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Unorganised football in the form of kick-abouts in the streets and fields was played in the 1840’s in villages around Huddersfield and Leeds.

The earliest reference to a football match in the Huddersfield district is of a match played near Whinney Bank, Holmfirth in 1848, between Holmfirth and Hepworth.

The stakes were £5 and each side deposited half this sum.

According to reports the game was well contested and ‘exhibited the usual amount of contusions, bloody noses, etc’, the Hepworth lads emerging victors.

Until Professor John Le Blanc opened the Apollo Gymnasium in Huddersfield on 3 August 1850, there does not appear to have been any place in the town where young men could take part in general exercises.

In addition to providing gymnastic apparatus he also gave lessons in fencing and dancing.

Cricket, swimming, riding, bowling and quoits were all catered for in the town and neighbourhood, while foot-races and trotting matches were frequently arranged.

Even prize fights were held in secret on remote parts on the moors.

Huddersfield had lost its only theatre when the Volunteer Rifle Corps requisitioned the town’s only Riding School hall for a drill hall and armoury, and the ever astute Le Blanc realised that money would be accumulated faster if the Apollo was transformed into the Gymnasium Theatre.

The young athletes who had frequented Le Blanc’s gymnasium, while naturally disappointed by the unexpected cessation of their exercising activities discussed the advisability of forming an organised athletic association or club.

In an advertisement headed ‘Huddersfield Athletic Club’, they invited ‘gentlemen desirous of becoming members’ to attend a preliminary meeting at the Queens Hotel, Market Street, on the evening of Wednesday 16 November 1864, where a ‘large and influential’ gathering’ unanimously agreed to form the ‘Huddersfield Athletic Club’.

Before the meeting concluded it was announced that the list of members contained nearly one hundred names.

This meeting was adjourned and re-convened on Wednesday 23 November again at the Queens Hotel when premises in Back John William Street adjoining Kilner and Crosland’s Warehouse would be used as a gymnasium and would open on Friday 16 December 1864 when enrollment of  new members would commence - ironically, one of the instructors engaged was John Le Blanc.

The club began to flourish and membership soon reached 150.

The gym was a daily hive of activity, and with Mr FA Pilling being appointed Hon Secretary, the committee announced that the first Grand Athletic Festival would be held the following summer.

Advertisements and placards announced the event to be held on 24 June 1864 in the Rifle Fields, situated in part of the town’s largest open space, Greenhead Park, Trinity Street and Park Avenue.

Some of the events that day were Putting the Stone (24lb weight), a Walking Match (2 miles), Standing and Running Long Jump and High Jump, 440 yard Flat Race, plus 200 yard Hurdles, Indian Clubs, Single Vaulting and Boxing.

A grandstand was erected and the price of a seat was 2 shillings (10p).

The festival grew in stature and became known colloquially as ’The Ascot of the North’ and the forerunner of many more. However, they declined in popularity after the First World War, and the Diamond Jubilee Festival held on 30 June 1934, was so sparsely attended they were since discontinued.

the Hepworth lads emerging victors.

There is no mention of football in the early activities of the Huddersfield Athletic Club, but this was no surprise, for it was not until the early 1860’s that the game was taken seriously by clubs, although the two famous clubs of Blackheath and Richmond commenced playing in 1862 and 1863 respectively, and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge in 1869 and 1872.

It should be noted that The Rugby Football Union was founded in 1871 in order to clarify the laws of the sport along the lines of those played at Rugby School, previous to this rules were agreed between the captains prior to the match.

Rugby football in Huddersfield emerged from the Second Annual General Meeting in December 1866 after scratch games between Huddersfield Athletic Club and the local Rifle Corps had taken place at Rifle Field, Trinity Street earlier in the year.

Games continued at this venue until October 1867 when Mr Edward Brooke, a Vice President of HAC, realised the increasing popularity and organised an exhibition match at Field house (Leeds Road) between teams representing Manchester and Leeds.

