THE ‘TEAM OF ALL TALENTS’
A CLARET AND GOLD PHENOMENOM
Sincere thanks to David Gronow for permission to publish the following article and photographs.
Hurrah for the Claret and Gold
The colour of the Fartown jersey is still symbolic of the club’s great tradition.
Great sides come and go, over the years times and circumstances change.
In 1895 at the inception of the Northern Rugby Football Union, a new era was dawning, an era which saw Huddersfield rise to greatness.
In 1906 Huddersfield had high aspirations and a ground at Fartown prestigious enough to host county matches and major finals.
They had been one of the aristocrats of rugby union in the North, but since the formation of the Northern Union had won precisely nothing.
The potential at Huddersfield was nonetheless enormous and crowd support would boom if a successful attractive team could be assembled.
On 10 November 1906 Harold Wagstaff, a fifteen year-old youngster from Underbank played his first game for Huddersfield against Bramley and the first seeds of success had been planted, but it would take a few years for the fruits to appear.
Wagstaff, the ‘Prince of Centres’ made his county debut the following year in 1907 and played his first Test at the age of seventeen.
In 1911 he was appointed club captain and went on to skipper two touring teams to Australia in 1914 and 1920.
On Wagstaff’s arrival at Fartown, the club possessed some real talent.
Jim Davies, a Welsh centre from Swansea and Cumbrian winger/centre WF (Billy) Kitchin were the star performers.
There were others such as veteran Percy Holroyd and Arthur Swinden, both recruited from local rugby and a young full back/centre from Morecambe, Jack Bartholomew (uncle of comedian Eric Morecambe).
During September 1908 Huddersfield recruited Major Holland and Edgar Wrigley, a member of the New Zealand ‘All Golds’ brought over by Albert Baskerville - the first of many colonial players to sign for Huddersfield.
Albert Aaron Rosenfeld joined Huddersfield in 1909, signing immediately after he played in the Australian side beaten by the Fartowners 5-3 on 20 February.
Another of the Kangaroos, Paddy Walsh, signed at the same time.
In April of the same year an eighteen year-old Cumbrian named Douglas Clark was registered.
A formidable character, he became a county and Test player and was twice a tourist (1914 and 1920) and in later years a world champion wrestler.
Clark’s arrival at Huddersfield coincided with the club’s first cup success when they won the Yorkshire Cup on 27 November 1909, defeating Batley 21-0 in the final at Headingley, Leeds.
The team was certainly developing on the right lines and another local player, Stanley Moorhouse, made his first appearance in December 1909 and ultimately formed a wing partnership with Wagstaff which became feared throughout the Northern Union.
Moorhouse too was a tourist, scoring twice on his Test debut at Sydney in 1914.
On Christmas Day 1909 Tommy Grey, a superb scrum half signed for Huddersfield from Halifax and on 9 January 1910 John Willie Higson, who had won four cup medals with Hunslet in 1907-08, made his debut in the Fartown pack.
The growing band of star players was increased at the start of the 1910-11 season.
Ben Gronow, capped four times by Wales at rugby union, joined the club on 14 May 1910 from Bridgend.
He had remarkable kicking skills which were strangely not recognised and discovered until he had been at Fartown for four years after which time he proceeded to shatter all existing records.
With Gronow in the team Huddersfield were a far-improved side from the previous season, but they were unable to lift any more cups that year.
Another Halifax player Fred Longstaff, was signed in December 1911 to bolster the Huddersfield pack.
The 1911-12 season saw the great side approaching its peak and opposing teams were assured of a non-stop barrage of attacking rugby.
The Yorkshire Cup was regained with a 22-10 win over Hull KR, however, Huddersfield’s assault on the Challenge Cup ended in a 2-0 defeat at the hands of Oldham in the third round.
The season ended in a flourish as the Yorkshire League and Championship trophies were secured.
In all matches 1196 points were scored against 283 conceded, the Rosenfeld/Wrigley wing combination accounting for 376 of these points, Rosenfeld scoring 78 tries, an impressive total which was amazingly beaten the following year with a world record 80 tries.
Many of those 80 tries were scored with a new centre partner - Australian Tommy Gleeson, signed in November 1912 from the Glebe club in Sydney, just three months before protests from the New South Wales Rugby League resulted in a ban on overseas players - a ban which was effective for fourteen years.
Following a venture into Wales, Huddersfield returned with another star capture in that great half-back Johnny Rogers, while Jack Chilcott and Aaron Lee found places in the pack.
