game had to be cancelled. This was very disappointing but we had a fixture arranged for the following Saturday and so a week later than anticipated I was contemplating playing my first proper game of rugby. I was an excited and apprehensive seventeen year old whose only experience was one game of rugby league at Liversedge School and a few house matches at Matthew Murray School.

On Saturday 14th November 1964, with a great deal of trepidation, I walked from Roundhay School to Soldiers Field to make my 'A' team debut against Leeds YMCA. We did not use the main Chirons pitch because the first team was also at home that afternoon. The pitch we played on was the one normally used by Leeds Telephones. I was selected on the wing and was very fortunate that the YMCA winger, I played opposite, was a really decent bloke. He did not take advantage of my inexperience and talked me through the game. By the end of the eighty minutes my first game nerves had gone and I felt much more confident. We lost that game and the one the following week against Leeds University 'B' The first victory I played in was on Saturday 28th November 1964 when Chirons 'A' beat York RI 'A' by 16-11.

A number of former players recall their memories of playing for Leeds Chirons in Chapters 9 and 10 of Leeds Who?

Monday, 8 August 2011

Crusaders - will lessons be learned?

There has been a great deal of speculation regarding the reasons for Crusaders' shock decision to withdraw their Super League Licence application. Poor results and attendances, commonly cited by pundits, must have been deciding factors. However, I believe the main reason the Licence application was withdrawn was because the owners did not see Crusaders as a viable business proposition. The current owners were, I believe, 'bounced' into purchasing the club at the beginning of 2010. I got the very strong feeling, during the seven months I worked there, that buying Crusaders was seen as an opportunity to protect the Racecourse Ground and Wrexham Football Club. I do not think that either of those motives for purchasing Crusaders was wrong, in fact I believe that three objectives could have been achieved with a sensible business plan and some understanding of rugby league by the owners. The Ground could have been protected, Wrexham Football Club would have continued to operate, and Crusaders could have developed into a strong Super League club.

North Wales is the right place to develop a professional club. The area is starved of professional sport and rugby union does not have the stranglehold it enjoys in the south of the country. The RFL should continue to invest in North Wales but needs to concentrate on putting a proper infrastructure in place. The setting up of a North Wales Scholarship and Academy should have happened in 2010, but it is not too late to start that process if Crusaders is to be a Championship outfit in 2012.

The 2010 season was a big success on the field because of top quality coaching and a very committed group of players. Unfortunately, many mistakes were made off the field and opportunities were missed, resulting in development structures not being set up and attendances declining. The two games played in South Wales and some big gaps between home fixtures meant that the initial interest and enthusiasm was not sustained. The situation could have been very different. Naivety both by the RFL and the club owners have, in my opinion, caused the current problems.

The RFL was naive because it did not insist that the club had experienced 'off field' staff in post when the 2010 fixtures began. Presumably the RFL thought that, because the new owners were also running a soccer club, they would know how to run a rugby league club. Perhaps the RFL also thought that it should not interfere in the day to day running of a business. However, if it had become strategically involved, not just sending the odd consultant in for a few weeks, but ensuring the club had proper staffing structures, Crusaders could have built solidly on the on field success.

The owners were naive in thinking that all that was needed for the club to be successful was a winning team on the field. Such naivety can be illustrated by the fact that when, in January 2010, I asked why the club did not have a kit man, I was told it did not need one. Fortunately, commonsense prevailed and a kit man was eventually appointed but only after things got in a mess. Does this example of reacting only when things are in turmoil indicate the way in which the Crusaders move to North Wales was handled at national and local level? If so will lessons be learned for the development of the game in the future?

Monday, 1 August 2011

Any Wartime memories?

Over the next two months I will be finalising my research into Yorkshire rugby union activity during World War Two with the intention of beginning work on the first draft of the book by October. Before I begin writing, I would be interested in talking to people who either have firsthand experience of wartime rugby or know that members of their family played rugby union, in Yorkshire, between 1939 and 1945. Rugby union did continue but it was organised on a largely 'ad hoc' basis. Old rivalries were often forgotten as clubs combined their resources in order to put fifteen players on the field. I am sure that anyone with experience or knowledge of what happened at rugby union clubs during the War years would have interesting stories to tell.

Fixtures had been organised for the 1939/40 season but were cancelled by the Yorkshire RFU on the 4th September 1939, the day after War was declared.. However, despite cancelling the fixtures they contained the County still distributed the 1939/40 handbook.

One of the clubs that had fixtures listed in the 1939/40 handbook was Leeds Bohemians. This club had been successful in the years prior to 1939 despite have moved grounds at least three times. The fixtures below were the last organised by the club. The games were, of course, never played and unfortunately the Bohemians did not re-start after the War.

1939/40 Fixtures

If you have any Wartime rugby union memories that you would like to share please get in touch.