Happy 130th birthday Headingley Rugby Stadium

This weekend marked a landmark occasion in the history of Emerald Headingley Stadium. On 20th September 1890, the gates at Headingley Rugby Stadium opened for the first time as Leeds played Manningham in Rugby Union, five years before the great split in the oval ball code.

In 1887 a circular was issued, signed by MR CF Tetley, Mr R Wigram and Mr Edwin Woodhouse, calling a meeting for Monday 21st November 1887, to discuss the advisability of acquiring a first rate ground and premises suitable for all kinds of sport. Mr WB Nicholson was present, representing the Clarendon Cricket Club, and Mr John Gordon representing the St John’s Football Club. The Cardigan Fields were suggested as a suitable position for the ground; however this idea could not be carried out. Nevertheless the desire for better facilities for sport had greatly influenced three gentlemen, as will be seen from the following memorandum:

We the undersigned, hereby agree to purchased Lot 17A at the sale of the Cardigan Estates, to be offered by auction on 11th December 1888, and to contribute equally towards the purchase money and costs of conveyance, the land comprising the lot to be conveyed to use as tenants in common, our intention being to offer the land to a Company proposed to be formed for promoting athletic sports in Leeds. Dated 11th December 1888.
Signed Geo Bray, CF Tetley, Fred H. Barr

These gentlemen were ably assisted by FW Lawson, R Wigram, Edwin Woodhouse, John Gordon, WB Nicholson, A Copson Peake, J Tweedale and Ald. JR Bower.

This was a fine start, and a Company was registered, the shares issued, which were subscribed pretty freely, the bulk of the capital being found by cricket supporters, and the new venture was launched. The names of many of the gentlemen who spent so money and time in furthering this scheme are not, perhaps, know to the present generation, but all honour is due to them for their foresight and public spirit, the fruits of which we still enjoy.

The grounds were opened on Whit Tuesday 1890. It was necessary to find a suitable team for the new Cricket Club at its inception, and Leeds Clarendon decided to throw in their lot with the new club.

The Leeds Clarendon Club was therefore wound up, and their members joined the new undertaking. Out of the proceeds of the winding up of the Clarendon Cricket Club there remained a balance of £100, which the Clarendon committee handed over to the Leeds Club, asking them to pay interest at 5% per annum, the £5 to be a prize for ever the highest amateur batsman each season in the Leeds Cricket Club, the prize was called the Clarendon Prize.

It was a Red Letter Day in the annuls of cricket in Leeds, when the Cricket Ground was opened on Whit Tuesday 1890. Before that date the Leeds cricket public had few opportunities of seeing first-class cricket. Occasionally exhibition matches had been played at Woodhouse Hill, Hunslet, the Holbeck Recreation Ground, and at the Victoria Cricket Ground. Only one or two county matches had been played in Leeds, on Holbeck Recreation Ground. The desire to see more first-class cricket was expressed very often, but in the eyes of the Sheffield authorities the lack of a suitable ground precluded any more County matches in Leeds. It was not until a year later that Yorkshire played their first game at the ground.

From its inception, Headingley has also been associated with rugby. The first game was played at the grounds on 20th September 1890 between Leeds and Manningham. Although this was two weeks later than planned when Headingley was not ready on time.

The club were part of the Rugby Football Union then but then seceded membership of that body to join the Northern Union as a founder member of the sport that we now know as Rugby League.

Emerald Headingley is one of only four existing grounds that staged Northern Union football in the historic first breakaway season of 1895-96. Wakefield’s Belle Vue is the oldest, having staged its first game in 1879, followed by Batley (1880), Widnes (1884) and Leeds (1890).

The rugby stadium at Headingley goes back to the beginnings of the complex.  In January 1889 the Leeds Cricket, Football and Athletic Co under the Chairmanship of Lord Hawke bought lot 17A of the Cardigan Estate with the vision of creating one of the greatest sporting venues in world sport.  They paid £20,000 for the land and originally incorporated the cricket and rugby pitches along with tennis courts, a bowling green, as well as cycling and athletics around the cricket pitch.

The ground soon became the premier venue in Yorkshire and the apart from the times that Leeds made the County Cup Final it was always held at Headingley attracting crowds of over 14,000. Leeds also hosted an international between England and Scotland in 1893 with the visitors winning two drop goals to nil in front of over 30,000.

