In 2001, Fartown, the local professional rugby league team fell from grace, again. After four years of being the bottom of the top flight superleague, a ‘minnow’ from the lower divisions of rugby with the right facilities took its place. So Huddersfield went down and Widnes came up. Both were part of the northern movement that split from rugby union in 1895. Huddersfield had successful teams around WW1, and in the fifties and early sixties, whilst Widnes had their best period in the seventies, when Wembley was considered a home fixture. There was one occasion, in the late seventies, when the two met in the cup on the old Fartown ground. Stuart Wright was their famous winger, against one of our heroes, Senior, who was approaching the end of his career. We lost of course, but not before Senior had dumped Wright, a moment to savour when several thousands fans saluted their man, temporarily united in their contempt for Widnes and their admiration for Senior. There is poignancy in this fixture, as my brother was a Widnes fan, and a tad arrogant with it. From 1980 onwards, we both went cool on the game; he lost interest when Widnes could no longer compete at the top level and I moved away from Huddersfield. So, in 2001, both of us I suspect had mixed feelings about how Fartown’s fortunes have declined. Whilst there are other things on which we would rather spend our money, there is also disloyalty to something we both held dear, and even big brother would acknowledge the role that Fartown has played in the shaping of his sense of identity.
So how does a game or a team get under your skin? First, it’s about an identity derived from which side of the tracks you were born and whether team sports are important your local community. Second, it’s a personal family matter.
Kids have played with footballs for hundreds of years, as part of religious and agricultural practice, and representing the village or the guild was part of becoming an adult. In the Victorian era, public schools, mostly in the south of England, used games, one of which was football, as a way of building character. Carrying the ball was said to have started at Rugby School in 1825. So that boys could continue sports after leaving school, a network of “Old Boys” teams developed. One of these “OB’s” teams was Huddersfield RUFC, founded In 1870, as part of Huddersfield Athletic Club. They played at Rifle Field, just west of the town centre. In 1879, The Athletic club merged with St. John’s Cricket Club and the rugby team moved to Fartown and played in the Yorkshire Senior competition. Competitions needed a common set of rules, so, in 1871, the first laws of rugby were written, by the Rugby Football Union (RFU), who were themselves middle class ex-public school men. There were nine other rugby teams in Huddersfield at the end of the nineteenth century. Junior clubs, they were formed around local institutions like churches (priests having been mostly educated in public schools), pubs and working men’s clubs. Working class in origin, they formed their own Huddersfield District RU.
So young public school gentlemen and urban backstreet working class youth developed the same needs to compete, achieve, not let mates down, and share skills, cunning, hardness, stamina, loyalty and behaving badly. Working class youth had an additional motive as games and rugby helped build community spirit and a sense of meaning in times of unprecedented urbanisation – ‘industrial production cut loose from the intimate and human scale of the past’. The children of the bosses may not have felt this. Many would have lived in the country, unaware of people in the cities, other than as sources of labour.
In the years between 1850 and 1890, rugby clubs began to attract spectators as well as players. Such turnstile revenue made the paying of players a possibility, essential to working class men, who, because of long hours in the factories, could only develop and excel in rugby by being off work and losing their pay. The RFU declared professionalism illegal in the late 1880’s, ostensibly to safeguard fair play. It didn’t stop underhand methods of payment (“shamateurism”) and player-poaching. Indeed, in 1893, Huddersfield poached once too often, resulting in a suspension from the English RU for eight matches. Declaring professionalism illegal also protected the RFU’s middle class power, status and money. They were already successful and intended staying so.
These differences were unreconcilable and “The Northern Union” was born in The George Hotel, Huddersfield on August 29th, 1895, when rugby was split between middle class and amateur in the south (continuing as rugby union) and working class and professional in the north (the forerunner of rugby league). Those working class players without the talent to make the new professional teams or who could not afford to remain amateur stopped playing, and Huddersfield District RU declined as a result.
So which side of the tracks were you born on?
In 1875, grandad, Edward Addy was born at Laurel Terrace, Hillhouse. His father was a railway porter from Shepley. At the age of twenty grandad would have been right in the middle of all the excitement about the split in the rugby world. Later he followed arguably the best Fartown team ever – the team of ‘many talents’ that contained legends the likes of Wagstaff, Clarke and Rosenfeld. Mum used to say that her dad’s best pal was the Cumbrian, Douglas Clarke. She said that her dad was so keen, he used to watch them train. Well, he would have done if Clarke was his pal. What must it have been like living through that era? Clarke didn’t transfer over until 1909 and he owned a coal company down at Hillhouse sidings. Family stories have it that grandad was also a coalman, possibly with the Coop. He had to catch his horse each morning before he could start work. Did grandad and Clarke ever work together as family legend has it?
