Albert Edward Goldthorpe was a true sportsman in every sense of the word. As well as playing football he was for many years captain of Hunslet Cricket Club winning Leeds League medals and Hepworth cup medals. It was however his rugby skills along with clean, honest and upright standards in sport and in life generally that brought him renowned fame.
For well over 40 years, ‘Arh Albert’ as he was affectionately known, gave faithful service to the Hunslet Rugby Club as player, committee man and secretary-manager.
He was born on 3rd November 1871, the youngest but one of five brothers, four of whom at one period played together in the same Hunslet team. He made his first team debut, at full back, as a 16 year old in October 1888 in a game against Wortley, having played the previous week for the ‘A’ team against Morley ‘A’. Later that season Albert moved into the centres where he played for a number of years. Yorkshire called Albert up for his County debut the following year. His first game was played at Hull and the opponents were Durham. He first Captained his County at the age of 20 in a match against Cheshire. He also played against the Rest of England that season and represented his County in some games for subsequent seasons. He was reckoned to be very unlucky not to have had an England trial.
Albert and Walter were awarded a joint benefit and around 8000 spectators attended the game against Hull which was held on Christmas Eve 1904.
In the spring of 1905 Albert announced his retirement but some 6 months later he was persuaded to change his mind. What a momentous decision that turned out to be.
During his long career Albert played in many big games for the Hunslet Club. The first one was the 1892 Yorkshire Cup final in which he played in the centres. He was captain of the 1897/98 League Championship winning team and the 1905 Yorkshire Cup winning team. Hunslet’s greatest ever season was 1907-1908. Albert, Captain and half back, used his tactical experience and skill to bring out the best from his team, especially the forwards who were known as the terrible six. This led to unprecedented success when the team won all four cups. That was 36 year old Albert’s last full season in the game and he established a new Northern Union record of 101 goals in the final game. Albert officially retired after this triumphant season although he turned out on a couple of occasions the following year.
Albert kept no record of his points scoring feats although he believed that he had kicked nearly 1000 goals in his career, a fact later confirmed in his career record. In one match at Parkside he kicked 14 from 15 attempts and scored 4 tries. He was a drop kick specialist and is credited with having dropped over 200 goals in his great career, 5 in one match. Albert, equally good with both feet, topped the league’s goal kicking chart on seven occasions. It should be remembered that the game in Albert’s era had little resemblance to the game of today. Numerous scrums and all forms of kicking were the main features.
The modest Albert attributed his success to taking care of himself and leading a hard working and open air life. He had no regrets in the whole of his playing career and he felt that the many changes that he had seen in the grand old game were for the better. When he finally retired in 1910 he had scored more goals and points than any player in the game’s history at that time. After his playing career ended he served on the committee until, in 1924, he was appointed as Hunslet’s second full time secretary-manager, a post he held for 7 years.
It was a mark of Albert’s popularity that upon the announcement of his marriage a Public Subscription was organised. He and his wife were presented with a piano from the funds raised. Albert lived and worked with his wife Jane (Ginny) at Urn Farm, this is still marked on some maps just off Middleton Road. Jane was both an enthusiastic worker and loyal supporter during her husbands long association with the Hunslet Club. The couple had a son Edward and a daughter Gladys.
In early1931 they left the farm and moved to a rented house in Headingley, 12 Grimthorpe Terrace was the address of the front door and 11 Trelawn Street was the address at the rear. This property is very near the Headingley ground and it was not far from James’s home. Albert bought a milk round and delivered in the area until his retirement.
It is difficult to do justice to the career of Albert Goldthorpe, the Gentleman of Yorkshire football. He was probably the finest individual talent in the game at the time of the Northern Union formation. He became one of the best known figures in English rugby both before and after the split. He was the most popular rugby footballer in Yorkshire, and to the local fans he was a hero in an age when heroes really were just that.
On 8th of January 1943, exactly one year after the death of his brother James, Albert died at the age of 71. Two weeks later his wife also passed away. They are buried together at Woodhouse Hill Cemetery, not far away from the old Parkside ground the home of his beloved Hunslet. In 2008 the memorial was cleaned and re-lettered and continues to stand as a fitting tribute.
In the late 1980’s memories were revived with a film, “The First Kangaroo’s”, produced by an Australian company. Unfortunately this was a case of never letting the facts get in the way of a story. ‘Arh Albert’ was not portrayed as the clean living teatotal person that he was and it would be true to say that this film was a character assassination, a fact realised by everyone who knew of him. (Newspaper article here)
The Australians commemorated Albert in a much more favourable way in the 1990’s when he was one of the featured players in a set of trading cards.
Albert’s achievements were marked in 1998 with an article in the Daily Express under the heading “500 Great Sporting Millennium Memories”.
In 1999 as a possible merger between the Hunslet and Bramley Clubs was debated along with admission to Superleague Albert was again remembered with an article in The Rugby Leaguer.
In 2004 Albert and his fellow players were remembered with a commemorative t-shirt.
Albert’s name came to prominence in early 2006 when a number of correspondents wrote to the local newspaper suggesting that the South Leeds Stadium should be named in his honour.
To mark the centenary of Albert leading Hunslet to victory in all four cups the Albert Goldthorpe Medal was instituted by the Rugby League Express.
Also in 2008 Wm. Dodgson & Son (Funeral Services) arranged for Albert’s memorial stone to be refurbished and his descendants arranged with Leeds Civic Trust for a historic Blue Plaque to be erected. The book Four Cups to Fame was published the same year.
In 2009 bus company Arriva named a new fleet of buses after 13 West Yorkshire rugby league legends, one of the vehicles was named “Albert Goldthorpe.”
The inaugural Albert Goldthorpe Shield game played between Hunslet Hawks and Hunslet Amateur All Stars took place in 2012.
Albert became the 24th person to be inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame in November 2015.
It is a tribute to the man that now well over 100 years after his major triumphs his name still lives on.