From 1st April to 20th April in our newly refurbished Arts Space on the 1st floor we have an exhibition celebrating the history of Rugby in Leeds. Panels for each decade display information and photographs depicting the sport in Leeds.
The 1860s started it off with an advert in the Leeds Mercury for “persons to form a football club, for playing on Woodhouse Moor a few days a week”. Reports vary between 200 and 500 people attended the first session to begin an association with the sport that has been at the heart of Leeds for the past 150 years.
The 1870s saw clubs forming including Leeds St John’s, the forerunners of the Leeds Rhinos and the Leeds Parish Church Rugby Club who became one of the city’s leading clubs. Rugby in the 1880s became the ‘national game’ of Leeds and West Yorkshire with England defeating Wales at Cardigan Fields in the first-ever rugby international to be played in Yorkshire. The 1888 suspension of St John’s for allegedly breaking amateur rules and paying players resulted in a controversy that grew into the 1895 splitting of Rugby into Union and League.
The new Headingley Stadium staged the first-ever Challenge Cup final in the 1890s while the 1900s brought in a new century for the sport. Hunslet became the first team to win all four cups in the season including the Challenge Cup, Rugby Football League Cup, Yorkshire League and Yorkshire Cup, all captained by “Our Albert”, Albert Goldthorpe. In the 1910s Hunslet signed Lucas Banks, probably the first black athlete to play rugby league and the programme as a whole was interrupted as many players went off to the Great War. Harold Buck becomes the first £1,000 transfer when he moves from Hunslet to Leeds in the 1920s and in the 1930s Leeds finally win the Yorkshire Cup beating Wakefield Trinity. The game had to be played twice following two draws and was the only occasion it took three attempts to settle a Yorkshire Cup final. Rugby was again interrupted by war in the 1940s with Bramley and Hunslet dropping out of the Yorkshire League. Hunslet returned to competition in 1943-44 and Bramley in 1945-46 however several clubs failed to return after the war including Leeds Bohemians and Pudsey due to clothes rationing making it difficult for clubs to find enough shirts.
The 1950s saw a return to form with Lewis Jones scoring a record 496 points in a season for Leeds. The Rugby League Championship was won by Leeds for the first time in the clubs history during the 1960s and in the same decade the birth of Student Rugby League occurred with Leeds as its first approved member. A less thrilling time was had by the players and spectators at the notorious Watersplash final between Leeds and Wakefield, where a torrential downpour at Wembley dampened the entire game. A memorable game at Otley in the 1970s resulted in the North beating the all-conquering All Blacks 21-9. The 1980s saw further developments in the sport as Womens Rugby Football Union formed with Leeds University as a founding member. In the 1990s Leeds RUFC was founded with the merger of Roundhay and Headingly clubs and after 100 years the league became a summer sport.
In the new millennium Leeds secured their first Championship win in 32 years as well as becoming World Champions for the first time in the clubs history. In 2012 Leeds became the most successful team in the summer era with their sixth Grand Final win coupled with a third World Cup Challenge success. They reached every possible cup final and picked up two of the four pieces of silver available.
The above is just a taster of the exhibition which includes a program of talks, interactive table showing important documents and glass cases containing; a Hunslet Rugby League Club shirt from the 1965 Wembley final and a programme from the match. England caps from 1911 and 1896, a Yorkshire cap from 1907/08, a Kirkstall cap from the 1880s and a Leeds Parish Church Rugby Club cap from 1891/92.
Rugby in Leeds has come a long way from that first kick around in 1864, visit our exhibition to find out more.