Rugby League

 

Growing up in Leeds in the 1970s was an evocative time. We had the austerity of the early seventies where we had regular power cuts due to strike action and many people working a three day week. The decadence of the eighties was a long way off and although my abiding memories are overwhelmingly positive, it was a tough time make no mistake.

Rugby League was the dour, Northern ¬†upstart brother to the predominantly upper class Rugby Union (apart from the mining towns of Wales, I might add). I grew up in a League family and our team was Bramley. Originally a village on the outskirts of Leeds, it had over the years become part of the sprawling Leeds empire but the RL team remained intact. One of ¬†the original clubs that broke away from the RFU in Huddersfield in 1895, Bramley was a small club and it’s nickname ‘The Villagers’ says it all.

Rugby League was one of the simple pleasures of the northern working classes with its heyday in the fifties and sixties. By the time the seventies came around it was still a niche sport and the early signs of its decline were in evidence. Football was on the rise and there were other things to occupy our time with.

Still we enjoyed our Sunday afternoons travelling around the North of England (and latterly Wales and London as new teams joined) to enigmatic places like Whitehaven, Huddersfield or Hull. Well, they were enigmatic to me at least as an impressionable 10 year old. The club always struggled financially largely due to being neighbours with too many local clubs and big brother club Leeds (who we all hated at the time). Bramley RLFC slid into administration in the late eighties I think – way before the modern era of summer Superleague could come to the rescue.

It was with great joy then, when recently clearing stuff out of Dad’s crammed loft, that we discovered my old scrapbook and my sister’s badge and programme collection. We spent a couple of hours leafing through the old letterpress programmes which brought it all flooding back. The musty smell of old print had long replaced the vivid smells of paper and ink but thanks to my sister they were beautifully kept.

My old scrapbook brought back the most memories for me. Every match report had been assiduously collected and documented in the promotion chasing 1978/79 season. There was a fervour to the journalism too I noticed that’s lacking today – some of the match reports were from the ‘Green’ – a local sports only newspaper that held a mystical air for me, also long gone. It also struck me how important it all seemed to me back then and how for me sport plays an important role in my life but not central anymore.

The scrapbooks, badges and programmes spoke to me of a simpler time where my obsession with collecting and completing started on the cold and windy terraces of Northern England.