5th June 2020, 08:59 | 125
As the countdown continues to the 125th anniversary of the Northern Union breakaway that would become Rugby League, the respected and prolific RL historian Mike Latham – who has also since February 2018 been the chairman of Leigh Centurions – has written a fascinating history of one of the original 22 clubs who have been largely forgotten.
Runcorn RFC were the last of those 22 to join, as they were not present at the meeting of clubs at Huddersfield’s George Hotel on 29 August, 1895, with their application being accepted at a subsequent meeting a few days later.
But they were still ready to join the first round of matches on Saturday 7 September, when they beat Widnes, their local rivals from the other side of the River Mersey and Manchester Ship Canal, by 15 points to 4.
And in that inaugural season of the Northern Union, Runcorn underlined the reputation they had as a nursery of rugby-playing talent by coming third, behind Halifax and the champions Manningham – meaning they won the Lancashire League.
They remained consistent challengers for the next decade, topping the Lancashire Senior Competition in 1899-1900 after the Northern Union had split geographically to save on travelling costs, and finishing third in the Northern Union again in 1906-7 after the county competitions had recombined – playing throughout at the Irwell Lane ground that would later be used by the Runcorn Highfield club from 1985-91, although it was then known as Canal Street.
Later in 1907, Runcorn enjoyed another memorable moment when they beat the code’s original All Golds tourists 9-0. But by the outbreak of the Great War in 1914 they were struggling, and although the club continued to compete in the Wartime Emergency Leagues that were arranged for subsequent years, they folded in 1917-18.
The book includes a detailed biographical and records section, detailing such players as Harry Speakman – who had travelled to Australia with the first touring rugby team in 1888 well before the Northern Union breakaway – and Jimmy Jolley, who was the first player to score points for Great Britain in the inaugural international against New Zealand at Headingley in 1908.
However as usual with a Mike Latham book, The Home of Footballers – a title referring to the description of Runcorn in a Wigan newspaper after the signing of Harry Price in 1906 – is about much more than dry statistics.
It reveals as much social and economic history as it does of the sport, and contains plenty of the offbeat tales Mike has always enjoyed – as well as more than 300 photographs.
The story of the St Helens team being suspended in mid-air on the Runcorn and Widnes Transporter Bridge on their way to a fixture that would mark the official opening of a substantial redevelopment of Canal Street in 1913 is a cracker. The Saints players had to be lowered by rope ladder into a steam tug commandeered to rescue them – but they still won the game 10-5.
The book has been published by Scratching Shed, adding to their substantial Rugby League output.
And watch out for another celebration of Rugby League’s history coming out from Scratching Shed to mark the code’s 125th birthday in August - 'Rugby League: A People's History' by Dr Tony Collins - ideal Lockdown, or post-Lockdown, reading.