West Yorkshire Rugby League clubs celebrate 120 years

The West Yorkshrie clubs which founded rugby league joined in a six-day celebration marking 120 years of the sport.

Hundreds of supporters took part in a 120-mile walk, passing the former and current grounds of each of the 22 founding member clubs.

Founders' Walk passing Batley Bull Dogs ground.

Founders' Walk passing Batley Bull Dogs ground.

Batley, Brighouse, Halifax, Liversedge and Wakefield were among the founders on August 19, 1895, while Dewsbury joined in 1898. The Northern clubs, with others across Yorkshire and Lancashire, broke away from the English Rugby Union’s governing body to form the Northern Rugby Football Union.

They wanted to turn professional, which was prohibited at the time in Rugby Union. The Founders’ Walk, which began in Hull on Sunday, passed through Brighouse, Liversedge, Batley, Dewsbury and Wakefield as part of a 20 mile route on Monday.

Tuesday’s 24.5 mile stretch began in Halifax and passed through Illingworth before heading to Bradford and Leeds.

The walk, fronted by RFL Chief Executive Nigel Wood, aimed to raise £120,000 for the Rugby League Cares charity, which brings together sporting charities the Rugby League Foundation, RFL Benevolent Fund and RFL Heritage Trust.

Mr Wood said: “Rugby League has a great heritage and tradition and the Founders Walk was a terrific opportunity for the sport to come together and raise as much money as it can for worthy causes. In a year that we mark Rugby League’s special anniversary it was appropriate to reflect on the long and proud history of a sport that means so much to so many people around the world.

“Rugby League was born of a struggle based upon the right to fair play and that burning desire for equality and openness has resonated across the decades.

“The decisions taken by the game’s founding fathers were bold, dynamic and welcoming, three qualities which are as important and relevant in Rugby League today as they were in 1895.

“As well as celebrating our heroes, this year provides us with an opportunity to acknowledge the debt of gratitude we owe to the people involved in the 22 founder clubs, whose foresight has left a wonderful and indelible legacy.”

Coun Steve Sweeney, Calderdale council cabinet member for communities, said: “Calderdale has a strong, proud history of rugby league and the sport means a lot to so many local people. The 120th anniversary of its birth is an important landmark for our borough, with Halifax and Brighouse being home to two of rugby league’s 22 founding clubs.

“We are pleased to support the Rugby Football League. The Founders’ Walk was a great way to celebrate our local heritage and wonderful community spirit, as well as raising money for good causes.”

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats chairman, Michael Carter, walked from Dewsbury to Wakefield as part of the walk. He said: “I was delighted to be involved in such a worthy cause which highlights and celebrates the last 120 years of our great sport.”

Chairman of Halifax RLFC Michael Steele added: “The Halifax club is extremely proud of its heritage as a founder club of Rugby League and the walk is a great way to commemorate that and to raise funds for charity.”

Dewsbury Rams chairman Mark Sawyer said the walk offered a chance for the club and other to look back on their development.

He said: “The celebrations to mark 120 years of the RFL provide an opportunity for clubs to reflect on their achievements of generations past. Though we are an ambitious and forward-thinking club, it is a great source of pride to be one of the oldest clubs still in existence.

“In this pivotal year for the sport, I hope the people of Dewsbury can rally behind the Rams and help to ensure that our recent progress continues.”

Other 120th anniversary celebrations include a commemorative statue to be unveiled at Wembley Stadium on the day of the Ladbrokes Challenge Cup final on August 29, the sport’s birthday.

RL Cares is also installing commemorative blue plaques at all the original grounds, and two more rugby league legends will be inducted into the sport’s Hall of Game.