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Missionary workers: Yorkshire Wanderers

Following the aftermath of the 1895 schism, the Yorkshire RFU were at low ebb.  Membership of the union had declined from approx. 150 clubs to just into low double figures and the quality of fixture lists of the remaining clubs had waned.

In 1896 there was a plan to form a team with the press suggesting that it could be called the Yorkshire Wanderers based along similar lines to rugby’s Barbarians and footballs Corinthians. It would be comprised of old County players and “other players of repute” with fixtures against the Universities and leading clubs of London and Wales – Blackheath and Newport were amongst the suggestions.  Writing in the Yorkshire Post Old Ebor, “I venture to think that many persons would be delighted to see the best of the kingdom outside Yorkshire occasionally pitted against a team representing the best amateur talent in the broad acres county.”

The plan did not materialise but the following year a cricket side calling themselves the Yorkshire Wanderers toured Holland playing three games.

In 1907 the name was to return to Rugby Union. The Yorkshire RFU appointed a sub-committee to discuss growing the game in schools, as schools had started to abandon rugby in favour of soccer. The launch was held in the refractory of the Leeds University “in the presence of a very representative gathering”, with the President Sam Tattersall discussing the formation of a new team, “Yorkshire Wanderers”.

Old Ebor, writing in the Yorkshire Evening Post had concerns, explaining, “I am not quite certain whether the title Yorkshire Wanderers, is happily chosen. Old football men will not forget that there used to be a club in Leeds claiming that title, and having as its objects the inclusion of what, without being at all invidious, may be called the “class” element in its ranks. In a democratic constituency like Yorkshire a club run on these lines had little chance of success, then, and it is just a point of whether such an enterprise would meet with success now. I am well aware, of course that the local conditions are different, and that the club would not be formed on the old lines, though it would doubtless have the same aspirations. It may be considered a mere question of name, but then we all know that there is sometimes  very much in a name, and I doubt whether under all the circumstances the Yorkshire Wanderers would be a good title to select.”

His concerns were dismissed and a number of options were discussed, some meeting more favour than others.

Sidney H Wray, ex Honorary secretary, suggested the formation of schools union within the Yorkshire RFU and a series of trial games leading to a Yorkshire Schools XV playing the Yorkshire Wanderers – at senior level and junior level, the latter to play a “weaker team” of the Wanderers.

Wray’s plan was to play, in addition to the school County team, three or four other good sides, explaining that this would stimulate interest in the boys for the honour of selection for the County team and in the Old Boys clubs by selecting the Yorkshire Wanderers fifteen from their ranks.

W Edwards, although not officially representing Bradford Grammar School at the meeting, proposed that the Wanderers should meet Old Boys team such as the newly form Old Bradford Grammar Schoolboys.

Another suggestion was that the Yorkshire Wanderers would play school sides. Mr Miller, said “The proposal was to run a team consisting chiefly if not entirely of old public school boys to play matches against all schools interested on such days as would be convenient. It would be managed by a sub-committee and that in selecting the team to play against a particular school it should include a few old boys from that particular school and it was also suggested that the school team should also include a proportion of old boys and masters as well so as to balance the sides. The expenses of the team would be paid by the Union and no cost would fall upon the school. It was not intended that the team should be so strong as to swamp the school team as that would probably weaken the enthusiasm of the younger players.”

Mr Head, Headmaster of Wakefield Grammar School said it was no use if the committee sent a team that would knock all the football out of the boys.

Headmaster of Leeds Grammar School, The Reverend J.R Wynne Edwards, could not agree entirely with the scheme. He felt that in the schools where rugby was played there was no lack of enthusiasm. What they wanted to do was to get a larger number of schools to play Rugby, and to try and keep the boys playing after they left school.  He believed that when masters were in a team, it did not tend to foster the self-reliance of the boys, and he did not agree with the proposal that the school teams should be strengthened.

Yorkshire secretary Bob Oakes explained that there was 180 Old Boys currently playing the game around the county. All games would be financed by the County with no expense met by the schools, unless voluntarily.

Mr Elliott of Rishworth Grammar School remarked that if a satisfactory scheme could be devised his school would return to the Rugby game, a view echoed by  Rastrick Grammar School, who owing to their isolation had turned to soccer but stated they “would be glad to return to Rugby if they was any prospect of securing matches.”

The proposal to play school sides was eventually accepted and the first fixture was against York St John’s College in January 1908.

In 1912 the secretary of Headingley, R.R.C Calvert, spoke about the “genuine revival in the old Rugby game all over the county,” explaining, “It is difficult to say what specific cause this revival is due; very probably , it is due in large measures the influence of the Yorkshire Wanderers team. Young fellows from the public schools and grammar schools …are coming into the various club sides with a genuine enthusiasm for the Rugby game born of their initiation into the its delights at school.” He added that former soccer schools at Pocklington and Hymers (Hull) were converting to rugby. The Lancashire Evening Post later described the side as “Missionary workers.”

Between their formation in 1907 until the outbreak of World War 2 the Yorkshire Wanderers were to play fixtures each season with a number of leading county players participating.

In December 1939 the Yorkshire RFU committee decided that there would be no Yorkshire Wanderers games, Sam Stringer, the Yorkshire treasurer explained, “They did not think they were justified in spending money on the schoolboys, who were getting plenty of football.” He explained that Yorkshire RFU should “save their money for the time when the men who had were fighting came back – when it might be necessary to help the clubs of which the men now in the Services were members.”

After the end of the War the Wanderers were not reformed. Initially it was explained that there “The collection of teams for mid-week matches and transport problems are the chief difficulties, but there is no doubt that when circumstances permit the Wanderers will come into action again.” However, as the Yorkshire Post reported in September 1945, “School football remains, however, very much the concern of the County authorities, and Christmas holiday games are being arranged on a district basis.”

Subsequent copies of the Yorkshire RFU handbook carried the explanation “The County Committee deeply regret that owing to the many business calls on players and the call-up of all young players on leaving school under the National Service Act, they have reluctantly decided that no Yorkshire Wanderers games can be arranged for this season but with more settled conditions they hope to resume these games.”

Unfortunately, the resumption in its original form did not materialise. In the 1970s the name was revised for a series of invitational sides who acted as a trial team for county and who also played club sides to mark events such as opening of new grounds or to celebrate club anniversaries, but the venture didn’t see out the decade.


Richard Lowther