Back in 1969 Huddersfield RUFC became the first rugby club in the land to establish its own Mini and Junior Section. This coming season they plan to mark the Golden Jubilee of the occasion with a series of commemorative events to celebrate Huddersfield as ‘The Birthplace of Mini and junior Rugby’.
Fifty years ago young players only took to the game in the clubs at what is now called Academy level. Huddersfield’s initiative gave youngsters who didn’t attend rugby playing schools the opportunity to take up the game at a much younger age. It was the brain child of two club members, Bob Lumley and Martin Noble, whose sons were amongst the first to participate. One of Bob’s sons, Michael, would go on to play top level rugby for Headingley and Yorkshire and later in his career return to his home town club to become its longest serving First XV captain.
Michael is one of many players to represent Huddersfield’s senior sides who started rugby life in the junior ranks. Indeed sixteen of the players, including Head Coach Gareth Lewis, who contributed to last season’s highest ever first team placing in the National Leagues did so. The club has also given a start in rugby life to lots of others who have gone on to achieve great things in the game. Amongst those still playing are Warrington Wolves centre Luther Burrell, who was capped for England RU fifteen times in his time with Northampton Saints. Also currently playing professional rugby league are Wakefield Trinity’s Titus Gwaze and Leeds Rhinos’ Harry Newman. Wasps prop Ben Harris and England Under 20’s Women’s international Bryony Field are two other players who started out on the Huddersfield ‘Pathway’.
Back in the day other Yorkshire clubs were quick to follow Huddersfield’s lead with Harrogate, Morley and Otley amongst the first to follow suit. Today ‘Age Grade’ rugby is a worldwide phenomenon with thousands of youngsters taking up the sport in the clubs. Tracy Davis is the current Chair of Age Grade at HRUFC. Her son Leighton was captain of last season’s Championship winning Academy team and is amongst the latest cohort of young players to break into the senior ranks. She says, ‘I am very proud of all our coaches, manages and volunteers who work tirelessly to make sure our 300 players and their families have the best rugby experience possible. Celebratory plans are being made and I am looking forward to our Mini and Junior Festivals in March which are always a success and draw teams from all over the country. It is also always a pleasure to welcome touring groups. We have built up a good reputation for our warm hospitality and of course the good standard of rugby we offer.’
On Sunday the club is launching the ‘Golden Jubilee’ season on its Age Grade registration day. The current crop of Mini and Juniors will get together with those who played in the teams in earlier times to celebrate the moment 50 years ago when it all began. The youngsters will be playing and posing for team photos and there will be a lunchtime barbeque to follow. Bob Lumley, who went on to be President of HRUFC, will bring proceedings to a close by unveiling a commemorative plaque in the clubhouse.
Richard Sykes, Huddersfield Daily Examiner.