At the beginning of the 1950s ninety two Yorkshire clubs published fixture lists with twenty seven of those clubs fielding more than two teams. The Army and RAF Units that were playing regular fixtures was decreasing from the numbers seen in the late 1940s with many of the Services teams now playing against other Army and RAF teams rather than club sides. Universities still featured in many club fixture lists and the leading Universities were, in most cases, able to turn out more than two teams every week.
A new generation of young men who had been too young to take part in the fighting in World War Two were now joining their local rugby club. Their choice of club was often determined by the school they had attended. The Old Boys clubs were a very important part of the rugby scene in the 1950s. In the 1950/51 County handbook twenty clubs had the word ‘Old’ in the club name although; in some cases those clubs had begun to accept new players who hadn’t attended the school that the club was associated with. Over the decade the majority of Old Boys clubs announced that they were ‘open clubs’ and were happy to accept anyone who wanted a regular game of rugby. The move to ‘open’ clubs brought about mainly because, as the choice of leisure activities increased, recruiting new players from the school first fifteen wasn’t as easy as it had been pre-war. Huddersfield Old Boys had dropped ‘Old Boys’ from their name at the beginning of the 1945/46 season probably one of the first Yorkshire clubs to make that change. However, despite dropping the words from the club name many of the older locals in Huddersfield still refer to Huddersfield RUFC as ‘the Old Boys’ even though the change was made over seventy years ago, probably before many of the people calling the club ‘The Old Boys’ were even born.
At the beginning of the 1950s less than half of the clubs in Yorkshire had a home ground with a clubhouse and dressing rooms close to the pitch. Many clubs used a local public house or school for changing before a walk or a drive to the pitch which in some cases was on a public park or in the grounds of a school. The leading clubs such as Headingley, Otley, Bradford and Roundhay had their own ground with some cover for spectators and a clubhouse close to the first fifteen pitch. Those leading clubs, because of the quality of rugby and the attractive opponents they regularly played against, often expected anyone who wasn’t a member to pay to watch the game. The majority of clubs that didn’t have their own ground still usually named a local hotel or public house as their headquarters and once the game was finished the players would make their way there for an after match drink.
As we move through the 1950s and the number of ‘open’ clubs increased. The majority, despite accepting players who hadn’t attended the particular school the club was associated with, still retained the word ‘Old’ in their name. However, most of the clubs that had appeared post war connected to companies still expected their players to have strong connections to that particular workplace, usually as an employee. In the 1950s, English Steel Corporation, English Electric and Yorkshire Copper Works all had full fixture lists and could, on occasions, turn out three teams. These clubs usually had excellent facilities at purpose built company sports ground with well-maintained pitches and a clubhouse on site.
The improvement in club facilities continued through the 1950. By the end of the decade many more clubs were naming their headquarters as ‘on the ground’ or ‘at the ground’ with many clubs naming their clubhouse or pavilion as headquarters. The practice of having a local hotel or public house as headquarters while not having completely disappeared was declining.
The other change that occurred over the decade was the number of clubs that fielded more than two teams. By the time the 1959/60 handbook was published forty five out of the ninety five clubs listed in the handbook had more than two teams. With some of the senior clubs, like Headingley and Otley, turning out five teams every week. RAF bases and Universities were still very much part of the club scene. Some of the Universities and Services clubs played fixtures on Wednesday afternoons but their first fifteen would usually turn out on a Saturday and often play against some of the stronger clubs in the County and the North of England. Leeds University, for example, had Gosforth, Morley, Ilkley and Roundhay amongst their opponents and would be able to field four teams on most Saturday’s in the season.
Rugby Union clubs were increasingly seen as an important part of their community with the increased participation in the sport allowing the clubs that had their own facilities opportunities to expand, increase the number of teams they fielded and in many cases open their clubhouse on most evenings. By the end of the 1950s the club game in Yorkshire was in a very healthy state with a wide range of clubs across the whole County able to cater for players of all abilities.