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The 1970s

New rugby club names were still appearing in the County handbook but not in the numbers that had been seen in the 1950s and 1960s. The number of affiliated members of Yorkshire County was around one hundred and thirty for most of the decade.

One of the factors that probably made it much easier for new clubs, in the 1960s and 1970s, to organise a fixture list was the number of teams many of the established clubs were fielding. It was possible for a club to begin life playing against third and fourth fifteens and then as the new club became more successful gradually improve its fixture list. Dinnington Old Boys is a good example of how quickly a new club could make progress. In their first full season, 1968/69, the Old Boys only had fourteen confirmed fixtures including four against Sheffield College of Education’s third team and three against Spurley Hey Youth Club. Eight years later they were fielding two teams every week and playing the first fifteens of clubs like Barnsley, Hemsworth and Wheatley Hills. Once Dinnington obtained its own ground new players were attracted to the club and the quality of its fixture list improved. By the end of the 1970s Dinnington was fielding four teams and had established a colts team.

The one team clubs that emerged in the 1970s were certainly able to find an appropriate level of opposition but were not finding it as easy, as in previous decades, to become established and develop their own ground. In the 1970s newly formed clubs were competing against clubs with their own facilities, multiple pitches and a clubhouse. Those clubs with their own ground would also be able to provide a range of playing opportunities in far more attractive surroundings than could be provided by a new club starting out on a school or park pitch and using a local hotel or public house for after match refreshments.

During the 1970s the number of clubs able to field three or more teams continued to increase. By the end of the decade over eighty clubs fielded multiple teams. On some weekends that could be as many as five adult teams plus one or two colts teams. The clubs that fielded multiple teams were able to keep their clubhouse busy every weekend during the season generating income that was, in most cases, invested in improving facilities. Participation in rugby union in the 1970s had continued to increase and by the end of the decade there were probably more people playing rugby than there had been in the 1960s. However, although participation numbers were high, there were concerns being raised by some ambitious clubs that they were finding it very difficult to improve their fixture lists. The leading ‘senior’ clubs usually had agreements with the clubs they played every season going back many years and were reluctant to break those agreements in order to agree a fixture with a club they hadn’t played before.

The proposals made towards the end of the 1960s for Leagues to be created, were initially rejected. However, during the 1970s those proposals began to receive much more support and this would ultimately lead to the formation of Leagues in 1987. By the middle of the 1970s Merit tables were a feature of the rugby scene. The earliest Merit Tables appeared in the early 1970s. Some of the Merit Tables and certainly some of those that had Yorkshire clubs as members were called Pennant Tables as the club received a pennant as a reward for finishing top of the table. The Yorkshire Post and the Daily Telegraph both had Pennant Tables that had Yorkshire clubs as members. Clubs were included in the Pennant Tables, usually because that club had a successful first fifteen but, more importantly, the required number of fixtures against other members of the Table.

The position of a club in the Pennant Table was decided by a percentage of wins against the other clubs in the Table but there was no requirement for a club to play all the other members of the Pennant Table. As clubs still controlled their own fixture lists this did lead to some ambitious clubs anxious to improve their standing and appear to compete with clubs like Wakefield, ensuring that they only played the minimum number of fixtures required to qualify for the Table and against opponents they were confident they could beat. The Pennant Tables were in operation for much of the 1970s gradually being replaced, later in the decade, by Merit Tables administered by the RFU.

Clubs were keen to be part of the RFU Merit Tables as the prize for the top clubs was entry into the National Cup competition, ‘The John Player Cup’. Following the formation of the RFU Merit Tables the groundswell of support for Leagues gathered pace and it was inevitable that a League structure would eventually become a reality.

The fifty years from 1930 to 1980 had seen many changes in Yorkshire rugby. World War Two had a devastating effect on the country and on rugby but in the post war years the sport had gradually recovered and prospered. New clubs had been formed, participation had massively increased and most of the Yorkshire rugby clubs had their own purpose built facilities.

Was Rugby Union in Yorkshire ready for the challenges it would face over the next forty years?