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Yorkshire v Lancashire – Pre schism

Yorkshire v Lancashire 1894

1878 saw the first 15 a-side game between the two counties, although due to injuries both teams were reduced to 14 players for most of the match. Between 14-16,000 spectators watched the clash at Halifax which resulted in a Lancashire victory by two goals, one try and one touch-down to one try, one touch in goal and two dead balls.  

The York Herald noted, “Lancashire scored nothing during the last half, in which the Yorkshire representatives were decidedly the best. They also played with great gameness to the end in face of almost certain defeat. The Lancashire men were all players of undoubted superiority but they are bad tacklers, and if a different selection had been made in the Yorkshire half and full backs the result would have been different.”

The 1879 encounter was cancelled due to frost.

Lancashire won both encounters played in January and December 1880, at Fartown and Manchester, respectively.  The first game was won by two goals, two tries, three touched down and one dead ball to two tries and one touchdown. ‘Don Juan’ wrote to the Athletic News prior to the December fixture expressing his surprise at the make-up of the Yorkshire XV querying the selection of four players from the Leeds club who he noted had been beaten by five tries by Mirfield recently. Although changes were made – the Leeds representation was reduced by one – Yorkshire were well beaten, justifying the earlier criticism. The Yorkshire Post noted this was the heaviest defeat Yorkshire had suffered with Lancashire winning by four goals, two tries, five touch-downs and one touch-in-goal to Yorkshire’s one touch-down and one dead ball. The score line was more stunning considering the game lasted only sixty minutes due to the late arrival of Yorkshire caused by heavy fog on the way to Manchester. The Bradford Observer thought it would be an even game between the sides, based on the fact that Yorkshire’s club sides had had the better of their Lancashire opponents during the season. The Yorkshire Post explained, “The Yorkshiremen were far too slow for their opponents, who practised the passing game to perfection.” The Bradford Observer were more scathing, “With regard to the Yorkshire play, perhaps the less said the better.”

Yorkshire wore new colours for the 1881 game played in front of 10,000 spectators at Halifax; Turkey red jersey, white knickerbockers and brown stockings. Rain fell incessantly and as the Yorkshire Post noted, “Those who braved the elements were amply rewarded with a rare exhibition of Rugby football since, all things considered, the best which has taken place between the two counties. Indeed, both fifteens were very evenly matched” and the game finished in a draw. Different newspapers report on different outcomes including Lancashire with ten touch-downs and Yorkshire four or Lancashire with 12 minor points to Yorkshire’s four.

Yorkshire finally won a game in 1882. After early season wins over Durham and Midland Counties (“a severe thrashing”), Yorkshire were favourites. The Yorkshire Post recording, “Not only in the back department has greater attention been paid to dropping and passing, but the forward, besides playing well together, have at last thoroughly acquired the art of dribbling.” The work paid off as Lancashire were denied any scoring opportunities whilst Yorkshire scored five tries and twelve touches-down.

Yorkshire made it back to back wins in 1883 winning by two goals, and four touch downs to three touchdowns. The Athletic News reported it “was no runaway affair for Yorkshire, as it was expected to be. Lancashire had by far the best of it when it came to pushing, but the Tykes fairly excelled in rushing and their backs kicked splendidly.”

Unfortunately, Yorkshire could not make it three on the bounce in 1884 losing by a goal and two tries to nothing. ‘Tyke’ writing to the Yorkshire Post, “Great was the gloom in football circles…when the result of the Lancashire v Yorkshire match became known, and numerous were the excuses brought forward to explain the disastrous defeat of the White Rose representatives.” He complained that Yorkshire Cup holders Bradford had organised a tour of the South of England and therefore their players were not available for county selection and the club should be subject to “the severest censure” by the County committee, so that “a dangerous precedent” would not be set.  There were also disagreements at Wakefield Trinity whose players in the words of Barron Kilner, “decided not to play if that fair contingent was not chosen.”; Four Trinitarians did play in the game.

