In this article I am attempting to illustrate how Amateur Rugby League has, over the years, responded to changes in the way in which young people spend their leisure time. I am going to list the Open Age clubs, in Leeds, in the 1953/54 season and compare that list with those clubs taking part the 1974/75 season.
In the 1953/54 Rugby Football League Official Guide the following clubs were listed as members of the Leeds and District Amateur Rugby League.
OPEN AGE CLUBS
EAST HUNSLET L.C.
MULBERRY TREE SUPPORTERS
ROWLAND ROAD W.M.C.
It is interesting to speculate on why none of these clubs are still in existence today. One reason may be that some of them were works teams e.g. Burton Sports, Leeds Electric and Middleton Colliery and those places of work no longer exist in Leeds. Another reason might be that some of the other clubs were based at pubs or working men's clubs that either don't exist today or that young people no longer frequent e.g. Beeston W.M.C., Mulberry Tree Supporters and Rowland Road W.M.C.
OPEN AGE CLUBS
THREE HORSE SHOES
SUNDAY LEAGUE OPEN AGE CLUBS
AIRE & WHARFEDALE COLLEGE
BURWELL REED & KINGHORN
BRAMLEY WASPS & TIGERS
EAST END PARK
KIRKSTALL REC. CLUB
HAREHILLS LABOUR CLUB
LEEDS CITY TRANSPORT
OLD RED LION
WEST GRANGE SOCIAL CLUB
When you compare the list of clubs from 1953/54 with those listed in the 1974/75 Official Guide only Thorpe is still in existence.
Amateur Rugby League has always had a strong presence in Leeds but the type of club playing the sport has changed. In the 1974/75 list there are two clubs that are still in existence today, Milford and Stanningley plus the Three Horse Shoes, a club that evolved into Oulton Raiders. Of the 33 Open Age clubs that are listed as members of the Sunday League only Sherburn and Woodhouse are still around today.
Since the 1950s there have been many changes in the way in which young people spend their leisure time and in many Northern towns and cities the employment opportunities are very different from those available in the immediate post war period. This snapshot featuring clubs in Leeds does, in my opinion, support the theory that Amateur Rugby League has always changed and evolved over time possibly without the people involved even realising it was happening. The fact that in 1974/75 the vast majority of Amateur clubs in Leeds were playing on a Sunday morning is perhaps an indication that even in the 1970s the sport and clubs playing Amateur Rugby League reflected a change in the sporting priorities of young people.
Some of the Amateur clubs in existence today may possibly not be around in 20 years time, Perhaps if they no longer exist it will be because they were unable or unwilling to adapt to a changing world and provide playing opportunities that fit in with the priorities of young people in the 21st Century.
Is the Amateur game dying? In don't think so. My belief is that, as in the past, the sport is changing, evolving and adapting to the different interests, work opportunities and lifestyles of young people in 2017. I hope that the sport recognises the challenges it faces, very different to those even 40 years ago, and continues to adapt and change to meet those challenges.