I didn’t really get introduced to Rugby League, it just happened. Rugby boots arrived into the house, dubbin was prescribed, my younger brother went out on Saturday afternoons and came home bruised and knocked about a bit, but until T.V. arrived in our front room, I didn’t know the game.
I remember a new teacher was due to arrive at school, a man, Mr. Donald Grant, when the next academic year started. I would be on my way to senior school then, but it sounded a bit threatening. Until then Rodley Junior School on the outskirts of Leeds, had been all women teaching staff (1955). I was oblivious to what the boys were taught in respect of games except for rare occasions when my elder brother would let me join in when he and his mates played cricket in Rodley Park, provided I agreed to being a fielder. The lads played cricket or kicked a ball about sometimes in the school yard at play time, girls were excluded.
My two brothers were total opposites. The eldest couldn’t get his head out of a book, the other hadn’t time to read for running and scrubbing off the toes on his shoes kicking and throwing a ball and climbing walls and such. Our parent honestly thought he would become a long distance runner. My mother took back to the shoe shop so many pairs of ‘Tuff’ shoes that came with a guaranteed for 6 months and with a statement saying they couldn’t be worn out. The assistants used to ask ”What’s he been doing with them?”
At school, it was an arrangement that a teacher sat at the head of the dinner table in the school canteen. My brother says that Donald Grant had all rugby players on his. Any seconds helping available, he’d make sure he was heard ”Seconds, yes! Down here!” For three years my brother had two dinners a day, one at school plus seconds sometimes, and one with my dad at night. He’s still built like a greyhound at 72 years of age. Because his birthday fell awkward in the school year, September 3rd he had to be with Mr Grant an extra year, age nine until starting seniors at just, twelve.
Mr Grant arranged a game with his old school at Kirkstall who had won a title in the League the previous year, and my brothers relationship with rugby (or rugger, as he called it) began proper. He played on the wing in the 1st and 2nd Leeds Schools League as scrum half in his first year, and stand off thereafter, until he reached 16 years. He stayed at school the extra year to do his R.S.A. Exam but because of his age was not allowed to participate in the league.
While at Rodley Juniors, Donald Grant took his proteges to a Rugby Cup Final at Wembley on the train. At home we always wanted to know how his team had gone on. If they lost by a good few points, ”They were bigger than us ” he’d say, or if it was a big win dad would say ”Who were you playing, the blind school?”
At first each player took their kit home for washing, but over time when some didn’t arrive back for the next game the lads took it in turn to take the whole team kit home to ‘mam’. It was a lovely sight seeing all the matching stuff on the line blowing in the wind. Eventually practicality prevailed and someone was found to look after the washing and mending.
Intake Secondary Modern was really into rugby. Teachers Bill Metcalf taught the 1st year pupils, Ron Miller 2nd to 4th years and Mr Field the older lads. Ron Miller used to do a ‘write up’ on the school notice board of the teams’ results and play after each game. He took it upon himself to write a resume of each player with photographs and news cuttings and told my brother, he hadn’t realised he was a fitness fanatic until he started writing about him. This led to him producing a book which he gave a copy to each team player as a keep sake. My brother now regrets not having looked after his. Long gone.
Leeds Rugby League Club had the luxury of selecting lads from the senior teams. And a chosen few from Intake Secondary Modern of my brother’s time were Keith Bowland ‘stand of’, Denis Hewitt ‘loose forward’, Roger Harrison ‘second row forward’, and then some others went to ‘Bramley Old Boys’ as the name of the Bramley Rugby League Club was known then at the ‘Barley Mo Ground’. Two lads from my year played for Bradford Northern, of which one was Rodney Whitely. My brother was a good player but his eye sight wasn’t of the best and he couldn’t play wearing glasses or contact lenses.
I used to think the boots must have been horrible to walk on. The boot was leather, lace up and covered the ankle. It had a strap across from the bunion area to the toes. The studs looked to be made of leather coils cemented together with glue and as hard as iron which had three nails through them to attach the sole. After about three games the nails came through the sole and penetrated through the woollen socks to break the skin on an unsuspecting
foot. Plastic wasn’t invented then. When it was, my mother brought home some ‘Biro’s’ from town. When we asked what they were, she told us they were liquid pencils.
The rugby ball was made of leather during my brother’s playing days. It had a blow up rubber inner called a bladder, same as in a foot ball, and then it was laced up. Accordingly the rugby boot had a hard toe cap. Pity the penalty kicker when the ball was wet.
So, when we eventually got a T.V., black and white of course, with very small screen compared to what is available today, on rent from T.V. And Radio Rentals, I had to sit down with three men in the house and watch all the sport, especially rugby. I soon got the gist of the rules – enough for me to understand what was happening because asking a question lent itself to be shouted at for interrupting the viewing. I loved it, all that scrambling about in the mud and getting ‘stuck in’ . It didn’t normally matter to us who was playing, but if Leeds, Bramley or Bradford Northern were on, we were on their side, shouting! A lot of the players then were like ‘all in wrestlers’, plenty of suet pudding, beef and Yorkshire’s in their diet most likely. It was the bigger the better and I don’t men height. The players had to be fit and strong, but they weren’t athletic as they are today. Then, weight mattered.
I remember well the T.V. Commentator, Eddie Waring. He was a character and rugby surely misses him. He was known for his vivid comments-
“Its an up and under!” (Following a high kick and the players sprint to get the ball).
“He’s going for an early bath!” (On being sent off).
“Ho, he’s a big lad, he’ll get up!” (When laid out after a hard tackle).
A sense of humour he definitely had. Doing a live commentary at Leeds one Saturday afternoon for T.V. from the stands, he approached the staircase up to the commentary box and the crowd were in one voice – ”Eddie Waring’s a w…………! Eddie Waring’s a………!” was the chorus. Picking up his microphone, raising his voice for the stadium, full of confidence Eddie waved and said;
”Hello everybody! Did you hear all my fans chanting for me?” A huge cheer went up all around. Yes, he was a popular bloke. I enjoyed his coverage of the games and can see and hear him still in my minds eye.
Rodley Primary School rugby team.
I am seated on the last chair on the right hand end, and played on the right wing in the few games we had that season.
I played in that team for another 2, and am probably aged 10 in this photo.
My birthday is 3rd Sept, so had to stay an extra year at junior school so that I could leave when aged 11. I would have been aged 9 at the start of that rugby season.