In the first season of the Northern Union in 1895, Leeds attracted an average crowd of 3,900 and when the rugby team was away the football club played home games, with Middlesbrough beating Old Carthusians 2-1 in the Amateur FA Cup Final that year. Headingley was also chosen for the first ever Challenge Cup Final between Batley and St Helens with 14,000 spectators present.

The first ever trophy to arrive at the stadium came about when Leeds beat the Rest in a Challenge match having not been invited into the first rugby league.

By 1905 the average attendance had reached 9,022 as the Leeds team grew in reputation and on 26th October 1907 Leeds hosted the New Zealand All Golds, the first rugby league team to tour England, with the home side losing 8-2.

This was followed up on Christmas Day 1908 when Australia arrived however Leeds could not secure the win, going down 10-14. This was just a pre-cursor to the Great Britain v Australia game a month later on 25th January.

On 12th April 1913, Leeds set the record for the highest ever score at Headingley when they beat Coventry 102-0 with Fred Webster scoring eight tries and every player scoring a try. 

The same year saw the stadium embroiled in the politics of the day on 24th November 1913, when two suffragettes called Clara Giveen and Hilda Burkett broke into the stadium, equipped with a box of matches, resin, cotton wool and inflammable liquid. Morley-born Prime Minister Herbert Asquith was visiting Leeds and the pair wanted to make a bold political statement by burning down one of the rugby grandstands.

Fortunately, they were disturbed by a PC Barlow before they could carry out their act. When they were searched, the pair were found to be carrying postcards, one of which was addressed to PM Asquith and read “We are burning for Votes for Women! No Vote, No Sport, No Peace!”

Headingley has always been associated with some of the more unusual moments in rugby league history and during the First World War Leeds played three games against a Royal Navy team from Plymouth.  In 1917, the two sides played under rugby union rules and the following year there was one of each. The men from the South won all three games

There were also developments at the ground when in 1923 it was recorded that “ground improvements had seen the building of a ginnell wall with consequent additional terracing for 4,000 spectators whilst the roadway in St Michael’s Lane was greatly improved at the club’s expense.” 

On October 23rd 1929 Leeds managed to beat Australia for the first time at Headingley, winning 8-7 but tragedy was to befall the stadium on 25th March 1932, Good Friday, when fire broke out in the North Stand during the game against Halifax.  The game was abandoned after ten minutes and the stand was completely destroyed in the blaze.  

Indeed there is not much that will get in the way of a game taking place.  On Christmas Eve 1938 the game against Salford was actually switched to the cricket pitch and as if that were not enough both teams were involved in another first the previous year on Coronation Day, May 12th 1937, when they played an exhibition game of 12-a-side.

The earlier experiment with league and union was repeated during the Second World War on 23rd January 1943 when the Northern Command Rugby Union and Rugby League teams met at Headingley with rugby union rules applied.  There was a crowd of 8,000 there to see the RL team win 18-11.

The sixties saw modern technology installed at Headingley as in 1963 undersoil heating was installed.  The board took this decision after the 1962-63 season became known as the “big freeze”.  Between 1st December and April 3rd, a period of seventeen weeks, there were no games played at Headingley, which left Leeds playing 18 games in 55 days. The board resolved to install an “electric blanket” involving 30 miles of cable.  To give an idea of how bold a decision this was it was only three years since the first undersoil heating in Britain had been installed at Murrayfield at a cost of £10,000. Yet another bold decision came three years later when floodlights were installed in 1966.  The first game played under the new floodlights was Yorkshire v Lancashire on 21st September in front of a crowd of 10,528. Leeds’ first appearance under their floodlights was 11th October when they drew 11-11 with Castleford.

The next major change to occur at Headingley came at the start of the 1990’s.  This included a renovation of the facilities at Headingley including new changing room facilities which were officially opened on 11th February 1991. This saw Leeds enter the field from the middle of the North Stand from their traditional entrance down the concrete ramp between the North Stand and Eastern Terrace. At this time, the Paddock area became all seater and the centre section was reserved for corporate guests and members. 

