130 years of Headingley history

2020 marks the 130th anniversary of the opening of Headingley Stadium in 1890. The Chairman of the Leeds Rugby League Heritage Committee Phil Caplan gives us goes on the search for fascinating facts covering the that period and the events that led the founding fathers of the club to buy Lot 17A of the Cardigan Estate to create our home.

To mark the 130th anniversary of the first ever game at Headingley, we recently launched a new celebration shirt which includes the names of every player that has played for the club since the establishment of the Northern Union in 1895.

From the mid-sixties onwards, the season traditionally ended with the W.D and H.O. Wills Headingley Sevens, invariably televised on the BBC and which ran from 1965-78. Similarly, the new season around that time opened with the Wigan 7’s at Central Park. Leeds only ever won their home tournament once, in 1973, beating St Helens 21-18 in the final although for the following two years they were successful in the Wigan version.

Salford had the most success in the Headingley 7’s, winning four times in all, including an unprecedented hat trick between 1968 and 1970, beating the hosts 18-14 in the third of those deciders. Leeds lost twice more in short-form finals, against Bradford (13-10 in 1966) and Huddersfield (11-5 the following year).

After the big freeze of 1962 into the early weeks of 1963, which saw Headingley without a game for a staggering four months – between December 1st and April 3rd – the decision was taken by the Board to install undersoil heating, Leeds becoming the first club side to do so after Murrayfield. The ‘blanket’ was made up of 38 miles of cable positioned six inches from the surface.

Wired in April 1963 at a cost of £6,488, it was calculated that the cost to have it on for a period of 24 hours was in the region of £300 however such initiative paid for itself many times over. Matches, especially cup ties, were moved to the ground as play was guaranteed and the BBC made Headingley almost a permanent home safe in the knowledge that scheduled games – especially on Boxing Day – would go ahead.

After almost forty years, the degenerating system was destroyed in March 2002 after it was deemed that the compacting of the soil had led to drainage problems and a new system incorporated as part of £1m pitch renovation ten years later.