Throughout the history of the game many stars of Rugby League began their playing days in the school game writes Steve Boothroyd. However, for many more players, their days in school teams were the high spot of their playing career. And there have been times when schoolboy players themselves have been treated as stars.
When Bramley National completed the double of league championship and Goldthorpe Cup in 1903-04 (the first full season of competitive schools’ Rugby League in the city) it was reported: “What a Bramley welcome greeted the team on their return to ‘The Village’ – the horse-drawn wagonettes were met by the Bramley Brass Band and escorted up the crowded Town Street!”
Issue Number 12 of South of the River (Winter 2017/18) detailed the incredible feat of Hunslet Carr’s teams which remained unbeaten for five years in the 1920s. In March 1924, after completing 100 successive wins, local Hunslet people presented the school with a gramophone.
In these early days of the schoolboy game, picture post-cards of school teams were produced, whilst individual players appeared on beautifully-taken studio photographs, with their cups and medals. Wakefield school Outwood, winners of the first Yorkshire Schools’ Cup in 1904, even featured on one of the famous Baines Cards.
In the early part of the 20th century, local newspapers, such as the now-defunct Leeds and Yorkshire Mercury, often contained photographs of schoolboy players. In the 1950s and early 1960s the Yorkshire Evening Post featured photographs and pen portraits of “Schoolboy Stars”, including Middleton’s Barry Simms (as featured)
From the very start of the school game, school teams have had the chance to feel like stars by playing on the same professional grounds as their heroes. Older readers may remember playing in such cup finals as the Goldthorpe, Lewthwaite, Cripps and Meeks at the old Parkside ground.
For the first time in 1975, schoolboy teams got the opportunity to play on the biggest of all stages: in the curtain-raiser to the Challenge Cup Final at Wembley, with highlights of the game often featuring on BBC Television. Hunslet Under 11s played there in 1980, Morley Under 11s in 1982 and the club’s own Peter Todd refereed the curtain-raiser, between development associations Gateshead and Dublin, in 1999.
However, in 1994, stardom for the Hunslet & Morley Under 11 side extended even further than the Wembley experience. Although Leeds lost the Challenge Cup Final to Wigan, they were afforded a civic reception as it had been their first final for 16 years. The Hunslet & Morley youngsters were invited to follow the Leeds team from Headingley in their own open-top bus and then shared the reception inside and outside the Town Hall with the Leeds team, which included former Hunslet schoolboys James Lowes and Garry Schofield.
Nowadays the Wembley curtain-raiser features the Under 12s Boys Champion Schools Final and so far the only team from south of the river to feature in this game has been South Leeds High School in 2011. Champion Schools finalists at all age-groups, boys and girls, also get the chance to join a half-time parade round the pitch, which is sometimes featured on the television coverage too. However, I’m not sure that any school team will ever again receive a brass band welcome home!