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.