In 1912-13 Huddersfield beat Warrington 9-5 in their first appearance in a Challenge Cup final.
Huddersfield also won the League Championship trophy beating Wigan 29-2 at Wakefield in the play-off final as well as retaining the Yorkshire League trophy - only the Yorkshire Cup eluded them.
During 1913-14 Huddersfield amassed a record 119-2 match score defeating junior side Swinton Park in a Challenge Cup first round game - twenty-seven tries were scored, seven of them by Rosenfeld, whilst Major Holland landed eighteen goals.
The Fartowners won the Yorkshire Cup and Yorkshire League, with the two Northern Union trophies finding a home elsewhere - it was not long before they returned to Huddersfield!
War was declared before the start of the new 1914-15 season, but the Northern Union competitions continued.
Huddersfield realised all their ambitions when arguably the greatest rugby league side ever, the ‘Team of All Talents’, equalled Hunslet’s four cup record of 1907-08.
Into the side had come WH Ganley a half back signed from Leeds.
Sweeping all before them they took the Championship defeating Leeds 35-2 in the play-off final at Belle Vue, Wakefield, and beat St Helens 37-3 at Watersheddings, Oldham, in the Challenge Cup final.
As well as being Yorkshire League Champions they won the Yorkshire Cup defeating Hull 31-0.
Following this triumphant season football was suspended for the remaining duration of the War.
But for four years of conflict, it goes beyond speculation as to what this Huddersfield side was capable of achieving between 1915-1918.
After hostilities ceased, Huddersfield regathered - could the ‘Team of All Talents’ carry on from where they left off in 1915?
The answer was ‘yes’, but only for one season as age caught up with those wonderful pre-war players and the loss of their brilliant loose forward Fred Longstaff who was killed in action on the Somme in 1916, plus Herbert Banks who smashed an ankle while working in a reserved occupation down the pit.
The great Douglas Clark was unable to commence playing until after the start of the 1919-20 season due to have been gassed twice at Ypres and severely wounded at Passchendale.
Aaron Lee played just part of the new season before emigrating to America, with Jim Davies back in Wales.
At the outbreak of the war the average age of the team was twenty-five, in 1920 most were around the thirty mark, however, if this was a disadvantage it did not show as they won the Yorkshire Cup in the only official senior games to be played this side of the Pennines after the Armistice.
It was in April and May 1919 that Huddersfield beat Hunslet, Hull KR and Hull before conquering Dewsbury 14-8 in the final at Headingley, Leeds, to retain the trophy last won in November 1914.
The big test came in August 1919 when the first full season of Northern Union football resumed, the Fartowners coming through with flying colours.
Despite the increase in ages they only just missed winning all four cups once again.
The Yorkshire League was won comfortably, the Yorkshire Cup came back to Fartown at the cost of Leeds in the final at Thrum Hall by 24-5, with Huddersfield making no mistake in the Challenge Cup final beating Wigan 21-10 at Headingley, Leeds.
There was only the League Championship trophy to secure, but the handicap of supplying Wagstaff, Gronow, Clark, Rogers and Thomas for the tour to Australia, plus an injury to Moorhouse, proved too much as the Fartowners went down by a single point losing 3-2 to Hull in the final at Headingley, Leeds.
During the previous ten years, three of which came be discounted because of war, Huddersfield won sixteen trophies, twelve between 1911 and 1915 - wonderful records set by a wonderful team.
The author of Ben Gronow’s benefit brochure in 1924 quoted:
‘There was something about the Huddersfield team of that period that carried people out of themselves.
It was not merely the successes which impressed: it was the manner in which they were gained.
There was an absolute understanding between all parts of parts of a perfectly-working machine which resulted in the most audacious and unexpected movements being carried out with a precision that left the opposing defence aghast.
Fast and clever three-quarters were served by halves whose brains were ever working at high pressure behind forwards who, as occasion demanded, could play the traditional scrummaging game or convert themselves into temporary three-quarters and handle the ball with a precision that would put to shame many of our present-day backs.
Truly a great side and, so far as humanly possible, without a weak spot - a team of giants who loved the game, gloried in a stern struggle, and cared not who put on the finishing touches to a movement so long as each did his share of what fell to his lot to do.’
Albert Rosenfeld to this day still holds the Rugby League record of eighty tries in a season (1913-14).
Ben Gronow kicked 147 goals for Huddersfield in 1919-20, to this day still a club record of goals in a season.
Douglas Clark still holds the club record of most appearances for Huddersfield in a career: 485 (1909-1929).