A large crowd inspired Huddersfield Athletic Club to arrange more games, but it was not until Mr Percy Learoyd, a local landowner and player, offered the use of the grounds of his residence, The Grove, Springwood, that a properly organised team took shape.

The meetings of the football section took place in the saddle room at the Grove, where the new football secretary HB Dransfield introduced a subscription of two shillings and sixpence per member (12.5p) to cover costs due to the Huddersfield Athletic Club committee’s lack of financial help.

In time, the Huddersfield Athletic Club committee had to succumb to supporting its football section as well as the other sports under its name.

At the Sixth Annual General Meeting on 5 October 1870, it was noted three Huddersfield players had represented Yorkshire against Lancashire and from that date the maintenance of the section would be the responsibility of the parent body.

Derby matches against local rivals were beginning to attract large crowds, to the extent that serious consideration would soon have to be given to an enclosed ground to accommodate growing numbers of supporters.

With the long-term future of the sport in mind, Huddersfield Athletic Club approached St Johns Cricket Club in Hillhouse with a proposal that the two clubs should amalgamate.

While the two clubs did not fully agree legal amalgamation to form Huddersfield Cricket and Athletic Club until 27 November 1875 in the Thornhill Arms on Bradford Road, at the end of 1867 a field in Fartown - ironically owned by Richard Nutter, landlord of the George Hotel in Huddersfield - was sanctioned as the site for both a cricket field and rugby field.

The cricket ground was opened in 1868 with improvements added in 1872.

Before the two clubs became united under the name of Huddersfield Cricket and Athletic Club, the Huddersfield Athletic Club opened its new Gymnasium in St Johns Road.

The ceremony was performed by the then Mayor of Huddersfield Alderman JF Brigg JP on 29 December 1875.

The building was designed by James Kirk of Huddersfield and consisted of a large gymnasium hall and sparring and fencing rooms.

Over the centre doorway was a carved figure in stone of Hercules.

The Gymnasium remained the headquarters of HC and AC until the summer of 1906 when it was sold and the office of the club transferred to the Pavilion at Fartown.

In 1938 the premises were opened as a church.

The first meeting of the Huddersfield Cricket and Athletic Club was held in the new Gymnasium on 25 March 1876.

A large attendance gathered to approve rules drafted by the committee, the result being that Mr RH Graham, the Agent of the Ramsden Estate, promised adjoining land be developed for the Football Section.

The Twelfth Athletic Festival was held on the St Johns ground - ‘a different but superior ground’ - but the Football Section continued to play on its old field in Trinity Street.

In 1876 the five clubs playing Rugby Union football in Yorkshire - Bradford, Huddersfield, Hull, Leeds and York - presented the Yorkshire County Committee with a cup to value of fifty guineas for annual competition.

Meanwhile the ground expansion was completed in time for the 1878-79 season and a number of practice matches took place during September, the most important one being the Presidents XV versus a Captains XV.

Hull were expected to be the visitors for the first official fixture on 5 October, but they were unable to raise a team.

After two away games at Bradford and Mirfield it was York on 26 October 1878 who had the privilege of being first to face the Fartowners on the new pitch and lose by 2 goals, 5 touchdowns, one dead ball and one touch in goal to one touchdown.

The Huddersfield Examiner quoted:
‘Huddersfield played an exceedingly agreeable and exciting game in the presence of a large number of spectators, who took an immense interest in the play.’

Owing to the almost incessant rainfall during the previous week the ground was heavy and in some places ‘in a very soppy condition’.

The teams that day were:


Back; HA Hastings, three-quarters back; H Huth (capt) and Fred Huth, half back; AE Learoyd and F Watkinson, forward; AC Sharpe, GW Bottomley, JH Conacher, JH Walker, JE Bentley, F Huth, TH Calvert, E Woodhead, FH Walker and CJ Wheatley; umpire TM Holt


Back; H Maughan and T Jolly; three-quarters back; J Ashburner and C Peters; half back; C Wood and J Todd, forward; E Glaisby, WR Nicholson, WJ McKenzie, G Wilson, RL Blanchard, J Shaw, AT French and C Guy; umpire JL Varley

Mr CM Sharpe ‘ kindly undertook to act as referee’.

