Lifelong Rhinos fan becomes club president
Leeds Rhinos have announced that local businessman and lifelong Leeds fan, Andrew Thirkill will become the club’s new president, succeeding Harry Jepson OBE, who passed away in 2016.
Thirkill will become only the seventh President in the club’s 129 year history dating back to the formation of the club in 1890 when John Gordon Jnr was the first President, he was part of the group of local businessmen who were instrumental in the purchase of Lot 17A that we now know as Emerald Headingley Stadium.
Raised in Meanwood, Thirkill has supported the club since he was nine years-old, coming to watch his first game in the South Stand with his father in 1968.
He is one of the city’s most successful businessmen, starting his own marketing agency in 1981 and in 2004 launched Age Partnership, a financial services broker based in Leeds and in 2011 launched Pure Retirement a mortgage lender, which together employ nearly 700 people. Through the Age Partnership Charitable Foundation he has supported the work of Leeds Rhinos Foundation and has worked with the club on their recent heritage projects.
Speaking about the invitation from the Leeds CF&A Co Ltd Board to become President, Thirkill said, “I am unbelievably proud to become the President of this great club. It was not expected at all, but I am delighted to have the honour of representing the Rhinos and following in the footsteps of the late Harry Jepson OBE.
“I remember coming to watch my first game on 24th April 1968, it was a Championship play off game against Wigan and although we lost that day I fell in love with the club. My father got me a season ticket when I was about 12 and I have watched Leeds every year since. I stood in the South Stand until about 1990 and then moved to the North Stand. I have owned my own business since I was 22 and there are pressures that come with this and coming to the rugby has always been my release.
My first Leeds final was the Championship Final victory of 1969 against Castleford at Odsal, I can remember this and every final since, except the first Grand Final in 1998 which was missed, the only one in 50 years.
“There have been so many great players over the years. Syd Hynes was fantastic and my favourite player of all time was Mick Shoebottom. Garry Schofield was another unbelievable player for us and then the Golden Generation in recent years, which produced so many fantastic players: Kevin Sinfield, Rob Burrow, Jamie Peacock and Jamie Jones-Buchanan are just a few. I remember going to watch the Grand Final in 2004 with my son Jonathan at Old Trafford and it was amazing as we’d waited so long to win the Championship again, having watched the previous success with my own father at Station Road back in 1972.
From an early age Thirkill has been a keen collector of rugby memorabilia and is the owner of an impressive collection that includes every home programme dating back to 1912 along with winners’ medals and playing shirts.
“Heritage is something I am passionate about and it is important to celebrate those who have come before as the club wouldn’t be where it is today without them. Having been collecting historical items since I was ten years old you feel no more than a custodian, including the shirt Syd Hynes wore when he was ‘infamously’ sent off in the Challenge Cup Final in 1971, when he recently came over to England from Australia, where he now lives, I was able to show him his shirt, which is a famous part of Leeds’ history.” Amazingly it still fitted him.
The position of President is an honorary role that is offered by the Board of Directors of Leeds CF&A Co Ltd. Commenting on the invitation, Thirkill said, “I am humbled to be associated with the club because the people who have invited me to take this role, Paul Caddick and Gary Hetherington, have transformed this club and its history forever.
“With the new stadium development now complete we have the luxury of a world class venue and alongside the men’s team we also now have a successful Women’s team, it was wonderful to see the Wheelchair, Physical Disability and Learning Disability Rugby League teams go from strength to strength this year. This is an exciting time to be part of the club and I am honoured and privileged to play a role in it.
“Through the Leeds Rhinos Foundation, the Rhinos do incredible work to support the community and inspire children and adults. The business I am involved in, Age Partnership, has its own charitable foundation and we have supported the great work the Leeds Rhinos Foundation do. The club is much more than the games on the pitch, it means so much to so many people in our great city.
“I’ll do my best in my little way to make sure the club is represented in the right way. Leeds Rhinos are the role models of Rugby League in my opinion. We always do things properly as a club, respecting our place in the game and do what we need to do in the community.”
1890 to 1891 – John Gordon Jnr
1912 to 1914 – Mr R. Scott
1936 to 1939 – Sir Edwin Airey
1981 to 1986 – A B Sharman
1991 to 1998 – Norman Shuttleworth CBE
2004 to 2016 – Harry Jepson OBE
2019 – Andrew R Thirkill