Headingley F.C: Yorkshire’s forgotten club Part 3

The demise of Yorkshire/Leeds Carnegie reached a sad conclusion this season after the former Premiership side dropped down to National League 1 after financial turmoil.

It could be seen as a crisis that has overshadowed the great foundations of the club from many years ago. In this series we look to uncover one half of the Headingley F.C and Roundhay R.U.F.C merger and what made Headingley one of the clubs of its time, through the thoughts of rugby union legends Sir Ian McGeechan and Peter Winterbottom.

The Merger

In the first two parts of this mini-series we looked at the rise and success of Headingley F.C and what made the club tick. However, in part three we look at the late struggles that arose and the merger that would see Headingley become a part of what is now Yorkshire Carnegie.

In 1992, Headingley F.C joined forces with local rivals Roundhay RUFC to form Leeds RUFC. The merger took place under John Winterbottom who was Headingley president at the time.

Sir Ian McGeechan, who had spent his whole 16 playing years at the club, believes the merger took place for several reasons when the club hit hard times. One being financial issues leading both clubs to make sacrifices.

“I think for both clubs there was struggles, finance was starting to come into it without a doubt. The game was changing in the early 90’s and they struggled to keep hold of players. Roundhay sold their ground and Headingley sold the back two pitches as well. Whether it was the right thing to I don’t know.

Both Leeds-based sides were looking to continue in some way and become stable as the professional era dawned. This meant rivalry had to be put aside.

“There was always a healthy rivalry between Headingley and Roundhay so it was interesting that they got together,” says the former British and Irish Lions coach.

“Gradually the game was changing in the late 80’s into the national leagues and the money started to infiltrate even though the game was still amateur. I think that was really the difficulty the Yorkshire clubs were faced with and why the two clubs came together then.”

Headingley F.C
An old Headingley programme, credit @HynesJourno.

An Instrumental figure

As Headingley F.C looked to raise funds, it was a former player called Paul Caddick that organised the sale of the land at Headingley’s Kirkstall base. McGeechan believes that Caddick was instrumental in how the club adapted to the new age.

“They put money in so they were ahead of other clubs financially in what they could do. It gave them the opportunity to come up the leagues and get into the top division.

“Paul Caddick was needed by the club to stay involved because he was the only one that understood what rugby union needed. When he moved the club on to another group you could see the difference with a group of people that couldn’t quite understand what was required in a rugby union context.

Caddick was also involved in the other Headingley stadium-based side with their cross code brothers Leeds Rhinos. He purchased the league club in 1997 with Gary Hetherington and later formed Leeds rugby limited between the two clubs.

“Paul was into his rugby league which made sense in why he had success at Headingley in what he did. He pulled Leeds rugby league up by their socks and changed the dynamic there with the finance he put in. There was going to be the connection between what was happening there and with the Union side.”

Yorkshire’s forgotten club

Financial issues have recently been the issue at the centre of Yorkshire Carnegie’s downfall after reaching the heights of the Premiership.

McGeechan believes that the demise of the club is a great shame, saying:

“In the end it has always struggled to have the right finances to invest to be truly established as a Premiership team which is the sad part of it really. Then it was poorly managed by the Chairman over the past two/three years which unfortunately saw the current demise of the club.“

Peter Winterbottom was another great product of the club and believes that the club has been lost in the recent crises that Carnegie have faced.

“Unless you went back and looked at the history of the club you would never know it existed which is a shame.

“I do not know what will happen to the club now after they are in all sorts of trouble. Now the game has all gone professional, unfortunately rugby in the north is really struggling in the pro era.”

Sir Ian McGeechan goes aerial for a try. Credit @HynesJourno.

Sale Sharks and recently promoted Newcastle Falcons are the only northern representation in England’s top league in the upcoming 2020/21 season. The former Harlequins man feels this needs to be addressed, saying:

“Most of the money, crowds and interest is down south. Looking back, it’s whether Headingley or Roundhay would’ve been ok by themselves but who knows. It’s all water under the bridge, and we can only hope that Yorkshire somehow pull themselves out of the sticky situation because there is enough interest to sustain a professional club.”

McGeechan had been with Headingley from the age of 16 and will always be appreciative to the club and what it gave him, in particular the people within it.

“I benefited from going to Headingley as a schoolboy and I will be forever grateful for the maths master at school who pointed eight of us in that direction. We were all going to join an old boys’ side but he said ‘the best rugby side in Yorkshire is Headingley. Get yourselves down there and see where you go because if you don’t try, you’ll never know what you might achieve and if you don’t you can always go back to the old boys side.

“It was the best advice I’d ever got and the club looked after me very well and knew we didn’t have a huge amount of money in the family.

“To say it was a club with grammar school/ public school boys and people who own their own businesses, which is a very different environment to the one I was used to, people went out of their way to make things work for me.

“Just little things like picking me up from school to take me to matches and just supporting me in what I did. I benefited from very good coaching and good involvement from the people and that is what the club really represented. Just the very best of being able to develop players to play international rugby and there was a number of us who did.”


“Main photo credit”

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