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1895–96 Northern Rugby Football Union season

The 1895–96 Northern Rugby Football Union season was the first ever season of semi-professional rugby football, which formed the foundation of the modern-day sport of rugby league. Twenty-two Northern English teams from both sides of the Pennines broke away from the Rugby Football Union to create and compete in their own competition.[2] The inaugural championship ran from September 1895 until April 1896. The Northern Union's first season would prove so popular that the following season saw the addition of several more clubs, and the tournament was split into two separate county competitions.

1895–96 Northern Rugby Football Union season
1895–96 season
Top point-scorer(s)Cooper (Bradford) 106[1]
Lorimer (Manningham) 106[1]
Top try-scorer(s)Oldhamcolours.svg Jack Hurst 28 [1]



The Rugby Football Union (RFU) had been organising the British rugby football season for much of the late 19th century, maintaining rules of strict amateurism. However clubs from the largely working-class areas of Northern England believed that their players should be compensated for time taken off work as a result of playing rugby. It was put forth in an RFU meeting that broken time payments should be allowed, but the motion was voted down and all clubs were required to prove their amateurism or face expulsion from the Union.

On Thursday, 29 August 1895 delegates from twelve Yorkshire and nine Lancashire clubs met at The George Hotel in Huddersfield to discuss their dispute with the RFU over compensating players.[3][4] They voted unanimously to resign from the RFU and set up the Northern Rugby Football Union (to later be renamed the Rugby Football League) and run a competition of their own in which broken time payments were allowed.[5] Mr H. H. Waller, chairman of the Brighouse club, was elected the first ever chairman of the Northern Rugby Football Union. Of the clubs at that meeting, only Dewsbury backed out for the time being, but two Cheshire clubs, Stockport and Runcorn had joined up by the time the new 'Northern Union' played its first games on 7 September.

Rule changesEdit

  • A penalty would now be awarded for a deliberate knock-on.

Season summaryEdit

Each team was to play all other teams twice – once at home and once away. This meant a longer than normal football season so it started a fortnight earlier than usual. In addition to the overall Northern Union championship, these games' results also counted towards final placings in the separate county competitions. The team with the highest standing on the table at the end of the season would be crowned champions of the tournament.

The points system for the Northern Union's rugby was as follows:

The new Northern Union competition kicked off on Saturday, 7 September 1895 and, before it had got properly started (before the second weekend's fixtures), there was a move to change the rules of the game to further the interest of spectators and to make rugby that was distinctively different from that authorised by the RFU. In an experimental game at Valley Parade on 1 October between Manningham and Halifax, thirteen players were on each side, line-outs were abolished and, for part of the game, a round ball was used. A fair crowd was attracted and virtually all the officials of the Northern Union looked on. Play was started with the round ball, but midway through the first half it burst. A conventional oval ball replaced it until another round ball could be found in the second half. Little attempt was made to dribble and kick the round ball and it was thus deemed not to be a success. The game ended 3–3, but the long-term ramifications for the Northern Union were to be great indeed.

Inaugural champions Manningham with the championship shield in 1896.[6]

The championship hung in the balance until the final game of the tournament. Manningham needed travel to Hunslet and win in order to beat Halifax by a single point and claim the first Northern Union title. The Manningham team left Midland Station at 2.10, but the committee elected to travel in two stagecoaches. A large following travelled with the team and the road adjacent to the ground was crowded with various vehicles flying banners, flags and even Chinese umbrellas in Manningham’s claret and amber colours.

The match was played at a furious pace. A crowd of around 15,000 saw the game swing from end to end. The referee at one point had to halt the match in order to caution the players of both sides as the game was getting extremely rough. The match remained scoreless until the second half when Manningham's Jack Brown attempted a drop kick. The ball struck the post, but flew over the bar to wild cheers. Manningham won 4–0 and thereby became the first ever champions of the Northern Union.[7]

The Northern Union held an additional contest, for determining county champions, and it was won by Lancashire with Yorkshire second and Cheshire third.

