Hunslet’s finance director Phil Hodgson has earned a well-deserved reputation for prudent financial management – thankfully, and certainly to the Parksiders’ benefit. He doesn’t mind admitting, though, that like all other fans of the ambitious south Leeds Rugby League outfit he can get very emotional about how things are going on the pitch.
That underlying trait was very evident way back in the New Hunslet days of the 1970s, when Phil was an enthusiastic ball boy at the Leeds Greyhound Stadium. And his mam and dad, Julie and John, were acutely aware of the fact.
So they were understandably very concerned about their son when the club agreed to transfer the eleven-year-old’s favourite player, the tireless second row Jimmy Crampton, to Hull.
Phil himself takes up the story. “I’d come home from school and as I entered the living room my Mam, Dad and Aunty Jean were standing reading the Yorkshire Evening Post. They all looked at me and one of them said, `someone is going to have to tell him’.
“My Dad then slowly turned the newspaper to reveal the headline `£8,000 Crampton joins Hull’. I promptly burst into tears. I moped around the house for a few days, missing a couple of days school, which was not like me, and had my Mam and Dad worried. My Dad must have contacted Jimmy and the next thing I knew he was speaking to me on the phone and explaining why he had to leave. He said he would come back when given the chance, which he duly did.
“I’ve still got his New Hunslet shirt, which he kindly gave me. I’ve obviously met him a few times now and am still a bit star struck to be honest, something Jarvo (the club’s vice president Peter Jarvis) ribs me about.”
Jimmy Crampton had been all too willing to talk to Phil because, quite frankly, he didn’t feel at all good about the move himself. That wasn’t the fault of Hull – undoubtedly a great club, and at that point on the cusp of great things after a spell in the relative doldrums. But, as with lots of other south Leeds lads, especially of that era, there was only one team he had ever wanted to play for, and that was his home town outfit, Hunslet.
But in common with many of his predecessors – and, in truth, like lots of loyal players elsewhere – Jimmy learned a harsh lesson of professional sport. A cash-strapped club can be tempted, and sometimes may have no real alternative, to put satisfying the bank manager above pleasing a loyal servant or, for that matter, the fans.
Jimmy (whose stepson, Philip Crampton, recently became the club’s interim marketing and communications director, bringing tremendous expertise to the cause) told South of the River: “I saw Bill Ramsey, the former Hunslet second row who was then at Hull, outside the Grey Goose pub on Belle Isle Road. He said Hull wanted me. My mate George Clarke, the classy centre who I’d been with at Hunslet, was already with the Airlie Birds, so I knew someone at the Boulevard.
“It seemed that New Hunslet needed the money, and had agreed that I should go. I really didn’t want to. I was happy at Hunslet, they were my local club.
“One director, Jerry Mason, was away and it was very clear when he returned that he wasn’t at all happy with the decision to sell me, but it was too late.”
After playing in New Hunslet’s 11-8 home defeat at the hands of Barrow on 8 February 1976 – and having kicked the only drop goal of his career in a 17-9 reverse at Huyton four months earlier – Jimmy Crampton settled well into a very good Hull side, helping the Black & Whites gain promotion from Division Two and making the same big impression as a strong-tackling back-row man that he had previously done on the Hunslet faithful. His form attracted the attention of the Great Britain selectors and he was duly named in the Under 24s side.
Jimmy Crampton spent three seasons with Hull before heading to Castleford in the deal that took Steve `Knocker’ Norton to the Boulevard. He made almost 100 appearances for the Wheldon Road outfit but persistent injuries, perhaps exacerbated by his wholehearted tackling style, were inevitably taking their toll.
“Cas chairman Phil Brunt told me I was going back to Hull, that it hadn’t worked,” recalls Jimmy, who instead was given the opportunity to fulfil his promise to the young Phil Hodgson. “It gave me the chance to return to Hunslet, who were then playing at Elland Road. It wasn’t a particularly good spell in all honesty, I was still affected by long-standing injuries to my neck and shoulder. But at least I was able to close my career with the club I’d always wanted to play for.”
Jimmy Crampton’s last game was at Doncaster on 6 May 1986; he had `returned to the colours’ in a John Player Trophy match at Leigh on 1 December 1985.
It had been a shade over a decade earlier that Jimmy first put pen to paper with the Parksiders. He recalls: “I signed from the juniors. Geoff Beadnall called at our house in Rothwell with the papers but my dad told him, in no uncertain terms, to go away! But I was getting married and needed the money so I went to Geoff Beadnall’s offices on Pepper Road and signed on there. The £50 paid for my wedding.”
He was in good company, adding: “Eight lads from my school year at Belle Isle signed for Hunslet; Billy Adams, Dave `Bert’’ Holdsworth, Phil Horrocks, Dave Mawson, Tommy Taylor, David Teasdale, Colin Wilby and me.
“We’d a long tradition of success at Belle Isle; I’ve a vivid memory of, as a first-year pupil, seeing a photo in the school hall of our fourth-year team, with Barry Seabourne – who went on to great success with Leeds and Great Britain – lifting the Yorkshire Cup, while Steve Hudson was another very talented player to emerge from our school.”
Jimmy continues: “We went on to emulate our predecessors by winning the Yorkshire Cup, beating Castleford Modern at Parkside in the final in what remains my favourite game at any level.”
Jimmy Crampton, whose heritage number is 1139, made his debut for Hunslet in the 20-14 home defeat by Batley on 15 April 1973. The occasion proved to be important for him personally; not solely for the fact that it was his first appearance for Hunslet but that, unbeknown to him at the time, he was making history as the last man to make his debut for Hunslet at Parkside. In addition (again, he couldn’t have known this on the day) it would render him eligible for membership of the most exclusive club in sport – the Hunslet RL Ex-Parkside Former Players’ Association, which is limited to men who played at the ground prior to the sale of the stadium later that year.
In truth, Jimmy could have played twice at Parkside. He missed out, however, on Hunslet’s last fixture at the ground, just six days later, against York on Saturday 21 April.
He explains: “I was in the Under 19s and we’d reached the Yorkshire Cup Final, which I wanted to play in.
“As I remember it Arthur Clues, the Australian who had played for both Hunslet and Leeds, and who had a sports shop on Merrion Street in the city centre, was involved with the local leagues and he advised me that if I turned out in the York game I’d have played too many first team matches to still be eligible for the Yorkshire Final, so I pulled out, and we went on to beat Glasshoughton in the decider, at Bus Vale.
“When Parkside was sold, and the old Hunslet club folded, I was invited to Leeds with a few others, such as Dave Marshall, Phil Sanderson, Phil Horrocks, Billy Adams and Bob Gaitley.
“Dave and Phil Sanderson put pen to paper at Headingley; Phil Horrocks and Bob were seen as understudies for Alan Hardisty and Keith Hepworth. Neither signed, while I walked out.”
Jimmy Crampton was committed to his local side, which was being relaunched as New Hunslet by stalwarts such as Gordon Murray, Ronnie Teeman and the Parkside `great’ Geoff Gunney. He reveals: “A few players got a few quid but I signed for nothing – I just wanted to play for the club. So it was a sad day for me when I was sold to Hull against my will.”
That commitment to the Hunslet cause is illustrated by his enthusiastic membership of the Hunslet RL Ex-Parkside Former Players’ Association. It was at one of those events that Jimmy Crampton enjoyed one of his proudest moments in the sport. He recalls: “Geoff Gunney launched his biography and I was chuffed when he dedicated my copy to `Jimmy Crampton – the best tackler I’ve ever seen.’ That meant a lot to me.”