Dewsbury Rams & Batley Bulldogs have made rugby league the dominant sport in their towns for over a century.
Neither club has ever been amongst the most affluent but they have outlasted several heavily financed franchises & have generally been amongst the best run outfits in the game. It would probably stagger many modern day fans that Batley were the first ever winners of the Challenge Cup whilst Dewsbury played in the first ever final played at Wembley.
Dewsbury were not founder members of the Northern Union ( later to become Rugby League). The Union club eventually moved to Saville Town and switched to soccer and cricket. The NU club was founded anew in 1898 before being elected to the second division.
Our first ever home game at Crown Flatt having attained senior status was a 3 points to nil victory against Sowerby Bridge.
Batley were founder members of our game in that iconic year of 1895 & their first game at Mount Pleasant resulted in a 7 – 3 victory over Hull.
What fascinates me is that our picturesque valleys were once home to other professional clubs & it was the Spen Valley where all three resided.
Heckmondwike were formed in the early 1870s & played at Beck Lane. They joined the professional ranks of the Northern Union in 1896 – sadly they struggled for 3 seasons in the Yorkshire Senior Competition & in 1899 they lost their senior status when they were beaten by Hull Kingston Rovers in a promotion / relegation test match.
In 1903 they closed down as a rugby club & reformed in the round ball game. The first ever senior game there in 1896 saw a nil – nil draw against Bramley. Beck Lane had ash banks on 3 sides & railway sleeper terracing whilst the most prominent Heckmondwike player was John Sutcliffe who was incredibly capped by England at rugby union & soccer.
He made 332 appearances for Bolton Wanderers as a goalkeeper before moving to Manchester United. It’s a shame he didn’t write an autobiography as that would have clearly been a good read.
The Beck Lane ground was taken over by Huddersfield Town fc in the 1930s. The terriers junior teams played there & I recall my dad telling me that he had seen the Huddersfield Town first team squad training there in the Frank Worthington era.
Rugby league almost returned to Beck Lane in 2005 when Huddersfield Giants planned to stage two academy games there but pitch renovation work stopped that from happening.
Liversedge were formed in 1877 & played at a field in Hightown before moving to a ground which is now part of the George V playing fields. Their headquarters were initially the Shoulder of Mutton pub but club rooms were subsequently constructed at the ground. In 1892 they erected a new stand at a cost of £300 & were considered the leading club in the Spen Valley.
Two of their players, Harry Varley & Bob Wood played for England. Liversedge were one of the iconic group of clubs who were founder members of the Northern Union after the historic meeting at the George hotel in Huddersfield in 1895.
Their first home fixture in that landmark year saw mighty Wigan triumph by 3 points to nil at Hightown.
So why I have left Cleckheaton to last seeing as i consider it to be the capital city of the Spen Valley!
Well it leads us to the sad demise of Liversedge due to financial problems & their subsequent merger with Cleckheaton in 1901. The merged club continued to be called Liversedge but played at Cleckheaton’s ground on Whitcliffe road opposite West End park. Their first home game saw them beaten 24 – nil by Normanton. That also reminds us that Normanton had a senior rugby league team several years before the now established clubs in neighbouring Castleford & Featherstone!
Liversedge finally lost their senior status in 1902 but continued under the name of Cleckheaton until 1906.
In the modern day, football & rugby union had established themselves as the dominant codes in the Spen Valley.
Liversedge FC were founded in 1910 & have a historical connection to the former rugby club. Nowadays Sedge play in the Premier Division of the Northern Counties East League. If you are into a good standard of non league football I can recommend you to go see a game at their Clayborn ground if you climb up Hightown road out of Cleckheaton you need to turn left down Quaker lane which is actually a bridle path.
The club put a fixture board on the main road on match days because you would never guess there was a football ground down there!
As for Rugby Union we all know that the Cleckheaton club based at Moorend have a long proud history. I have only been to one game there & it comes across as an old school union club that sticks to traditional values. Their committee members are prominent in their striped blazers & you suspect their supporters have followed them all their lives .
Several clubs have emerged & disappeared throughout the history of Rugby League but going back in time it is truly fascinating to see the surprise locations that were home to professional teams.