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.

Thursday 22 September 2011

Heckmondwike - Part Two

Some interesting events took place during the thirty years that Heckmondwike existed as a rugby club.
The Heckmondwike athletic club was formed by two vicars, the Reverend W.T. Storrs and the Reverend J.C. Blackmore in the early 1870s. From the athletic club a football team developed that was made up of soccer players. However, its first match was against a rugby team and from that point on rugby became the sport played by Heckmondwike.

Local derbies in the Spen Valley usually attracted good attendances and often created controversy. Heckmondwike provided the opposition for the first official fixture played by Cleckheaton on 26th January 1876, a game won easily by Heckmondwike. Relations between the two clubs deteriorated in the late 1870s when allegations of biting led to the cancellation of fixtures for a few seasons. Liversedge played their second official game against Heckmondwike at Hightown on 5th January 1878. This game seems to have marked the beginning of another difficult relationship. Liversedge won the game, claiming the opposition was Heckmondwike's second team, while Heckmondwike said that it was in fact their third team. Correspondence in the local press regarding this issue continued for weeks, with both sides claiming they were right!

Heckmondwike played some home games under floodlights in the late 1870s, two under electric lights and one under gas lights. The latter took place in January 1879 and Dewsbury provided the opposition. One of the games played under electric lights was against Bradford Albion and, although there were gate receipts of £70, most of it went on expenses. This was perhaps the reason why Heckmondwike only ever played three floodlit games.

In 1887 Heckmondwike were banned by the Rugby Union authorities for alleged professionalism. They were allowed to return to regular competition in 1891. By the beginning of the 1892/93 season, Heckmondwike were acknowledged as champions of Spen Valley. they had a good financial balance, plans for ground improvements, and in their captain, R.E. Lockwood, they had a man described as 'the prince of three-quarter backs'.

In 1896/97, their first season as members of the Northern Union, enthusiasm was obviously running high and the local derby with Liversedge at Beck Lane produced an attendance, in heavy rain, of between three and four thousand. However, that initial enthusiasm gradually waned and Heckmondwike eventually folded in 1902.

Part one of the story of Heckmondwike was posted on this site on 14th September 2011.

Friday 16 September 2011

The National Conference League Annual

The National Conference League Annual 2010-2011 is an excellent reference book for anyone interested in the development of Amateur Rugby League, and also a very good read. Ryan Sparks and Mark Chestney have done a great job in putting together a publication that celebrates the success of Amateur Rugby League's flagship competition at a significant point in its history. The move to summer will undoubtedly provide the National Conference League with opportunities to expand and develop while maintaining the high standards it has always demanded both on and off the field, standards that have been crucial to its success.

The National Conference League Annual is a publication not to be missed. It costs £5 and is available from: http://www.sparkspublications.co.uk/

Wednesday 14 September 2011

Heckmondwike Rugby League Club - Part One

Heckmondwike was the first of the three Spen Valley clubs to be formed. The earliest reference to the club appears in the Cleckheaton Advertiser on 8th January 1875 and was a report of an away game at Halifax. The game was played on the 2nd January 1875 in poor conditions following snow and a sudden thaw and ended in a draw. It appears obvious from the report that Heckmondwike had been playing regular fixtures for a number of years.

Heckmondwike did not join the Northern Union until the second season 1896/97 and by that time had become established at Beck Lane, close to the centre of the town. Beck Lane is still used as a sports ground, although these days it is soccer that is played there.

Beck Lane in 2010

This extract from the 1894 Ordinance Survey map shows the location of the ground

Heckmondwike played four seasons as a semi professional rugby league club and during their time in the Northern Union they struggled to win many matches. In the 1896/97 season Heckmondwike, with only three wins, finished bottom of the Yorkshire Senior Competition. The second season was a little better as nine victories meant they managed to improve one place in the league, finishing next to bottom. In the third season only four wins were achieved and the club returned to bottom place. Heckmondwike left the Yorkshire Senior Competition in 1899 returning in 1901. Unfortunately, the 1901/02 season did not see very much improvement as the club finished eleventh in a league of fourteen teams. The Heckmondwike club folded at the end of the 1901/02 season.

Heckmondwike Rugby League Club 1896

Monday 12 September 2011

Rugby League in the Spen Valley

Football as it was then called first became established in the Spen Valley in the early 1870s when the Heckmondwike club was formed. Cleckheaton followed in 1875, with Liversedge beginning activities in 1877.

For the next eighteen years the fortunes of the three clubs ebbed and flowed with Liversedge gaining the status of leading club when the momentous events of 1895 took place. The Spen Valley had by 1895 become a stronghold for the handling code with numerous junior clubs also functioning. Attendances in those days were remarkable considering the size of the settlements. Many teams must have visited the Spen Valley with trepidation. They were given a hard game and partisan crowds filled the grounds to cheer on their heroes.

Within eleven years of the formation of the Northern Union the clubs and the sport had disappeared from the Spen Valley. In his book called 'Spen Valley Rugby Reminiscenses' published in 1921 George Cooper argues that professionalism was a retrograde step and that it was the move to Northern Union that caused the decline and final demise of the game in the Spen Valley. The sports correspondent in the Cleckheaton Guardian in an article on 26th September 1902 argued that the Spen Valley did not have sufficient population to sustain successful Northern Union clubs. He suggested that the future of the game lay with those clubs in larger towns and cities.

Since its demise in 1906 Rugby League has only been played in the Spen Valley at an amateur level and by clubs that in some cases have only had a very short existence. The hotbed of rugby, as the Spen Valley was in 1895, has been transformed into what could be described as a development area for the sport. The Spen Valley, surrounded by long established professional and amateur clubs, is one of many pockets of population in the North of England that does not appear to have a Rugby League tradition.

Where did those pioneers of Rugby League go wrong?

Monday 5 September 2011

Wartime Rugby

These are the teams for a game that took place on 23rd January1943 at Headingley Stadium.
The attendance was 8,000 and despite playing under Rugby Union rules the Rugby League team won the game by 18-11.

During the Second World War there were many examples of co-operation between Rugby Union and Rugby League. A number of Rugby Union games were played on Rugby League Grounds and many professional Rugby League players played Rugby Union. However, despite all the examples of co-operation between the two codes that took place during Wartime, the end of hostilities saw a quick return to the 'status quo'. On page 63 of the 1946/47 Yorkshire RFU handbook the following appears:

The spirit of co-operation had lasted from 1939 until 1946. It wasn't until the 1980s that the barriers between the two codes finally began to be broken down.

I am grateful to Huddersfield University Archives and Tony Collins for their help with my research into Yorkshire Rugby Union during World War Two. The match programme for the Rugby Union v Rugby League game in 1943 is just one of the many interesting documents in the Rugby League Archives.