Yorkshire Carnegie has a proud and long heritage stretching as far back as 1878 and the formation of Headingley FC, who were later to merge with Roundhay RUFC to form Leeds RUFC.
A story of six eras
In order to tell each part of the story we have broken the history down into six eras…
Headingley Football Club: A History
Headingley Football Club was founded in 1878 and was admitted to the Rugby Football and Yorkshire Rugby Football Unions in 1898. Three years earlier, twelve of the county’s largest clubs had left the County RFU to become founder members of the Northern Union, later known as the Rugby League.
The first captain is recorded as being J H Potter and the earliest club fixture card that we have is for the season 1881-82 and this provides fixtures for two teams with matches to be played on Cardigan Fields – one of the best known rugby football centres in the North of England. The principal ground at Cardigan Fields was used by the Leeds St John’s Club which later became the football section of the Leeds Cricket Football and Athletic Club at the new ground in Headingley, now Headingley Carnegie Stadium.
However, for the Headingley Football Club the search for stability and a permanent ground continued for a few more years. In 1893, CF Tetley agreed to become President and he remained in post until his death in 1934. It was men like him that brought the stability to secure progress and he gave generous and enthusiastic support throughout his life. Among other important characters in those early days were the Platt brothers, Edward, Herbert, Sydney and Joe.
The last three were all talented players who refused invitations to go to other clubs but it was Edward, who never played for the Club he represented on the Yorkshire RFU, that steered the Club towards a permanent home by securing the tenancy of Clarence Field at Kirkstall in 1902. It gave the Club a wonderful playing area with exceptional natural drainage due to the sand and gravel of the original river bed that lay beneath its surface.
Its value to a growing club was acknowledged in 1903 when Headingley had the honour of staging an important England Trial game. This was to be followed by others in 1910 and 1912.
However, by 1904-5 only 14 clubs remained with the Yorkshire RFU and it seemed the end was nigh for Rugby Union in the county. The main saviour was R F Oakes who was elected a member in 1901 beginning a 50-year association with the Club. He played only briefly, captaining the Club in 1903-4, but his major contribution was in administration.
Elected Secretary of Yorkshire, under his auspices the Union was built up to 108 clubs and 57 schools by 1952. Along the way, he was President of the County 1922-4, President of the Rugby Football Union 1933-4 and of Headingley FC from 1935 to 1952.
After the First World War, the club had the opportunity to buy the first team pitch for the sum of £2,500. The money was raised by members as a memorial to those who had lost their lives. It was a fitting tribute. Once owners of the ground, the Club felt that it should try to improve the amenities and so in 1920 the first part of a covered stand was erected on the river bank.
This was completed in 1934 when further work doubled its length at a total cost of £1,400. The Clubhouse with changing rooms and baths was built in 1929 at a costing about £2,250 and about the same time material was carted in to form banking along the two sides of the ground. In 1934 two other playing areas were purchased for an additional £1,000 on adjacent land. All of these sums were raised by private subscription from members and friends of Headingley and it allowed the Club to become the sole owner of three pitches.
Groundsmen and Club members under the guidance of Arthur Mollett completed further improvements to the ground in the early fifties including terracing of the embankments and the building of entrance gates.
Although the club’s record was modest for a year or two after the Great War, by the thirties Headingley were one of the most successful sides in the country. Its fixture list came to include some of the strongest sides in the game and the quality of players rose accordingly. In this period, Headingley had eight internationals, six of them appearing concurrently and representing all four Home Unions (pictured above).
Rugby was suspended with the outbreak of war but when peace came, four teams were soon being fielded in the traditional green, black and white strip. In the 1958-9 season the club had three County captains, O Grievson (Yorkshire), J W Collard (Durham), and L F Reid (Cumberland), playing regularly in the first team. That too was the year that wing Peter Thompson got the last of his 17 England caps.
A new Clubhouse added under the direction of Roy Southcott and Hubert Lazenby in 1957 was erected in memory of Bob Oakes, President from 1935 to 1952, and Arthur and Sam Yeadon. In 1968, floodlights were opened on the first team pitch and new changing rooms added in 1972.
On the playing side, Ian McGeechan was promoted from the colts to make his first team debut against Waterloo in 1965. He went on to win 27 caps for Scotland, tour South Africa with the British Lions (playing in all four tests) and during his career captained Headingley, Yorkshire, North Eastern Counties, Scotland, Barbarians and the British Lions. If that were not enough he has gone on to become one of the great coaches in the modern game.
John Spencer who made his debut with Headingley in 1966 also went on to captain England in 4 of his 14 games and to tour with Lions in Australia and New Zealand. Like Ian he has gone on to serve the game at club level, returning to his native Wharfedale, and at National level in various administrative roles. Of the other two great men, one was Air Marshal Sir Augustus Walker who was elected President of the Rugby Football Union 1965-66 and the other was RMA Kingswell who also held that high office in 1972-73. He was a formidable and enthusiastic man. He was Captain in 1936-37, served on the Headingley committee for over 40 years and was President in 1968-9.
In the sixties the club continued its usual contribution to the county game but it was a period that saw the emergence of two exceptional players and the recognition of two exceptional men.
Headingley continued to field some fine players and in the 1980s the club won the Yorkshire Cup no less than six times but as the game progressed with Merit Tables and then Leagues it found it harder to attract and hold those top quality players essential to maintain its high position in the English game.
Probably the finest player to emerge in this period was Peter Winterbottom. He went on to play in New Zealand and South Africa and with Harlequins, who he captained. By the time he retired in 1993 he had earned 58 England caps and toured both New Zealand and Australia with the British Lions.
His father, John Winterbottom, exemplified all that was best in the Headingley tradition of dedicated service. Joining in 1950, he became Chairman, President in the Centenary Year in 1978 and was involved in the creation of the new Leeds Club after the merger with Roundhay in 1992.
The Kirkstall ground was a valuable asset to the Club. It provided an excellent venue for county and representative games over the years and is home to treasured and affectionate memories for a host of players and members past and present. When Headingley merged with Roundhay to form Leeds it was initially the venue for the first team games. Later its sale to Morrissons enabled the new club to build a start of the art training facility.
Part of the deal was to enjoy a long term lease back at a peppercorn rent of most of the original land. They also had to upgrade the old clubhouse (to the tune of £300,000). The stands and terracing were demolished in 1996 and from then on the Kirkstall site has become an excellent training ground facility for professional rugby, for both Union and League closing the loop on connection first established in the 1880s in those far off early days of rugby football.