The oldest club anthem in Rugby League.
That, it seems, is Hunslet’s “We’ve Swept the Seas before Boys”, which has been sung in moments of triumph and adversity by the south Leeds outfit’s supporters, players, coaches and administrators for nearly 130 years.
Legend has it that “We’ve Swept” was first sung in homage to Hunslet’s players on the evening of Saturday 23 April 1892.
The Parksiders had, earlier that day, beaten Leeds 21-0 at Fartown, Huddersfield, before a 25,000 crowd, in the Yorkshire Cup Final – three years before both clubs, and 20 others, switched from rugby union to form the Northern Union.
While waiting for their heroes to arrive with the trophy – known as T’owd Tin Pot – at their base at the Cemetery Tavern (now the Parnaby Tavern) on Woodhouse Hill, the large crowd treated itself to renditions of popular songs of the age, quite possibly including Daisy Bell (Bicycle made for Two) which was written that very year by Harry Dacre.
It’s said that one supporter, a former sailor, had served in the Crimean War, where he had learned a Russian war song.
That song was “We’ve Swept the Seas before Boys,” and by the time the team arrived at the Cemetery Tavern, having travelled by wagonette from Leeds Railway Station, the throng was in full voice.
The song continued to be a rousing rally call when the club won All Four Cups in 1907-08 and subsequently enjoyed Challenge Cup and Championship successes in the 1930s – and, indeed, to the present day.
It is also famously rendered at arguably the most exclusive club in sport – the annual reunion of the Hunslet RL Ex-Parkside Players’ Association, membership of which is limited to men who played for the club prior to the sale of the Parkside grounds in 1973.
Other Rugby League clubs’ `war songs’ are unlikely to date back so far. A possible contender is St Helens’ `When the Saints go marching in’, but that song appears to have been written in the early 1900s.
Leeds’ `Keep right on to the end of the road’ was penned by Harry Lauder in 1928, and Hull’s `Old Faithful’ (a cowboy song written by Gene Autry in 1933) was first sung at the Boulevard in tribute to the Airlie Birds’ dependable and long-serving fullback Joe Oliver. Hull KR’s `When the red, red robin’, was composed in 1926, by Harry Woods. And few other Rugby League clubs have songs to boast of, although `Sweet Caroline’, which has recently been adopted by Castleford Tigers with huge success, can be included.