Interviews

Signing for Hunslet

The signing on fee was an important part of the income that Rugby League players were able to accrue from the game. Until the 1990s, the sport provided only part time employment for nearly all the men who played at professional level. Despite the absence of a football style maximum wage, player payments were not sufficient for full time professionalism and it was only through winning bonuses that any significant financial gain was possible. The employment of a Football League style retain and transfer system also placed restrictions on the players' bargaining power. But unlike football, in which a nominal maximum fee was in force for much of the twentieth century, there were no restrictions on the amount of money that could be paid for Rugby League players to sign with their first club. So the signing on fee was a primary incentive for leading players, especially from overseas or Rugby Union, to join Rugby League clubs. In some cases large cash sums were even placed in front of prospective signings as a psychological inducement. When Swinton approached the Cumberland representative Rugby Union player Jim Brough in 1924, the club chairman placed £350 in notes on the table and said he could take it home with him if he signed. Brough resisted the offer and eventually joined Leeds a year later when, after gaining his first England cap, he commanded a fee of £600.

However, the situation was different for most locally produced players. Very few had any guidance when they joined the professional game and were unaware of their value. So only star junior Rugby League players who were chased by a number of clubs could command a significant signing on fee, as most clubs, like Hunslet, were on tight budgets themselves and usually offered as little money possible when trying to sign local youngsters. Some, like Sid who had gained county representative honours as a schoolboy, nevertheless, held out for a better deal and received a lump sum payment which helped to provide a small degree of financial stability as they began adult life.