Peacetime Rugby League In England

Category: Heritage

Peacetime Rugby League In England

102 years ago, 25 January 1919 marked the return to peacetime rugby league in England.

The last normal season had been 1914/15, when, despite the start of the first World War, the Northern Union, in common with most sport, continued to be played. Normal competition was suspended at the end of the season, when the reality of the situation had hit home, and there was no end to the hostilities in sight. Most of the clubs organised their own fixtures in an unofficial ‘war league’ that started in 1915/18, and lasted for three seasons. Rovers played fixtures in all three seasons, but by 1917/18 were finding it hard to field competitive sides.

After the end of the war in November 1918, and despite the deadly 1918/19 flu pandemic that caused up to 50 million deaths worldwide, the Northern Union organised fixtures on a county league basis for the second half of what would have been the 1918/19 season. Rovers opening game on the return to competitive action was at home to Wakefield Trinity, whom they beat 22-10.

The game marked the 338th and final appearance of Alf ‘Bunker’ Carmichael, who had made his debut on the final day of the 1900/01 season. By that stage, ‘Bunker’ was three months short of his 36th birthday and had not played a competitive game for over six years – due to a combination of ill health and the war. His attempt to continue was both laudable and optimistic, and lasted only that one game. He had kicked 723 goals for the Robins, he was the first player to kick 100 goals in a season for them, and he earned an England cap towards the end of his career. Sadly, ‘Bunker’ lived for less than three years after his last appearance, and died prematurely in September 1921. He is rightly considered one of the true legends of Rovers early years.

But as one door closes, another opens, and in that same game, of the six players that made their full competitive debuts, three – Gilbert Austin, Frank Bielby and Jimmy Cook – went on to became stalwarts of the great 1920s side, amassing 985 appearances between them.

The Rovers side that day was – A. Carmichael; G. Whiting, W. Bradshaw (2g, 1t), J. Cook (2t), G. Austin (1t); R. Sykes, F. Shillito (1t); A. Mann, W. Huskins, S. Gibson, F. Bielby (1t), F. Boylen, R. Danby.

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