Rugby League clubs celebrate sport’s 120 year history with Founders’ Walk
The West Yorkshire clubs which founded rugby league will be part of a celebration marking 120 years of the sport.
The club stadiums will be checkpoints on a six-day, 120 mile Founders’ Walk, passing each of the 22 founding clubs.
On August 29, 1895, the Yorkshire and Lancashire clubs broke away from the English Rugby Union’s governing body to form their own code.
The split was a result of the northern clubs wanting to turn professional, which was prohibited at the time in Rugby Union.
The new body, the Northern Rugby Football Union, announced its formation at a joint meeting of the county clubs at George Hotel, Huddersfield.
Its sport later became known as Rugby League in 1922 and its governing body became the RFL.
The original clubs were Batley, Bradford, Brighouse, Broughton, Halifax, Huddersfield, Hull FC, Hunslet, Leeds, Leigh, Liversedge, Manningham, Oldham, Rochdale, Runcorn, St Helens, Stockport, Tyldesley, Wakefield Trinity, Warrington, Widnes and Wigan.
Dewsbury initially signed up but withdrew shortly after the meeting and were replaced by Runcorn.
The Northern Union played its first matches on September 7, 1895 to compete for two separate Yorkshire and Lancashire competitions. Batley Bulldogs secured a 7-3 victory over Hull.
In the 1896-1897 season, the challenge cup was introduced, allowing all teams to compete together. Batley won the first trophy, beating St Helen’s 10-3 at Headingley.
Between 1895 and 1908, numerous rule changes were made and Rugby League was transformed into the game we know it as today.
Wakefield Trinity Wildcats, Batley Bulldogs, Leeds Rhinos and Widnes Vikings, still play at the same site as they did 120 years ago.
RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood said: “Rugby League has a great heritage and tradition and in this, our 120th year, the Founders Walk is a terrific opportunity for the sport to come together and raise as much money as it can for worthy causes.
“Rugby League was born of a struggle based upon the right to fair play and that burning desire for equality and openness has resonated across the decades.
“The decisions taken by the game’s founding fathers were bold, dynamic and welcoming, three qualities which are as important and relevant in Rugby League today as they were in 1895.
“As well as celebrating our heroes, this year provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge the debt of gratitude we owe to the people involved in the 22 founder clubs, whose foresight has left a wonderful and indelible legacy.
“It’s an important anniversary and I hope as many people as possible engage with the walk to celebrate a special birthday and a very special sport.”
Local teams will join in the walk, organised by the RFL, which takes place from Sunday, July 19 until Friday, July 24.
The RFL hopes it will raise £120,000 for the Rugby League Cares charity, which brings together sporting charities the Rugby League Foundation, RFL Benevolent Fund and RFL Heritage Trust.
It has four factions aimed at increasing grassroots participation in the sport, providing health and wellbeing support for past and present players, giving assistance aid and hardship relief for those injured in the game and conserving the sport’s history.
Anyone can join in the walk for any or all of its stages, and there are shorter two to five mile community walks which local teams will be involved in.
Other 120th anniversary celebrations include a commemorative statue to be unveiled at Wembley Stadium on the day of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final on August 29, the sport’s birthday.
RL Cares is also installing commemorative blue plaques at all the original grounds, and two more rugby league legends will be inducted into the sport’s Hall of Game.
For more information and to register with a £5 donation to RL Cares, visit www.rugbyleaguecares.org/founders_walk_2015
The walking route
Eight miles from Walton Street Car Park, Hull to Hull KC Stadium, starting 9.30am
20 miles from Fartown, Huddersfield through Brighouse, Liversedge, Batley and Dewsbury to Wakefield Wildcats, starting 9.30am
24.5 miles from John Charles Sports Centre, Hunslet to King Cross Park Halifax, starting 9.30am
22 miles from Asda in Rochdale to Edgeley Park, Stockport, starting 9.30am
22.5 miles from Wheater Street, Broughton to Wigan stadium, starting 9.30am
23 miles from Wilderspool Stadium, Warrington to Langtree Park, St Helens, starting 9.30am
Within the long route are a series of community walks including:
4.3 miles from Fartown to Brighouse, starting 9.30am
Two miles from Batley Bulldogs’ ground to Dewsbury Rams’ ground, starting 2.30pm
Two miles from Thornes Park, Wakefield to Wakefield Wildcats’ ground, starting 5pm
5.7 miles from John Charles Sports Centre, Leeds to Headingley Stadium, Leeds, starting 9.30am
2.6 miles from Illingworth RLFC, Halifax to King Cross RLFC, Halifax, starting 5pm