First of all, I am sure the feelings of all Dewsbury Rams fans are ones of pure frustration. Whilst Rugby League takes a back seat to the serious ramifications of Coronavirus, the fact remains that our fantastically encouraging start to the season has been cruelly cut short.
Even this pandemic cannot be compared to the devastation of war but there are eerie similarities.
The 1939-40 season started on schedule on Saturday 26th August and the fixture list continued uninterrupted until Saturday 2nd September, with clubs having played two or three games. The following day Sunday – 3rd September – saw war declared.
On Monday 4th September all spectator sports & other public entertainments were suspended. This resulted in some clubs announcing they were closing for the duration of the war and releasing all their players – current Super League clubs Wigan and Salford being among them.
Clubs were also faced with the dilemma of compensating season ticket holders – Barrow paid season ticket holders back less the games they had seen, but Oldham decided not to give any refunds, saying they needed supporters to make sacrifices in such trying times.
Unlike the current day scenario, things changed quickly and on 9th September the Home Secretary gave permission for public events to restart providing they were outside evacuation areas.
On 11th September, the Rugby League Council gave clubs the go ahead to play friendly games on the following two Saturdays whilst the league arranged a subsequent League fixture list.
A further change occurred with games now permitted in evacuation areas providing the consent of the local chief constable had been obtained.
The games were split into a Yorkshire competition & a Lancashire competition and the fixture list would be a simple home and away format, with gate money split between the two clubs after deducting player and travel expenses for 15 players from the away club.
Referees were paid 10 shillings plus travel expenses, with touch judges receiving 5 shillings plus expenses.
27 clubs, including Wigan and Salford, who had previously announced they were closing, took part and permission was given for clubs to use an alternative venue if their own ground was unavailable. Broughton Rangers played their home games at various venues whilst Salford shared Swinton’s Station Road ground.
The Yorkshire competition contained 15 teams; hence they were scheduled 28 fixtures and predictably there were circumstances that caused problems, with Hull v Batley being abandoned after 65 minutes due to an air raid warning.
Severe winter weather also caused disruption & the decision was taken to extend the season. Bradford Northern ultimately won the White Rose competition with Huddersfield second and Hull third.
Our very own Dewsbury finished 11th of the 15 clubs while local rivals Batley finished 13th.
Dewsbury’s season was not without its highlights. Home wins over Bradford, Batley, Bramley, Castleford, Halifax, Keighley, Leeds and Wakefield must certainly have kept spirits high.
We also enjoyed away wins at Featherstone, Hull and Hunslet, while interestingly both games against York were drawn.
There were 12 teams in the Lancashire competition and Swinton must have loved pushing fierce rivals Salford into second place.
Bradford Northern would meet Swinton in a two-legged final to determine the champions. The first leg saw Swinton have home advantage, with 4,800 turning up at Station Road, but most will have left disappointed as Bradford clinched the advantage with a 21-13 victory.
Northern confirmed their status as War Time champions with a 16-9 second leg victory at Odsal in front of 11,271.
On the financial front, Dewsbury reported a profit of £750 – only a minority of clubs reported a profit during that unprecedented season.