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Rugby Football League Archive

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This material is held at Huddersfield University Library
Reference Number(s) GB 1103 RFL
Dates of Creation 1898-2002
Name of Creator Rugby Football League
Language of Material English
Physical Description approximately 180 boxes and some ephemera

Scope and Content

The Rugby Football League Archive contains the following:

Minutes of the Rugby Football League council and subcommittees; Minutes of referee committees;Minutes of supporters clubs;Minutes of county based RFL bodies; RFL registers of professional players; RFL correspondence files; Financial records (account books, cheque stubs etc; Player records (disciplinary, transfer fees etc.); Photographs; VHS cassette recording of matches and RFL documentaries; Tour records (to and from Great Britain); Reports and dissertations, some of which were directly commissioned by the RFL council; Local RFL material - mainly club histories, souvenir programmes, fanzines etc; Scrapbooks collected by enthusiasts; Ex-player collections of ephemera, kit and trophies.

Administrative / Biographical History

According to the sports historian Tony Collins, rugby league is almost unique among all other sports in having a precise birth date: Thursday, 29 August 1895. It was on this day that twenty-one of the leading rugby clubs in the north of England met at the George Hotel in Huddersfield to found the Northern Rugby Football Union, (or Northern Union (NU) as it was more commonly known). The heartland of the Northern Union was the textile and coal areas of Lancashire and West Yorkshire; the ship building areas of Barrow, the Hull dockyards and the chemical and glass industries centres of St Helens, Widnes and Wakefield. Players, spectators and officials were drawn from these predominantly working class communities

Although many factors played a part in the split with the Rugby Football Union (RFU), including the success of working class northern teams, the main division was caused by the RFU decision to enforce the amateur principle of the sport, preventing "broken time" payments to players who had taken time off work to play rugby. Northern teams typically had more working class players who could not afford to play without this compensation, in contrast to affluent southern teams who had other sources of income to sustain the amateur principle. After the break in 1895 the new Northern Union immediately allowed, "broken-time" payments to players, developed a distinct ideology of its own and gradually introduced rule changes which created the game of rugby league. Gradually the game was transformed from purely a professional version of rugby union into a separate and distinct sport with its own rules and playing style.

By 1907 the Northern Union was participating in international competition as the first tourists arrived from New Zealand, followed a year later by the Australians and the first England versus Wales fixture. In April 1910 twenty-six players left England for the Union's first ever tour of Australia and New Zealand. A new era had begun and, although the Northern Union was not to change its name to the Rugby Football League until 1922, the setting out of the tourists marked the beginning of modern rugby league.

The inter war years saw the first Challenge Cup Final at Wembley in 1929 and the establishment of rugby league in France. The outbreak of hostilities in September 1939 led to the New Zealand touring team returning home after only two fixtures but the Challenge Cup and War Emergency League continued under difficult circumstances with many clubs closing down for the duration of the war.The International Board was formed in 1946 and the success of the immediate post-war years appeared to indicate that a bright future was opening up. Attendances reached record levels, club coffers were overflowing and the sport was playing a significant national role, touring Australia and New Zealand in 1946 with the outward journey on the warship HMS Indomitable.

However, as with all spectator sports, crowds fell steadily throughout the 1960s and 1970s despite a number of initiatives including the introduction of substitutes (1964), professional rugby matches on Sunday (1967), and a six tackle rule (1972) to attempt to stop one team monopolising possession. In 1971 just 13,351 watched the three test matches against the Kiwi tourists, and barely 36,000 had seen the test series against the 1973 Kangaroos. Even Rugby League's own supporters thought the game was dying.

The decline in gate money began to be gradually offset somewhat in the 1970s by the growth in commercial sponsorship, particularly from the brewing and tobacco industries. Television had a huge impact on the game in the 1990s, when Rupert Murdoch negotiated world wide broadcasting rights. In August 1994 the Rugby Football League published its 'Framing The Future' document which called for a soccer style Premier League and club mergers. Less than eight months later, following approaches from Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd, it was agreed that a 14 club Super League would start in 1996. This suggestion proved controversial and, after protest by supporters over the announcement that 15 clubs would have to merge, the proposal was withdrawn and a return to three divisions with a 12 team Super League was agreed. The emphasis of the Super League today is upon a fast paced game and providing family entertainment.