The start of the new century saw the first ever change in ownership for the famous old stadium with the successful purchase of the freehold of the cricket stadium and business by Yorkshire CCC in December 2005 from the owners since 1890, Leeds CF&A Co Ltd.

2005 was a groundbreaking year for the famous old ground when the first new development was started since the Main Stand fire in 1932 with the construction of the Extentia Stand, costing £7 million, to replace the old Eastern Terrace.

October 2012 saw the club embark on one of the most ambitious programmes of work in the club’s history by replacing the pitch with a new surface for the first time since the early 1960s. The work started 48 hours after the Grand Final success with the work costing in the region of £1 million for a new drainage, irrigation and undersoil heating system installed under the leadership of the then Head Groundsman Jason Booth. The pitch was first played on Boxing Day 2012. 

To commemorate hosting World Champions New Zealand in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup, Emerald Headingley Stadium was awarded a Leeds Civic Trust Blue Plaque.

The plaque marked the fact that Headingley Rugby Ground has been in constant use since 1890, hosted the inaugural Challenge Cup final between Batley and St Helens in 1897 and the sport’s first Test match between the then Northern Union and the New Zealand ‘All Gold’s’ in 1908.

In 2017, the redevelopment of the Rugby Stadium began with the famous South Stand terrace and the North Stand, with its instantly recognisable wooden seats, were torn down to be replaced by modern £45 million stadium to take the club into the next century.


Some Headingley firsts:

First Rugby Union Match – Leeds v Manningham 20th September 1890

First Northern Union Match – Leeds v Brighouse 21st September 1895

First Northern Union Test Match – Great Britain v New Zealand 25th January 1908



1908Jan. 25thGreat Britain 14New Zealand6
1921Oct. 1stGreat Britain 6Australia5
1927Jan. 15thGreat Britain32New Zealand17
1929Nov. 9thGreat Britain 9Australia3
1933Nov. 11thGreat Britain 7Australia5
1937Oct. 16thGreat Britain5Australia4
1947Oct. 4thGreat Britain11New Zealand10
1948Oct. 9thGreat Britain23Australia21
1951Dec. 15thGreat Britain16New Zealand12
1952Oct. 4thGreat Britain19Australia6
1955Dec. 17th New Zealand28Great Britain13
1957Jan. 26thGreat Britain 45France12
1959Mar. 14thGreat Britain 50France15
1959Nov. 21stGreat Britain 11Australia10
1961Sep. 30thNew Zealand29Great Britain11
1963Nov. 30thGreat Britain16Australia5
1967Oct. 1stGreat Britain16Australia11
1971Nov. 6thGreat Britain12New Zealand3
1973Nov. 24thAustralia14Great Britain6
1978Nov. 18thAustralia23Great Britain6
1980Nov. 15th Great Britain10New Zealand2
1982Nov. 28thAustralia32Great Britain8
1984Feb. 17thGreat Britain10France0
1985Mar. 1stGreat Britain50France4
1987Jan. 24thGreat Britain52France4
1988Feb. 6thGreat Britain30France12
1990Apr. 7thFrance25Great Britain18
1991Feb. 16thGreat Britain60France4
1993Apr. 2ndGreat Britain72France6
1993Nov. 6thGreat Britain29New Zealand10
2007June 22ndGreat Britain42France14


1921Hull16Hull K.R.14
1923Hull K.R.15Huddersfield5
1942Dewsbury13Bradford N.0
1967Wakefield T.7St Helens7
1968Wakefield T.17Hull K.R.10


1897April 24thBatley10St. Helens3
1898April 23rdBatley7Bradford0
1901April 27thBatley6Warrington0
1903April 25thHalifax7Salford0
1905April 29thWarrington6Hull K.R.0
1906April 28thBradford5Salford0
1909April 24thWakefield T.17Hull0
1912April 27thDewsbury8Oldham5
1913April 26thHuddersfield9Warrington5
1920April 10thHuddersfield21Wigan10
1922April 29thRochdale H.10Hull9
1925April 25thOldham16Hull K.R.3
1943April 26thDewsbury0Leeds6
(Second Leg: Dewsbury won the Cup on aggregate, 16-15)


