Today marks the 50th anniversary of one of the most important events in the history of Hunslet RLFC.
It was on Saturday 21 April 1973 that the club, which had been formed in 1883 and which, along the way, had been the first to achieve the All Four Cups `clean sweep’ of available trophies (in 1907-08) played its last game at Parkside.
The match, against York, followed confirmation of an agreement by the then-directors to sell the famous ground, which had been Hunslet’s home since 1888. Those directors were, given that the club had become a limited company in 1953, entitled, together with other shareholders, to keep the proceeds.
On a signally sad afternoon the Parksiders lost 22-5, posting a try by Ronnie Dobson – Billy Adams adding the extras to become the last man to score for Hunslet at the ground – to reduce the deficit at the interval to 10-5. York who, in the last year of a 30-team league, were chasing a spot in the following season’s First Division, prevailed through a Mick Major brace and tries by Gary Smith and Clive Hill, with Steve Quinn kicking four goals and Malcolm Dixon landing a drop-goal.
The legendary Geoff Gunney, who had been one of Hunslet’s greatest players in a career stretching back to 1951, was the last man to leave the pitch, simply declaring: “I am heartbroken.”
The team, which finished 28th in the 30-team league as the then-directors ran down the club, included current chairman Kenny Sykes, together with fellow Hall of Famer Alan Griffiths.
Half-a-century down the line, the old Parkside spirit still burns brightly. Of the team that turned out that day, three – plus Sykes – were at last Sunday’s victory at the South Leeds Stadium over Midlands Hurricanes, Adams, Alan Charlton and Tommy Taylor enjoying the fare from the stands.
“It was obviously a momentous occasion, and as players we were fully aware of that of course,” recalls Sykes, who was 23 years old at the time, “but, for me, the game itself and even the immediate aftermath is a blur, almost surreal. The atmosphere was approaching funereal, which I suppose was apt, especially for those who had been involved with Hunslet Rugby League club for decades. Within days, though, there was talk of the club rising from the ashes and, with Geoff Gunney a real driving force, that happily came to pass with the launch of New Hunslet for the following season. That was wonderful – but 21st April 1973 was unquestionably a very sad day.”
Hunslet’s side for the last match at Parkside, which attracted only 700 people (spirits in the area having, by that stage, been hugely crushed by the directors’ on-going machinations) was: Geoff Gunney, Cliff Watson, George Clark, Steve Barron, Jack Richardson, Peter Rycroft, Phil Horrocks, Ronnie Dobson, John Clark, Billy Adams, Kenny Sykes, Alan Griffiths, Phil Sanderson. Subs: Alan Charlton, Tommy Taylor.