Rugby league's hundred years war

CENTENARY CELEBRATION: Today marks the birth of the progeny of a Northern union. Dave Hadfield reports
Click to follow
1895

On 29 August, 21 leading Lancashire and Yorkshire rugby union clubs meet at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, over the vexed issue of broken-time payments. Northern clubs want to compensate working- class players who lose wages through playing. Twickenham rules that this would constitute Creeping Professionalism and thus be A Bad Thing. This is the cause of The Big Split.

Loyal clubs continue to make under-the-table payments, in the time-honoured manner. Northern Union - as the schismatics call themselves - pay broken- time payments. Sun falls from sky. Lions whelp in streets. End of rugby. End of civilization. Plans for a plaque at The George.

-9 Experiment with abolition of line-out. Line-out retained. Line-out abolished. Experiment with 13-a-side. 15-a-side retained. 13-a-side introduced. Play- the-ball introduced. Trouble with play-the-ball. Scrums reformed. Trouble with scrums.

1898 Professionalism permitted. End of rugby. End of civilization. Rules still state that players must have another, proper job. "Work clauses" which specify that employment as a billiard marker or public house waiter does not count condemned as unfair to billiard markers and public house waiters.

1905 Work clauses abolished.

1907-8 Hunslet win all four cups with team consisting entirely of billiard markers and public house waiters. First overseas tourists arrive from New Zealand. Illustrate dire consequences of Creeping Professionalism by being known as the All Golds, due to sponsorship by well-known brand of chocolates.

1908 Launch of the code in Australia. Australians send for Northern Union rule book. Rule book fails to arrive. Australians carry on regardless. End of rugby in Australia. End of civilization in Australia.

1914 Rorke's Drift Test. British team consisting entirely of dead and dying beat several thousand Australians. Rule book arrives. Australians send back rule book. End of civilization in Australia.

1914-15 Huddersfield win all four cups with Team of All The Talents. John Willie Higson plays for this side as well as the Hunslet team that achieved the same seven years earlier. John Willie is favourite boy's name in Britain according to survey of The Times' births column.

1922 The name Northern Union discovered to be old-fashioned and parochial. Despite this, it is discarded in favour of a snappy new title - Rugby League. End of Northern Union.

1929 Controversial decision to stage Challenge Cup final at Wembley Stadium for the first time. Debate over whether this was A Good Thing still continuing at time of writing. Thousands travel to London to complain about beer there costing fourpence a pint and having no head, thus establishing A Great Rugby League Tradition.

1933 French rugby union discovered to be paying players even more blatantly than elsewhere. French rugby union expelled. Rugby league launched in France. French rugby union reinstated.

1946 First post-war tourists sail for Australia on HMS Indomitable. Tourists thus known as The Indomitables. Indomitables, honed to peak fitness by stoking the ship's boilers, beat the Australians then lose to New Zealand. End of Indomitables.

1951 French tour Australia. Dismissed as worst team ever. France beat Australia with a full-back who smokes on the pitch.

1954 A crowd of 102,569 watch the Challenge Cup final replay between Warrington and Halifax at Odsal. Thousands more refused entry for not wearing flat caps. Brian Bevan causes sensation by failing to score. Traffic jams stretch as far as Todmorden, which is surprising because no-one owns a car and Todmorden is not on the way to Bradford.

1958 Alan Prescott captains Great Britain to victory and the Ashes, playing 77 minutes at Sydney with a broken arm (see Rorke's Drift Test)

1966 Four-tackle rule introduced. Sunday rugby is introduced. the following year.

1968 Don Fox misses winning conversion from in front of the posts in the Wembley "watersplash" Cup final between Wakefield Trinity and Leeds. Eddie Waring utters his most memorable words: "Poor lad."

1972 The four-tackle rule having failed to become memorable, is replaced by the six-tackle rule.

1979 Blackpool Borough win promotion to First Division. Become known as The Improbables.

1982 Australian tourists attempt to demoralise Great Britain by being known as The Invincibles (see Indomitables, Improbables). Plan fails. British management declare they have nothing to fear. Invincibles win every match in Britain.

1985-95 Wigan win everything. Wigan bad for the game. Wigan buy everyone. Wigan team of the year. Wigan team of the decade. Wigan team of the century.

1990-5 Leeds vow to overtake Wigan. Leeds buy Ellery Hanley, plus entire Wigan team and various billiard markers and waiters from Wigan pubs. Leeds win nothing. Leeds attempt to sign John Willie Higson.

1995 Summer rugby dismissed as fantasy. Summer rugby adopted. Rupert Murdoch buys rugby league. End of rugby league. Start of Super League. Clubs vote for mergers. Mergers rejected by clubs. Trouble with play-the-ball. Trouble with scrums. Trouble with Australia. Spectacular celebrations planned for game's centenary. Spectacular celebrations cancelled. Centenary cancelled. Centenary reinstated after recount.

Last charabancs return home from 1954 Cup final replay. Rugby union decides it will pay players above the table after all. Japan apologises for war. Rugby union apologises for "historic mistake". Plaque unveiled at The George. End of history.

Comments