Rugby league is also a popular amateur game. In 1973 the British Amateur Rugby League (BARLA) was formed and after only two seasons could claim 300 member clubs organised in twenty district leagues. It is now played in every county in England. Rugby league is also played in more than 50 countries worldwide. The strongest rugby league nations are England, Australia and New Zealand. A World Cup (first competed for in 1954) is held every four years with New Zealand the current holders. Rugby league is the national sport of Papua New Guinea


Material which relates to specific clubs (fanzines, scoresheets, programmes, testimonials and club histories) have been arranged according to club or place. Collections donated or loaned by ex-players similarly form a discrete part of the collection. The remainder of the archive is arranged by identifiable series, for example, minute books, player records, correspondence etc.

Conditions Governing Access

Available to all researchers, by appointment

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies, scans and photographic copies of material in the RFL Archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents. Prior written permission must be obtained from the Archive for publication or reproduction of any material.

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Predominantly paper, but also includes, photographs, VHS video cassettes, dvds, medals, cups, rugby balls, shirts and other ephemera.

Appraisal Information

No further appraisal, destruction or scheduling is expected to take place.

Acquisition Information

The RFL Archive was transferred to the custody of the University of Huddersfield in 2007 by the Rugby Football League.

Custodial History

The collection belongs to the Rugby Football League and comprises its own internal records and material such as scrapbooks and ephemera which has been donated or loaned by collectors. Several ex-players have also donated or loaned material including boots, shirts, rugby balls and trophies.

The sports historian, Tony Collins, has acted as archivist and advisor to the Rugby Football League from 1999 and continues to advise the RFL on historical matters and care of the RFL archive.

In 2007 The Rugby Football League designated the University Archives at the University of Huddersfield as the repository for the safe storage of their archives.


Accruals are expected.

Archivist's Note

This collection level description is based upon a basic box list, it will require updating and revising when the archive is fully catalogued

Janette Martin, autumn 2010

Other Finding Aid

A box list can be consulted in the reading room.

Related Material

The University of Huddersfield Library Special Collections holds a collection of rugby league books and periodicals. A full list is available for consultation in the search room.

The 'Up and Under' Rugby Football League Oral History Project, which was conducted by the Centre for Oral History Research at the University of Huddersfield between 2007 and 2009, interviewed 100 or so people connected with the game from grass roots enthusiasts to professional players and referees. http://www.rugbyleagueoralhistory.co.uk

The University Archive holds the digital sound recordings created during the 'Up and Under' and other digital recordings of ex-player interviews created during the 'Peoples Record' Rugby Football League Oral History Project (MLA).

The Gillette Rugby League Heritage Centre, at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, is a permanent exhibition dedicated to the sport of rugby league. http://www.rlheritage.co.uk/. The collections include sporting ephemera and audio visual displays.

Researcher interested in a specific team should also contact individual clubs, many of whom still retain their own records and actively collect souvenir programmes and other ephemera.


This archive was used extensively by the sport historian and official RFL archivist, Tony Collins, in his books: Rugby League in twentieth century Britain: a social and Cultural History, (London, 2006); Rugby's Great Split: class, culture and the origins of rugby league football, (London, 1996); Tony Collins and Wray Vamplew, Mud, Sweat and Beers: A Cultural History of Sport and Alcohol (Berg: 2002).

Tony Collins also contributed to the BBC 4 documentary, Eddie Waring: Mr Rugby League (2010) produced by Paul Greenan and Tony Parker.

Rob Light used the RFL archive for his book, No Sand Dunes in Featherstone: Memories of West Yorkshire Rugby League,(London, 2010).


Rugby League football
Sport and popular culture

Corporate Names

Rugby Football League
British Amateur Rugby League Association

Geographical Names

Yorkshire, West Riding
Yorkshire, East Riding

Cataloguing Info

Title Rugby Football League Archive
Creation Created by Janette Martin using the cheshire for archives ead creation tool 2009-11-20