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. 


  1. I knew I had seen the name Les Colbourne before and then remembered where

    My uncle Tony Parkinson features on a few of those photos.

  2. Rugby union and rugby league are similar in some ways yet very different in others. One particular arena where those differences can be clearly observed is at the international level. Eagles

  3. Played League at school for Kirkstall St Stephens then Abbey Grange and Leeds Supporters U17 and Leeds Juniors & Intermediates - was taken off the teamsheet in the Changing Room under the South Stand for leeds A team after being told I was playing so left leeds RL (Neil Haugh and Steve Ferris were my stand offs) and went to play Union for Old Mods at Cookridge 4 seasons later I was at Roundhay and Leeds Poly then Headingley (yorkshire Wanderers) and guested for Fylde with Beaumont and eventually ended up at Otley (record season including beating Gosforth & Wasps) was on the infamous York Unicorn Tour to Germany in the early 1970's when we left 15 people in Munchengladbach, emmigrated to the States and played for Boston, New England (capt), East Cost Rugby and Eagles Reserve - played from 1964 until 2010 winning a National Div 3 final at 47 in Chicago - the codes were very different with League tougher than Union but now they are both extremely physical - difficult to have fun anymore with less and less players and social life