Interviews

Early days at Overthorpe Rangers

Although Rugby League has maintained a strong presence in the adjacent mining villages of Thornhill and Overthorpe since at least the end of the Second World War, for much of that time those who ran and played for local clubs fought a constant battle for survival. As was the case in most of the sport’s traditional strongholds, finance and other resources for clubs like Overthorpe Rangers, were at a premium, especially in the immediate post-war period. So community support was vital and, whilst often close to the poverty line themselves, local residents willingly gave what they could spare to keep the sport alive. Public Houses also provided much needed support and Overthorpe Rangers had links to both the Scarborough Hotel and the Church House Inn, whilst the current Thornhill Trojans club, began life as the Gate Inn in 1967. But with the help of grant aid from Kirklees council and Sport England, and a tremendous amount of voluntary work from its members, the Thornhill Trojans club now has a permanent home with excellent facilities. Based at the Thornhill Sports and Community centre the club maintains the area’s strong links with Rugby League by providing nine junior teams at different age levels along with a successful open age team. 

Those difficult years in the immediate post-war period were also significant for the groundbreaking contribution of Cora Haley as secretary of Overthorpe Rangers. Women had watched Rugby League in significant, if not considerable, numbers since the late nineteenth century, and there was a tradition of women school teachers who coached Rugby League, such as Winnie Powell, at St Austell School in Wakefield during the 1940s. But there are few instances of women becoming involved in the administration of clubs at amateur or professional level before or during this period.

One exception was Doris Beard who became Club Secretary of Bradford Northern in the mid 1950s although the first woman to be appointed as a club director was not until 1970, when Betty Haile joined the board at Whitehaven. Since that time, however, women have become much more prominent in the sport and now occupy a number of different roles. As well as playing Rugby League, there are numerous women volunteers at amateur level. Many more work in the administration of the professional game where women have occupied leading roles since the 1980s. In 1984 Barbara Close became Chairperson at Fulham, and in 1995, 100 years after the birth of the sport, Kath Hetherington was the first woman to be elected president of the Rugby Football League.