By Tony Collins
In 1895, the game of rugby league was born. Ever since, it has brought us thrilling matches, magical players and countless memorable moments. Published to coincide with the game’s 125th anniversary, Rugby League: A People’s History tells the story of the sport in all its glory, from global superstars to local supporters and everyone in between … professionals and amateurs, men and women, officials and volunteers.
It goes back to the start of rugby and explains why rugby league was born, how it grew around the world, and what enabled – and still enables – it to triumph over adversity.
This is more than just a history of rugby league. It is a social history of the life and times of the north of England.
Tony Collins is emeritus professor of history at De Montfort University, whose books include The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby and How Football Began. He has won the Lord Aberdare Prize for sports history book of the year four times, and appeared on many BBC television and radio programmes.
by John Roe, Terry Swift, Ken Pearson and Craig Lingard
The history of Batley Cricket, Athletic and Football Club – later known as Batley RLFC and more recently Batley Bulldogs RLFC – is a very rich one.
From its birth in 1880, evolving from the town’s cricket club that pre-dated rugby football, Batley RFC spent 15 years under the aegis of the Rugby Football Union before severing those links and joining the breakaway Northern Union that subsequently became rugby league.
All of which makes today’s Batley Bulldogs – still known to some as the Gallant Youths – one of the oldest rugby league clubs in the world, playing on a ground that is among the sport’s oldest venues.
From the Mountaintop is the product of a project funded by the National Lottery heritage Fund. A truly collaborative effort, the book is written by the author of 2014’s Sermons from the Mount, John Roe, whose chapters build upon an enormous research effort by Terry Swift.
Terry made extensive use of the National Newspaper Archive to gather and compile an archive of Batley’s very own. It now features over a thousand articles related to the club drawn from more than fifty different titles reaching back to the late nineteenth century. That archive is now a central artefact of the Batley RLFC Heritage Project.
Terry was ably assisted by Ken Pearson, who unearthed additional articles from the archive of the Batley Reporter and Guardian and the Batley News, housed in Batley Library. Finally the club’s current head coach, Craig Lingard, was overall co-ordinator of the project, ensuring the separate elements came together in a seamless fashion.
Contains a foreword by former Batley Bulldogs head coach John Kear.
By Tony Hannan
It’s Britain’s hottest summer since 1976 and cricket is in a sweat of transformation. Audiences no longer care for long-form County Championship fixtures, traditional touchstone of the calendar. They prefer flash, bang, wallop! Or so the experts suppose.
Where though does that leave those twenty minor counties from Newcastle to Norfolk who for the last 125 years have provided a stepping-stone between recreational cricket and the first-class county scene?
Come 2020, the venerable Minor Counties Championship will be blown away like dandelion seeds on the breeze, to be replaced by a freshly branded and ‘more marketable’ National Counties Championship.
Well, that was the plan. In 2018, few had yet heard of Covid-19. What they did know was that their beloved competition was under existential threat and those to blame were at Lord’s, more interested in such innovative concepts as the promised new ‘Hundred’ than bolstering that which had stood the test of time.
Tony Hannan, author of Underdogs, spent what turned out to be the penultimate Minor Counties campaign in the company of Cumberland CCC, amid the dramatic lakes, fells and mountains of Cumbria. And echoing that dramatic terrain, tells a story of ups, downs and a few surprises.
A team of journeymen skippered by Gary Pratt – who famously ran Australia captain Ricky Ponting out during 2005’s Ashes series – are but one thread in a tapestry that is by turns earthy, lyrical and amusing.
The Wicket Men draws stumps on a mostly ignored but emblematic level of cricket, a pastime whose arcane rhythms and rituals are rooted in English folk tradition.
A History of Runcorn Northern Union Club
by Michael Latham
Runcorn was a hotbed of rugby in the late Victorian era, the town’s club a proud founder member in 1895 of the Northern Union – the breakaway game that became known as Rugby League.
Yet that great rugby tradition was ended by the First World War, with devastating effects for many Runcornians, including members of the rugby club, who served and lost their lives.
Runcorn nurtured ten international rugby players in total, all but one born within a few hundred yards of the Irwell Lane ground.
Respected sports writer and historian Michael Latham recreates those far-off days when the oval ball dominated and the town’s heroes included Harry Speakman, a member of the first rugby tourists to Australia, Sam Houghton, Jimmy Butterworth, Jimmy Jolley and Dick Padbury, among just a few in a gallery of colourful characters, the rugby league superstars of their day.
With a detailed biographical and records section to complement the deeply researched narrative, this is one of the most comprehensive histories ever written about the Northern Union and contains around three hundred photographs.
Harry Price was once a promising Runcorn player, snapped up by Wigan in 1906, where he became a highly regarded and popular player and captain. The report announcing his signing in the Wigan newspaper had a simple, approving testimonial: “Price was born in Runcorn, the home of footballers.” Hence the book’s title.
By Tom Kitching
Tom Kitching is one of England’s leading traditional fiddle players.
He has worked as a solo performer, band member, dance caller, violin teacher, and street busker. That last element – the busking – was an afterthought, something to be phased out as he built a career in music.
But the busking bug wouldn’t go away. Beyond the music and the collecting hat, perhaps fiddling through the streets of England could be a key to finding out who the English really are, how they view themselves and how they deal with change. Is there anything that ties together people across England’s many cultural divides, from neat Cotswold villages hugging village greens to former mining villages huddled beside abandoned pits, from multicultural city to Anglo-Saxon market town?
Armed with a violin, a Northern sensibility and a love of life in all its troubling richness, Tom took an 18-month journey through England to find out.
This isn’t really a book about busking, though. It’s about people, place, and that elusive beast – Englishness. On Tom’s street-level odyssey, the lines between friend and stranger blur, informality reigns, and chance encounters make a mockery of careful planning.
As the seasons change and the tally of busking towns grows, the complex mosaic called England confronts its fly-on-the-wall observer with the challenge – define me if you dare.