The Manchester Evening reported only a “moderate attendance” for the 1885 game where Yorkshire won a “stiff tussle” by one goal, one try and six points to Lancashire’s one try and four points.

As in previous years special trains were laid on for the 1886 fixture at Manchester and 12,000 were present, but the Yorkshire Post noted, “the arrangements, however, were quite inadequate, there being an entire absence of policemen…a general stampede took place, the crowd losing all restraint and rushing into the ground – almost into the field of play. This of course hampered the contestants not a little; indeed, at one period it was feared that the match would have to be abandoned. Fortunately, however, this did not occur, and the game – one of the fastest and most exciting of modern times – was brought to an issue amid a scene of great excitement.” The same paper reported that Yorkshire’s “familiar all-white jersey – a uniform which certainly does not show off the physique – rather the reverse.” The game ended in a draw with one goal each.

1887 saw another Yorkshire victory by two tries and five minors to one minor.

The Leeds Mercury reported both sides fielded their strongest sides in the 1888 encounter “and the partisans of each felt tolerably sure of success” at Manchester but it was Yorkshire who travelled home with the victory by four goals, two tries and fifteen minor points to Lancashire’s three minor points. This was the heaviest defeat Lancashire had suffered in the series to date. The paper explained the defeat could have been heavier had it not been for the Lancastrian full back Royle, “who played a smart game. We were very much surprised at the display of the Lancastrians, of whom we had expected better things, but the fact is they were beaten at every point.”

1889 saw, for the first time ever, a hat trick of Yorkshire wins and the series levelled in terms of victories for each side. Lancashire after a poor season were expected to lose, but not to the same margin as the previous year although the first fifteen minutes of the game did suggest an easy Yorkshire win. As it was that saw the only goal of the game as “from that point honours were fairly well divided.”

Several of the 15,000 crowd who witnessed Lancashire’s win in 1890 game were injured in a crush at Whalley Range, Manchester, obviously nothing was learned after the 1886 game.  Lancashire won by 2 goals, 1 try and 3 minors to Yorkshire’s one try and one minor. This was the last game played before the scoring system was changed to decide games on points, rather than goals scored.

1891 saw 22,000 watch Yorkshire win 3-0 at Fartown, Huddersfield.  The Yorkshire Post remarking on the small margin of the win, “a victory is a victory; and a match lost is a match lost.”

1892 finally saw the Lancastrians learn the lessons of 1886 and 1890 and change venues away from Whalley Range. The Athletic News commented “The members of the Lancashire committee, it appears, have a decided objection to being indicted for manslaughter, and were strongly of the opinion that there was a chance of someone being killed in the crush [at Whalley Range], from which there is but one narrow exit. The game was moved to Fallowfield, where extra stands were erected to accommodate 20,000 spectators. The game ended in a 3-3 draw with both sides scoring in the first half, the Penrith observer noting, “In the second half the slippery ground interfered with the back play, and passing was out of the question.”

Rain fell steadily during the 1893 encounter turning the Bradford Park Avenue ground into a quagmire and reducing the attendance to around 8000 spectators. Yorkshire captain, Dicky Lockwood, was a doubt for the game, owing to the recent deaths of his parents, but he turned out, however the death of his brother was kept from him until after the match was over.  Yorkshire were favourites but as the Yorkshire Post noted the conditions had the effect of levelling the encounter and indeed it did as it finished 3-3 with a try to either side.

1894 was the last encounter before the schism which tore apart the game in both counties. The Ulverston Advertiser commented, “Of course, Yorkshire won. It would have been the sensation of the season if they had not…the general impression that probably everyone went away with was that, in point of combination and tactics, there was only one team in it… Lancashire were completely out-manoeuvred.” Yorkshire triumphed 26-10 with five tries (two converted), a goal from a free kick, and a penalty goal to two converted tries.

Richard Lowther