Doubts had been expressed whether the Fartown ground would be fit for the County Trial game on 9 November, but the match took place as arranged albeit the pitch was still in a heavy condition, the ground not ‘settling down’ as anticipated necessitated new drainage being installed in 1883.

The Huddersfield players were now beginning to reap reward for their efforts and international honours came to club captain Harry Huth and Ernest Woodhead in 1879 and 1880.

Huth was one of three brothers in the Fartown side and all three had played for Yorkshire, appearing in the same team against Cheshire in 1878.

Harry’s international debut came against Scotland in Edinburgh on 10 March 1879, whilst

Ernest Woodhead’s England debut was against Ireland in Dublin on 2 February 1880.

The time was described as the ‘palmy days of the Huths’, and when they retired Huddersfield’s fortunes dipped somewhat until the late 1880’s.

In the 1880’s the game progressed and the excitement of the cup competitions brought in the crowds at Fartown.

Huddersfield had some near misses before bringing the Yorkshire Cup - T’Owd Tin Pot as it was affectionately known - home to Fartown in season 1889-90.

The final was played at Hanson Lane Ground, Halifax, against Wakefield Trinity on Saturday 5 April 1890 - Huddersfield winning by 1 goal, 1 minor to Wakefield’s 3 minors in front of a crowd numbering 20,000.

This was the first trophy won by a Huddersfield team, and upon return of the players to the town a torchlight procession was formed and the cup carried in triumph through the streets.

The week following, an Easter pantomime was produced at the Theatre Royal, and in honour of the Fartowners a spirited song entitled ‘Hurrah for The Claret and Gold’ written by composer Robert Field was sung for the first time.

The cup success of the Fartown team brought the club many supporters from the general public and as such it was decided to improve the ground at a cost of £5000 - an issue of 5,000 shares of £1 each, over to members quickly over-subscribed.

After completion of cricket facilities, work commenced on the football ground and in order to give the contractor more time, the club played all away matches until 31 October 1891, when the opening game against Cardiff who were defeated 14-7 was played in the presence of 10,000 spectators.

The Huddersfield Examiner commented:
‘Certainly the Huddersfield club have something to be proud of, and the sight when the crowd assembled was worth seeing.
It was a grand idea to convert the old tennis courts into the terraces for the accommodation of the popular people, and the fifteen tiers of spectators looked well and happy.
Facing them is a handsome and extensive stand which, in a few days will be covered, and with all the ends and sides of the ground utilised for the crowds, it is expected that over 20,000 people will be provided for, and everyone in a position to see.’

Bill Eagland, Jack Dyson and Harry Lodge had become regulars in the county team and all three were included in the Yorkshire versus the Rest of England at Fartown on 25 February 1893 in front of around 10,000, however, the 1893-94 season found the club embarking upon a fixture list with all the senior teams in the county, and also approaching a crisis in its affairs which was to have very far-reaching consequences.

Most of the clubs in Yorkshire and Lancashire had to rely on working-class players who could not afford the luxury of the loss of wages which the weekly fixtures and other games entitled.

The average weekly wage for a Miner and Millworker was 25 shillings (£1.30) for a five and a half day week.

Travelling to games on a Saturday often meant losing a shift with consequent financial hardship, payment for ‘broken time’ became a burning question in the two counties, and strenuous efforts were made to persuade the Rugby Union to recognise the position and make some alleviation which would prevent the threatened schism in its ranks.

At the Annual General Meeting of The Rugby Union held in London on 20 September 1893, a resolution was put forward for a modification of the laws relating to professionalism so as to permit players to be remunerated for bona fide loss of time - the Yorkshire Rugby Union president, Mr JA Miller in moving the motion said ‘ It was the only means of resisting professionalism’, but it was defeated by 282 votes to 136.

The self-imposed duty of reporting charges of professionalism and infringements of the law by various clubs was undertaken by the Rev Frank Marshall, the headmaster of King James's Grammar School in Almondbury from 1878 to 1896 who was a bitter opponent of Mr Miller the Yorkshire RU president, and of professionalism in sport.