Dad and older brother followed the international team of the 1950s. Hunter, Cooper and Devery were Australians and Henderson came from New Zealand. Valentine came from Hawick. They were legends alongside home grown players the likes of Ramsden. Fartown won the Challenge Cup in 1953. The wall at the bottom of our backyard was shared with “The Engine Tavern”. Dad said men got drunk there, but that didn’t stop him hopping over the wall and touching the Rugby League Challenge Cup one Sunday night. In the 1950s, I was too small watch Fartown with dad because the crowds were too big. Better than nothing we used to count the buses bringing supporters in from the surrounding districts, parked up all round Willow Lane.
When I did get big enough to go to the ground, it was ten minutes slow walking. Children were let in free, by a man behind a big wooden door, next to the scoreboard. Dad waited for me inside. Opposite the stand was a natural hillside, cindered and tiered with old railway sleepers. Then it got some concrete steps, and fencing and barriers. The toilet was a corrugated iron shack, which hid very little. No ladies loos. A wooden scoreboard, at the open Bradford Road end was replaced by an elegant stone affair, a memorial to Dave Valentine. The pitch was immaculate, a great arena. Other end to the scoreboard was the scratching shed – a small covered standing area. No idea why it was called that. The stand which you sit in was massive, more or less the length of the field. There’s a picture of it at Headingley when Leeds were playing possibly in a semi-final. The stand is jam packed. Not so since the 1985 Bradford fire disaster. I’ve sat in it twice. We played a curtain raiser for Dalton St Paul’s against Deighton, and got free seats for the main game. The second time, I paid for the two dads to transfer in on Boxing Day – annual bash with Halifax, dreadful.
When I started going to Fartown with Dad, I was always cold or wet or bored or all three, but there came the day when I finally got really interested. We always stood on the terrace side, either with dad or with my school pals. Dad even took us to an away cup game at Salford on a Hanson’s bus. I started to play for Dalton St Paul’s with Rawthorpe Secondary Modern guys like Sybil, Lees and Peter Manning and College boys such as Dick Hallas and the Shoesmith brothers. I also turned out for Deighton CYC with Weevil and the Doyle brothers. Leeds Rd playing fields was the venue most of the time, and most of the time it was against St Joseph’s who boasted several well known stars: Howlitt, McDonough, Summerville, Kelly and Irvine. Birkby CYC were also around at the time with a couple of local names: Calvert and Hancock.
Behind the main Fartown stand was a very good cricket pitch and bowling green. The cricket pitch was county standard, played on by Yorkshire into the sixties for one day games. The clubhouse was a smashing mock Tudor spot, taken over by a chap called Bailey in the 1970’s for functions when Fartown went through a phase of being called the ‘barracudas’. Even the programmes were written in childish language.
I watched the 1961-2-3 team, and after, for a short while before going to university. We hired a bus and went up to the 1962 Wembley final against Wakefield which we lost. We beat them at Odsal a week later in the league playoff, famous for our after-match pitch invasion with Yogi Bear in Huddersfield colours.
Eventually, when I returned to the Huddersfield district in1985, I also returned to watch Fartown and helped out with the medical side, though I was no sports doctor. This was in the middle of a tumultuous time for Fartown which had started in the 1970s. The club nearly disbanded, merged with Sheffield Eagles and had a series of coaches and consortia. In the mid nineties, the face of rugby league changed as a result the pressures that followed the Packer-Murdoch feud over rugby league broadcasting rights. Playing in summer for instance. They shared with Town at Leeds Road from 1992 and both moved to the McAlpine stadium in 1994. Ken Davy took over in 1996 and they gradually joined the top flight again, until 2001 that is. In 1994 I became a vice-president with two tickets and a pass into the inner sanctum after the game. Dad came with me until he died in autumn 1995. Mum had died the previous autumn, so the 1995 Mother’s day had been a bitter-sweet occasion, celebrated with Sunday lunch and a game at the Stadium. Chris, my son aged 10, was there, so three generations of Walkers were represented. I stopped going regularly after dad died.
2013 and Fartown are in the top 6 or so clubs in superleague. They’ve beaten all their rivals, except in the games that matter. Time hopefully for them to learn how to win those big ones. I sit on the terrace side these days. Chris is now in his late twenties and follows the Rhinos so we still keep a family interest going. Older brother’s lost the plot, though his grandson has just started rugby union for, guess who, Widnes.