Manchester Claims Piece of Rugby League History
FOUR days following the historic first-ever meeting of the Northern Rugby Football Union in Huddersfield on August 29th, all twenty two founding clubs of the Northern Union met for the first time at the Spread Eagle Hotel, Manchester.
It had been agreed at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, that those present (except Dewsbury who declined to join) would breakaway from the RFU and form their own ‘Northern Union’.
What isn’t well-known about the meeting in Manchester is that it was the first time that all twenty two clubs had met at the same time under the auspices of the Northern Rugby Football Union as at the first meeting, only 21 clubs were present. The twenty second club, Stockport, who later withdrew from rugby league completely, were in contact with The George meeting via telephone to provide their support but didn’t actually attend.
There is also evidence that on August 27th, Manchester was again host to a historic meeting when the Lancashire based clubs including; Broughton Rangers, Leigh, Oldham, St Helens, Tyldesley, Warrington, Widnes and Wigan attended a meeting to declare that they would be breaking away from the RFU with immediate effect, suporting their Yorkshire colleagues who had agreed to cedede a few days earlier.
In Manchester, the group welcomed Stockport (in person) and Runcorn to the new group, and fixtures were arranged. That Saturday, rugby league made its debut in the Manchester district as Wigan visited Broughton Rangers at Wheater’s Field, recording the first of many, many Wigan victories in the new code.
The next year, Salford and Swinton followed the Rangers over to the Northern Union, and the clubs all quickly found great success. The NU saw it fit to hold two of the earliest Challenge Cup finals in Manchester, at the Athletic Stadium in Fallowfield, drawing in crowds upwards of 20 000, and bringing a carnival atmosphere to the south Manchester suburb. Salford and Swinton met each other in the 1900 final, making it a true local affair. The latter, led by local hero Jim Valentine, went on to lift the cup.
Broughton Rangers, under the leadership of Bob Wilson and Jim Clampitt, enjoyed their best years in the 1900s, taking the first ever league/cup double in 1902, and winning the Challenge Cup again in 1911.
Rugby league was a big part of local life. The Manchester and District League, for amateur and junior teams, included sides from north, east, and south Manchester, Salford, Swinton, Trafford, Stockport, and beyond.
In 1903, Broughton Rangers started their very successful inter-workshops competition. Over two hundred businesses based in the Manchester area, from Boddington’s to the Manchester Guardian, entered over the next decade. Thousands would flock to the Broughton ground to watch the final, and a lucky few would end the competition with a Broughton Rangers contract in their pocket.
Rugby continued upon the outbreak of war. However, as many players and fans enlisted, and public pressure rose to stop sport, many clubs reduced their activities, or shut up shop all together. After the war, like so many things, rugby league in Manchester was never the same again.
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What happened at the Spread Eagle Hotel, September 1895?
The Challenge Cup at Fallowfield, 1899 and 1900
Who were the Manchester and District league clubs?
Who played in the Broughton Rangers Inter-Workshops Competition?
Who were the stars of Manchester rugby league before the war?