By 1890 the Rev Marshall, who had quickly established himself as the north's leading rugby referee, was the Yorkshire RFU president, but although he took great delight in his rapid rise to the top of the county ladder, he was far from content at the `professionalism' he saw creeping into his beloved game.

The Corinthian-spirited Marshall loathed the idea of rugby players being paid for competing.

Rugby was amateur, and that's the way it should stay.

Marshall's position was crystal clear, the proposals by some of the north's leading clubs for `broken time' payments was widely condenmed by the rugby authorities, with the Rev Marshall the loudest critic.

As the sport became more and more competitive and the desire to be the best was increased, clubs felt the need to strengthen their sides accordingly - and the only way of doing that was through cash inducements.

The foundations for professional rugby had been laid, and Huddersfield, despite the fact the Rev Marshall was a committee member, were accused of being a key player in the revolutionary change.

In 1893, Huddersfield were accused by Cumberland club Cummersdale Hornets of obtaining star three-quarters G Boak and J Forsyth under suspicious circumstances, both had joined the club and were working in the town.

Such was the speed at which the players had left the Hornets that they were summoned to appear before Carlisle magistrates for leaving their jobs without giving proper notice.

An English Rugby Union inquiry was soon under way and the chief witness for the prosecution was the outspoken Rev Marshall, who had earlier resigned from the Huddersfield committee after condemning the actions of his club.

At the subsequent hearing Huddersfield were suspended for eight matches.

The committee were understandably far from happy, but Huddersfield were not the only club to feel aggrieved.

In Lancashire similar situations had occurred with Salford and Wigan both suspended for breaking the strict amateur code.

Despite their argument and that of Oldham - that broken-time payments were necessary to avoid undue hardship for their working class players, the Rugby Union authorities refused to change their policy.

It was almost inevitable that a major confrontation would take place - and by 1895, the temperature had reached boiling point.

By July 1895 the formation of the Rugby League was almost inevitable.

At the end of that month, Huddersfield, Batley, Dewsbury, Bradford, Manningham, Leeds, Halifax, Brighouse Rangers, Hull, Liversedge, Hunslet and Wakefield had announced their resignation from the Yorkshire Union - they were now rugby outcasts.

The start of the 1895-96 season was only weeks away and no league structure and fixtures had been arranged for the breakaway clubs.

Something had to be done.

On Tuesday, August 20, at a meeting at the Mitre Hotel in Leeds, the 12 clubs agreed they should form a Northern Union, but at the same time made it clear they wished to retain their links with the Yorkshire Union.

It was decided that a five-man panel would meet a sub-committee of the Yorkshire Union `to place before them a scheme for the settlement of the dispute.'

The Union, however, immediately rejected the proposal.

Such was the manner of the rebuff that at a meeting of the same venue a week later, the clubs decided to break all links and to form the Northern Union `professedly on amateur lines, but with the acceptance of the principle of payment for broken time.'

It was also agreed to hold a joint meeting of Yorkshire and Lancashire clubs at the George Hotel on Thursday, 29 August 1895, when the formation of the Northern Union was officially announced.

The clubs who boldly took the plunge were:
Yorkshire:  Batley, Bradford, Brighouse Rangers, Dewsbury, Halifax, Huddersfield, Hull, Hunslet, Leeds, Liversedge, Manningham, Wakefield Trinity
Lancashire:  Broughton Rangers, Leigh, Oldham, Rochdale Hornets, St Helens, Tyldesley, Warrington, Widnes, Wigan

Dewsbury‘s representative asked leave to consult with his committee which later declined to join, Runcorn were given the place vacated by Dewsbury.

Stockport, who were not present, were admitted to the Union on receipt of a telegram from the clubs’ officials.

Once the rules of professionalism were approved, the Rugby Union disallowed members from playing against Northern Union clubs.

The local fixtures which the juniors relied upon for their best gates, and the support which the senior clubs could give by way of facilities, etc, were outlawed.

