Behind the numbers – Tony Fisher – heritage number 1037

Tony Fisher with Leeds in 1972

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.

The Leeds Rhinos Foundation Heritage Group traced every player who has made an appearance for the first team, and allocated them a chronological number going back to 1895. That has unearthed some fascinating stories and we are going to share some of those stories with you so you can look for the names on your shirt and realise the sacrifices those who came before us made to establish our great club.

If there was one characteristic that summed up Tony Fisher it was politely known as passion. He’d more as likely sell his mother than lose a personal duel, his fierce competitive spirit such that it occasionally spilt over into a bout of fisticuffs – and that could even be among his team mates at training.

Born in Swansea in March 1943, he played for the local rugby union side but then followed elder brother Idwal north. He had originally joined Warrington, for whom he made 47 appearances and scored five tries, before moving to Bradford during the summer of 1964 when the newly-reformed Northern were assembling a squad virtually from scratch.

Idwal became a vital part of the Odsal revival and retained strong links with the city while Tony quickly emerged as a relentless forager in the loose and tough as teak in defence. He was also made for the hinterland that was contested scrums, proving quickly to be combative and skilful in the art of winning the ball.

In November 1968, on the re-formation of the Welsh team, he became their 271st cap, making his international debut as England won 24-17 at Salford. It was the first of seven consecutive Welsh appearances in a formidable pack that also included Jim Mills, Johnny Warlow, John Mantle, Colin Dixon and Ron Hill. His form at Bradford was such that come the 1970 Ashes tour he was included, initially as understudy to Hull K.R’s Peter ‘Flash’ Flanagan and missed out on selection for the First Test against the Aussies.

Called up for the second encounter, his fearless display immediately won the admiration and respect of his opponents and he became a feature in the side, ensuring Ashes success and also playing in all three encounters with the Kiwis. In all he made 12 appearances down under, scoring two tries. He retained his place for the World Cup that followed on the Lions’ return, facing the Kangaroos in the group stage and then again in the decider at Headingley in the notorious ‘battle of Leeds’.

By then he had swapped red, amber and black for blue and amber, joining the Loiners on the eve of the World Cup final for a fee of £7,000. He was seen as the perfect replacement for Tony Crosby who had moved on to Hull K.R. and made his debut in a 16-6 win at Widnes in the second round of the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy. A month later he was in the side lifting that silverware after a 9-5 home win over St Helens in the final. His sole try that season came in a big home win over Kingston Rovers, there were two Great Britain caps against France and he tasted Wembley, although ingloriously, when Leigh took the spoils at the Twin Towers.

The following season was one of mixed fortunes as he went on the transfer list in late March having lost his place to David Ward and missed the bus for a game at Workington and looked set to head back to South Wales. An eye injury to his hooking rival saw him recalled for the challenge cup semi final against Halifax at Odsal where, in a majestic display, he nullified the threat of Terry Fogerty and won six successive scrums in the second half to finally quell the Fax resistance.

There was familiar heartbreak at Wembley, though, as Saints triumphed in the capital but the following week he played a key role in the Championship success against them. With injury ruling out Bill Ramsey, he was unexpectedly moved to prop and young buck Ward took the hooking role. Typically industrious and a real handful for the bigger Saints pack, he was instrumental in winning the key forward battle that laid the platform for victory, eventually being replaced by Fred Pickup having characteristically worked his socks off.

In 1972-3, he came off the bench as the Yorkshire Cup was won, outplayed Johnny Ward as Salford were defeated in the John Player decider and, despite winning the scrums 7-3 against Mike Stephenson, was on the losing side in the Championship final as Leeds sought to retain their crown. His 141 match career with Leeds saw him score 10 tries and kick a solitary drop goal against Rochdale in the John Player quarter final in 1973-4.

He was denied a place in the 1975 Premiership final because of suspension appearing again for Wales in the opening stages of that year’s World Cup and scoring his sole international try against Australia in defeat in Sydney. By the time the second round of matches took place over here in the autumn, he was a Castleford player, eventually making 16 appearances in all for the Dragons over a ten year stint.

In 1978 he moved back to Bradford under Peter Fox who, as the national coach, dramatically recalled him to the Test arena, at Odsal for the second encounter, aged 35. He outfought Max Krilich in an 18-14 ‘Dad’s Army’ success but could not repeat the feat facing George Peponis at Headingley in the series decider in front of 30,000 fans. Having hung up his boots, he embarked on a coaching career with Bramley, Doncaster, Dewsbury and Keighley, his sides never anything other than determined in his image.