The season ended on 29 April, which made it three weeks longer than the footballers at the time were used to. Some clubs had also found the regular trans-Pennine journeys more difficult than they'd expected. Therefore, before the season was over the Union had decided to discontinue the championship for the foreseeable future, and instead run enlarged county senior competitions.

The leading try scorer for the season was Jack Hurst from Oldham who crossed the line 28 times.[1] The leading goalkicker for the season was George Lorimer of the Champions, Manningham, who was successful 35 times.[1] The leading point scorer was shared between Cooper of Bradford and George Lorimer of Manningham with a total of 106 points each.[1]

Championship ladderEdit

Team Pld W D L PF PA PD Pts
1 Manningham 42 33 0 9 367 158 +209 66
2 Halifax 42 30 5 7 312 139 +173 65
3 Runcorn 42 24 8 10 314 143 +171 56
4 Oldham 42 27 2 13 374 194 +180 56
5 Brighouse 42 22 9 11 247 129 +118 53
6 Tyldesley 42 21 8 13 260 164 +96 50
7 Hunslet 42 24 2 16 279 207 +72 50
8 Hull F.C. 42 23 3 16 259 158 +101 49
9 Leigh 42 21 4 17 214 269 −55 46
10 Wigan 42 19 7 16 245 147 +98 45
11 Bradford 42 18 9 15 254 175 +79 45
12 Leeds 42 20 3 19 258 247 +11 43
13 Warrington 42 17 5 20 198 240 −42 39
14 St. Helens 42 15 8 19 195 230 −35 36a[›]
15 Liversedge 42 15 4 23 261 355 −94 34
16 Widnes 42 14 4 24 177 323 −146 32
17 Stockport 42 12 8 22 171 315 −144 32
18 Batley 42 12 7 23 137 298 −161 31
19 Wakefield Trinity 42 13 4 25 156 318 −162 30
20 Huddersfield 42 10 4 28 194 274 −80 24
21 Broughton Rangers 42 8 8 26 165 244 −79 24
22 Rochdale Hornets 42 4 8 30 78 388 −310 16

League points: for win = 2; for draw = 1; for loss = 0.
Pld = Games played; W = Wins; D = Draws; L = Losses; PF = Match points scored; PA = Match points conceded; PD = Points difference; Pts = League points.


^ a: St. Helens had 2 points deducted for fielding an ineligible player

Operational rulesEdit

Broken time payments:

  • Although full-time professionalism was still banned, payments up to a maximum of six shillings per day were permitted for loss of a player's earnings as a result of playing (based on increases in average earnings, this would have been approximately £118.70 in 2013).[4][8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ a b c d e f Raymond Fletcher; David Howes (1995). Rothmans Rugby League Yearbook 1995–1996. London: Headline Book Publishing. p. 164. ISBN 0-7472-7817-2.
  2. ^ Spracklen, Karl (2001). "Chapter 4: 'Black Pearl, Black Diamonds' Exploring racial identities in rugby league". In Carrington, Ben; McDonald, Ian (eds.). 'Race', sport, and British society. Routledge. p. 73. ISBN 978-0-415-24629-3.
  3. ^ Huddersfield Daily Examiner (2000-12-08). "Birthplace of Rugby League". Huddersfield Examiner. Retrieved 2009-07-06.
  4. ^ a b Warrington Wolves. "The Northern Union". Warrington Wolves. Archived from the original on 2009-09-26. Retrieved 2009-07-06.
  5. ^ "The History Of Rugby League". Rugby League Information. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  6. ^ "Early Days". A History of Bradford City Football Club. Archived from the original on 2013-10-30. Retrieved 2 January 2014.
  7. ^ Baker, Andrew (1995-08-20). "100 years of rugby league: From the great divide to the Super era". Independent, The. Retrieved 2009-09-25.
  8. ^ "Measuring Worth – Relative Value of UK Pounds". Measuring Worth. 31 December 2014. Retrieved 1 January 2015.

External linksEdit