Mr William Hirst, Secretary of the Yorkshire RU and representative of Huddersfield, made the position clear when he handed in his resignation at the Huddersfield District (RU) meeting held on the same evening as the opening matches of the Northern Union season and quoted:
‘The Huddersfield District one was one of the first formed in the County and I hope it will continue to prosper, though I must say at the present time prospects are very dark.
Not only will we be unable to play the District clubs, but we will be unable to place Fartown at your disposal.’

Those present at the meeting held at the White Hart Hotel, Huddersfield, were Rev Frank Marshall, representing King James’ Grammar School, plus other officials of Lockwood, Meltham, Paddock, Primrose Hill, Kirkburton, Slaithwaite, Turnbridge and Milnsbridge.

The majority of these village teams would soon be competing with Underbank Rangers (Harold Wagstaff’s old club) in the Huddersfield and District of the Northern Union.

Whilst other more senior clubs were able to function for the time being at least, in the old Union, the district clubs were already forming into District Leagues, which became the forerunners of those currently under the auspices of today’s BARLA (British Amateur Rugby League Association).

The first Northern Rugby Football Union season was inaugurated on Saturday 7 September 1895.

It should be noted that the Huddersfield club joined the new organisation ‘reluctantly’, for it was ‘dead against any idea of professionalism’.

The secretary revealed that the committee held out to the last moment, but the strong combination of circumstances - the difficulty in getting a team and matches, and the debt on the club of nearly £8,000 - gave it no choice in the matter.

The first Northern Rugby Football Union season was inaugurated on Saturday 7 September 1895, with the playing of ten matches - all the clubs except Huddersfield and Oldham having fixtures.

For the first Northern Union match played at Fartown on Saturday 14 September, under the captaincy of Harry Lodge, the Huddersfield players turned out in new strip of Claret jerseys with a White collar with the Borough arms stitched to the left breast, Blue shorts and Claret socks.

Wakefield Trinity were the visitors and nearly 5,000 spectators witnessed a close and exciting game, Huddersfield winning 10-0, all the points coming in the second half - the wingers Boothroyd and Pearson scoring one try each with Smith converting both touchdowns.

The Huddersfield players who took part in that opening match were:

F Lorriman, back:

A Boothroyd, WH Smith, P France and W Pearson, three-quarter back:

J Lorriman and J Bleasdale, half-back:

H Lodge (capt), F Mitchell, T Dickinson, M Sutcliffe, F Littlewood, F Hirst and A Stevenson, forward

Three of the players were newcomers to Fartown, Bleasdale formerly of New Brighton, France and Pearson from the Paddock club.

Huddersfield’s first season in the Northern Union was one of ‘disappointment and disaster’.

Only 10 games were won out of 42 played, 27 being lost and 5 drawn, the team finishing third from bottom in the Northern Rugby League - A. Boothroyd headed the list of try-scorers with a total of 18.

At a meeting of the Northern Union Committee held on 5 March 1896, the game’s competitive structure was reviewed with the founder members agreeing that the single league 42 match programme had been too demanding, and as additional senior clubs were on the verge of joining, it was decided to split the clubs into two separate county-based leagues - the Yorkshire Senior Competition and the Lancashire Senior Competition.

The Northern Union put forward a proposal to establish a cup competition on the ‘sudden death’ principle - the first draw being made at the George Hotel, Huddersfield on 3 September 1896, and in February of the following year it was decided to purchase a cup.

The cup was made by Messrs Lloyd, Payne and Amiel, jewellers, Manchester - an 1897 edition of the Batley News quoted:
‘It is a beautiful work of art, and is well worth the sixty guineas which the Northern Union have paid for it.’

The medals of the winners and runners-up ‘were designed and struck by Messrs Fattorini and Sons, Bradford.’

The Yorkshire section for the second season 1896-97 included five new recruits to the Northern Union - Bramley, Castleford, Heckmondwike, Holbeck, and Leeds Parish Church.

Huddersfield improved their league position in 1896-97 finishing tenth out of sixteen, but exited the Challenge Cup in the first round at Swinton losing 21-4.

