First-class honours: Celebrating 50 years of rugby league at Leeds University

Sporting pioneers who first introduced Rugby League to UK universities will be honoured at a special 50th anniversary celebration in Leeds on March 11/12.

Rugby Union dominated British campuses until 1967, when a group of Leeds University students broke the mould and persuaded the authorities to approve Rugby League as an official sport.

University teams in Liverpool, Bradford, Manchester Salford and Sheffield followed suit and the student game was born. Half a century later, there are now more than 70 Student Rugby League clubs across the country, with hundreds of players participating in official university competitions every year.

Former Great Britain internationals Ray French, Bev Risman and the late Cec Thompson are among the outstanding players to have graduated from Leeds University, where a thriving Leeds University Rugby League Old Boys’ network helps maintain the traditions and values they stood for.

The LURL Old Boys’ Club has arranged a weekend of events to mark the 50th anniversary including: a match between the current University team and an Old Boys’ XIII; a dinner at Headingley Carnegie Stadium featuring guest speaker Barrie McDermott, the former GB international; and an event on the site of the first-ever game in Roundhay, Leeds.

Jeremy Shires, President of the LURL Old Boys’ Club, said: “It promises to be a great celebration of both the club and the student game overall.  Hundreds of lifelong friendships have been forged over the last 50 years and it’s our aim to see every single year represented at the March event.

“Old boys have already been sending us anecdotes for a commemorative brochure and often the most fascinating ones come from those who played in the club’s formation year in 1967. They seemed to borrow everything in that first year – kit, boots, balls and players – but somehow they got through the season and here we are today 50 years on. Our club and the student game owe those pioneers a huge debt of gratitude.”

More than 200 guests are expected at the dinner on Saturday, March 11 and the Club is keen to hear from any former students, coaches or supporters who would like to attend. For more details, please visit: or contact Jeremy Shires via email: [email protected]

LURL Old Boys’ Club is an association of former Rugby League players at the University of Leeds
A club representing Leeds University first took the field on Sunday 12 March 1967. This was a friendly game arranged against the General Accident Insurance company

Shortly after the first game, a decision was made to apply for official recognition by the Students Athletic Union, the governing body that provides financial support for university sports clubs. After some debate, the application was approved, a grant awarded and so the club’s first full season started in 1967-68

The anniversary events take place on Friday, March 10, Saturday, March 11 and Sunday, March 12. The designated charity for the event is Rugby League Cares.