Behind the numbers – Terry Clawson – heritage number 1046

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.

The story of Terry Clawson on one particular week in 1972 says everything about sport and the character of those who play it, particularly rugby league.

The phrase had not been coined in those pre-European union days but ‘zero to hero’ could not have been more apt. An international, who arrived at Leeds from Hull K.R. – where he impressed the great Arthur Beetson, the formidable pair being Craven Park team mates for a short while – he signed in at Headingley in December 71 as he recalls in his highly acclaimed memoir, ‘All the Wrong Moves’.

“Leeds were a class outfit, there was no mistaking that. There were top players in every position.”

Born in Normanton as the Allies were on the back foot at the beginning of the Second World War, in April 1940, he signed for Featherstone in the late 50s despite, initially, being a Castleford fan.  He debuted for the first team against Bramley in December ’57 and although initially a centre, found fame and recognition as a goal kicking second rower.

Yorkshire honours followed and he was selected for Great Britain against France in 1962 alongside team mate and school boy friend Malcolm Dixon, the first time two Rovers’ had won international selection in the same team. Just missing out on being picked for the 1962 Kangaroo tour, he fought off severe tuberculosis which looked as though it would end his aspirations.

Somewhat ironically given their current plight, he returned to prominence with Bradford Northern, recently re-formed after their financial collapse and was there for five seasons.

Now a prop, he joined Leeds with two long-standing goals unfilled, to get to a Challenge Cup final and to face the Southern hemisphere’s best, both of which he did when joining Leeds as he recalls in his book about his fateful year, 1972.  

“My first big ambition had been achieved. I would play at the famous Wembley Stadium and I was sure we would do well. We lost 16-13 and I will always blame myself for that defeat. I kicked five goals from all over the field that day, yet missed three sitters around the sticks and I can’t for the life of me explain it to this day. I wasn’t nervous. It was just one of those things. One penalty hit the post, bounced across to the other post and finally hit the crossbar. It did everything but go over the bar.

Following up the kick Tony Fisher was only inches from scoring a try. It simply wasn’t our day. You name it, it went wrong. I still don’t believe it happened to this day.”

Amid the desolation, he not only picked himself up but put in a Harry Sunderland award winning performance at Swinton before the dust had settled.

“The following week we met Saints again. We were without the services of Hynes, Ramsey and Hepworth, a weakened team you might say, but all thirteen who wore blue and gold (sic) that day were triers. It kept Derek Turner his job.” On the back of that success, his shots at goal the ultimate difference, came World Cup selection and two successful kicks in the Final as GB lifted the trophy.

According to his front row compadre, a certain Mike Stephenson, Clawson was, “Mr Laid Back. You could throw a bomb behind him and he would just turn around, pick it up, look at it and discard it. He had a very dry sense of humour. In the face of adversity, with blood everywhere, he would crack a joke.”

Some even remember him signing in the scrum at the height of battle. Back at Leeds, however, he knew his days were numbered.  “We didn’t perform as well as the previous season. In my opinion there was too much ‘backstabbing’ going on at Headingley at the time, and too much undermining of authority. I felt sorry for Derek Turner. There were plenty at Leeds who didn’t care for Derek or his methods. I was a tremendous admirer of Turner.

I know he had his negative side, but haven’t we all. Derek also didn’t help himself with his attitude. He was always hard but fair. I enjoyed the success we had at Leeds. We had beaten everyone. But I was never settled. I never felt at ease. Unlike at Featherstone and Hull KR where there had been a terrific ‘family’ feeling amongst the players and staff, here at Leeds I could see nothing but tension. I can honestly say, hand on heart, that there was so much talent at Leeds at the time that had things been right on and off the field no one would have beaten us. We would have been invincible. That’s a strong statement to make, but I firmly believe it’s true.”

His final game for the Loiners was in the Championship final as Leeds sought to retain their crown but this time Stevo and his Dewsbury posse stood in the way of glory and caused an upset. “Coach Derek Turner told me before the game that he was getting the sack, so I knew it would possibly be my last game for Leeds. We’d been clear favourites. It was a disappointing performance. I personally thought we should have been locked up for losing.”

He joined Oldham, played in all three Kangaroo Tests in ‘73 and went on tour the next season, returning to join York and have  very successful and fondly remembered spells as player/coach at South Newcastle in Australia, where he won a divisional Grand Final.

Another stint back at Bradford, under Roy Francis and alongside Barry Seabourne and Bob Haigh, was followed by his 23 year career winding down as it had begun, back at Featherstone, and with short spells at Wakefield, Huddersfield and helping out Arthur Bunting’s emerging side at Hull as his career crept into a fourth decade. He ended having played 640 games and registering over 2,500 points, also bagging a John Player winner’s medal while at Leeds.