Milford Sutcliffe replaced Harry Lodge as captain of the side, with all the matches this season against Yorkshire clubs except the Swinton cup-tie and friendly games with Oldham, Salford and a team from Barton (Eccles).

Huddersfield’s competition record was: played 30, won 10, lost 13, drawn 7.

The Annual meeting of the Northern Union on 20 July 1897 was noteworthy for the alteration in the scoring rule - a try was now made to count 3 points, a goal 2 points, and if a goal was kicked as result of a try, the try was also to count in addition to the goal - this is still the method of scoring in the Rugby Football League to this day, albeit a try is now worth 4 points.

Season 1897-98 saw Huddersfield finish in tenth position again, but they had a good cup run beating Manningham and Leeds Parish Church before going down to Broughton Rangers 6-0 at Fartown.

Their League position improved in 1898-99 moving up to sixth, together with another good run in the cup - the Fartowners were drawn at home in the first three rounds comfortably beating Saddleworth Rangers 43-2, Heckmondwike 17-0 and Normanton 23-2 before travelling to Salford where their cups hopes ended, losing 8-0.

In season 1899-1900, Huddersfield’s improvement in the League continued, finishing in a healthy fifth position through 17 wins, 4 draws, and 9 defeats in 30 games.

Once again it was Salford who knocked the Fartowners out of the cup 6-5 after Idle (22-0) and Workington (13-0) had fallen at Fartown in the earlier rounds.

When Castleford was visited on 27 January 1900 play took place before ‘ a hooting, yelling, and cursing crowd of rowdies’ and the referee had to be guarded by police, whilst in the match at Hunslet on 27 February, Huddersfield pressed into service it’s star of the old Rugby Union days - Jack Dyson.

The years between the ‘split’ and 1900 was a hectic period for the Northern Union as they strived to improve the game - the line out disappeared, the scoring system was changed, the fixture formulae amended, and the players awarded with open professionalism in 1898, although a clause was that they all had to be in legitimate employment.

Huddersfield finished with a financial loss in the first two seasons, but had pulled themselves around by the turn of the 19th century.

Two players who played important roles in building up the team which in later years was to make football history, joined the Huddersfield club in 1900 - William Farrington Kitchin, a Cumberland wing three-quarter and Welshman Llewellyn Deere, another three-quarter back.

Except for two seasons, 1903-04 and 1904-05, Kitchin was a member of the Huddersfield team for eleven seasons and captain of the first team to win a cup under Northern Union rules - the Yorkshire Cup on 27 November 1909.

Deere, of Mountain Ash, played five seasons with the Fartowners and made 173 appearances (80 tries, 10 goals).

In later years he assisted Merthyr Tydfil, the first Welsh club to embrace the Northern Union.

The decision to adopt professionalism was responsible for a wholesale migration of Welsh rugby players to Yorkshire and Lancashire clubs - Huddersfield were no exception in the craze to sign these ‘stars’, but unfortunately did not weld themselves into a winning side.

During the early years of the 1900’s the fates were unkind to the Fartowners when they suffered relegation in season 1901-02 to a newly-created Second Division.

Realising that a Second Division was no longer viable with the loss of a number of clubs, the Northern Rugby League was organised as a single division of thirty-one clubs - at the end of that season Huddersfield occupied eleventh place.

In 1905 the Northern Union permitted open professionalism, plus the introduction of the Yorkshire and Lancashire Cups.

The 1906-07 season teams saw teams reduced to thirteen players from the original fifteen and the play-the-ball introduced as a way of restarting play after a tackle.

With the formation of its first big league and competition percentage system, the Northern Rugby Union rapidly established for itself a place in the hearts of Northern sportsmen, which spread to Australasia, and in more modern times to France.

In Huddersfield, the Northern Union game had nearly suffered a total eclipse, but with the advent of the new league it gradually shook off its old encumbrances and set about the task of building a truly great team.


Ref:  Claret and Gold 1895-1946  Stanley Chadwick
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