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A History of Yorkshire Cup: Part 3 – Between the Wars

Bob Oakes, Yorkshire’s legendary secretary, worked tirelessly to restart the game across the County after the carnage of the First World War. Twenty-five clubs were stirred into life by the time the Cup competition was resumed in 1919/20. At a time when forward specialisation had just replaced the old style ‘first there, first down’ approach, Wakefield, through a fine pack stole a march on the opposition and appeared in the first five post-war finals, to emulate the achievement of neighbours Trinity 40 years earlier.

Peace-time re-kindled an interest in Rugby Union football not seen across the County for over 20 years. A number of new clubs were formed, Bradford, Halifax and Morley amongst them, which took County membership past the century mark once more by the mid-twenties. Swelling ranks did not however indicate that all members were happy with the Cup competition.

Despite a victory in 1921, the Headingley committee were of the opinion that cup-tie football did not always produce the type of game that its members either expected or wanted. The committee’s view was endorsed by the members and so Headingley withdrew from the competition at the end of season 1922/23. That decision removed from the competition a club that was regularly rated amongst England’s top half-dozen over the next 20 years. Ominously Sheffield followed Headingley’s lead the following year, but fortunately that proved to be the limit of the withdrawals.

Headingley’s position as the Cup’s glamour side was rapidly filled by the revived Bradford Club which had discovered a number of fine players, four of whom Eddie Myers, ‘Ferdy’ Roberts, Rex Kinghorn and Harold Monk, went on to achieve England caps or trials. A team of such quality stood head and shoulders above the rest and achieved the first hat-trick of Cup wins before a full house at Ilkley, producing records receipts of £499, in April 1925. After achieving the hat-trick, Bradford’s fine side sought new challenges at a time when the revived Halifax Club was becoming a force. In the team’s absence, Bradford’s impressive new ground at Lidget Green provided the final stage for Halifax to immediately record its own hat-trick.

The 20 of April 1929 was a red-letter day for Otley. It was a day on which they turned the tables on their opponents, after suffering four successive final defeats. Otley approached the final full of confidence having not conceded a point in the four earlier rounds. A crowd of between 9,000 and 10,000 packed into Lidget Green, Bradford to watch Otley defeat a gallant Morley side who played a man short for much of the match. The Otley President, Fred Waite, was so delighted by the outcome that he gave a dinner at which he presented all the officials and each member of the winning team with a solid silver cigarette case to mark their victory.

Bradford, to their credit, stayed loyal to the competition even if they did not always treat it as their number one priority. When a Cup-tie clashed with a fixture against Blackheath in 1930/31, Bradford, the favourites, unsuccessfully fielded their ‘A’ team against Brighouse Rangers. Bradford was again the clear favourite to take the Cup in 1932/33, but it was not to be their year. Harry Wilkinson, the 30-year old ex-England International forward, came out of semi-retirement to lead Halifax to a famous victory at Otley.

Continued membership growth persuaded the County to introduce a second competition for 1931/32. The Yorkshire Shield was organised to run concurrently with the early rounds of the County Cup, prior to the entry of the seeded clubs. Those clubs that survived the early rounds were then entitled to continue in the Cup and also to take part in the final rounds of the Shield. The Shield winner’s trophy was brought out of storage; it having previously been presented to the winners of the old County Number Four League Competition before it disbanded in 1899.

Though the ending of the fight for the scrummage loose head by the IB in 1925 had reduced the number of incidents, roughness remained a problem for the Cup competition. Following incidents during a tie at Skipton in 1935/36 when only eleven Middlesbrough players remained on the field at one stage, and which ended with one player being left in hospital and several others returning home injured, Middlesbrough decided to drop out of the Cup.

BBC Radio North was on hand at Halifax in April 1938 to broadcast a commentary on a Morley victory which marked the beginning of a remarkable sequence. Morley retained the trophy the following season with what was probably the youngest winning team ever and seemed set for a long run of success. However, everyone’s worse fears were realised shortly afterwards when the Second World War put a stop to such transitory goals.

Although the Cup was suspended for the duration of the war, sporting restrictions were nowhere near as strict as during the Great War. Play was allowed to continue by the RFU and a substitute Cup competition was organised by the Bradford, Halifax, Morley and Otley clubs during 1939/40. Out of the 16 west Yorkshire entrants, Bradford beat Brighouse Rangers, before nearly 10,000 spectators in the final at Odsal Stadium, then the home of Bradford’s Rugby League Club.


Graham Williams