1907Dec. 21stHunslet17Halifax0
1909Nov. 27thHuddersfield21Batley0
1910Dec. 3rdWakefield T. 8Huddersfield1
1912Nov. 23rdBatley17Hull3
1914Nov. 28thHuddersfield 31Hull0
1919May 17thHuddersfield14Dewsbury8
1920Nov. 27thHull K.R. 2Hull0
1922Dec. 2ndYork5Batley0
1923Nov. 24thHull10Huddersfield4
1924Nov. 22ndWakefield T. 9Batley8
1926Dec. 1stHuddersfield10Wakefield T.3
1927Nov. 26thDewsbury5Hull2
1929Nov. 30thHull K.R. 13Hunslet7
1931Nov. 21stHuddersfield4Hunslet2
1933Nov. 25thYork10Hull K.R.4
1936Oct. 17thYork 9Wakefield T. 2
1946Nov. 2ndWakefield T. 10Hull0
1948Oct. 30thBradford N.18Castleford9
1949Oct. 29thBradford N.11Huddersfield4
1950Nov. 4thHuddersfield16Castleford3
1952Nov. 15thHuddersfield18Batley8
1953Oct. 31stBradford N.7Hull2
1954Oct. 23rdHalifax22Hull14
1955Oct. 22ndHalifax10Hull10
1956Oct. 20thWakefield T.23Hunslet5
1957Oct. 19thHuddersfield15York8
1959Oct. 31stFeatherstone R.15Hull14
1960Oct. 29thWakefield T.16Huddersfield10
1962Oct. 27thHunslet12Hull K. R.2
1965Oct. 16thBradford N.17Hunslet8
1966Oct. 15thHull K. R.25Featherstone R.12
1967Oct. 14thHull K. R.8Hull7
1969Sep. 20thHull12Featherstone R.9
1973Oct. 20thLeeds7Wakefield T.2
1974Oct. 26thHull K. R.16Wakefield T.13
1975Nov. 15thLeeds15Hull K. R.11
1976Oct. 16thLeeds16Featherstone R.12
1977Oct. 15thCastleford17Featherstone R.7
1978Oct. 28thBradford N.18York8
1980Oct. 27thLeeds15Halifax6
1981Oct. 3rdCastleford10Bradford N.5
1982Oct. 2ndHull18Bradford N.7
1985Oct. 27thHull K.R.22Castleford18
1986Oct. 11thCastleford31Hull24
1987Oct. 17thBradford N.12Castleford12
1989Nov. 5thBradford N.20Featherstone R.14


1979Bradford N.6Widnes0
1981Hull12Hull K.R.4
1990Warrington12Bradford N.2


1891April 11thPontefract3Wakefield T.3
1893April 22ndHalifax8Batley2
1894April 21stHalifax38Castleford6
1895April 20thBrighouse16Morley4


1924Oct. 15thEngland17Other Nationalities23
1929Mar. 17thEngland27Other Nationalities20
1932Nov. 30thEngland14Wales13
1947May 17thEngland5France2
1950Nov. 11thEngland14France9
1952Oct. 25thWales22France9
1962Nov. 17thEngland18France6
1969Oct. 18thEngland40Wales23
1970Feb. 24thEngland26Wales7
1975Nov. 12thAustralia25England0
1977Jan. 29thWales 6England2
2003Oct. 29thGreat Britain52New Zealand A18
2005Oct. 22ndEngland22France12
2006Oct. 22ndEngland26France10
2006Oct. 22ndSamoa10Tonga18
2011June 10thEngland12Exiles16
2019Oct. 20thEngland Knights38Jamaica6


1950Mar. 25thEngland5France7
1954Apr. 17thEngland23France0


1935May 6th“Rugby League”25France18
1951May 19thGreat Britain 20Australasia23
1958Apr. 16thBritish R.L. XIII19France8
1966Nov. 6thRest of League38Tourists31


1960Oct. 1stAustralia21New Zealand15
1970Oct. 24thGreat Britain11Australia4
1970Nov. 7th (Final)Australia12Great Britain7
1975Mar. 16thEngland20France2
1995Oct. 14thEngland46South Africa0
2000Nov. 4thEngland66Fiji10
2000Nov. 11thEngland26Ireland16
2013Nov. 8thNew Zealand56Papua New Guinea10
2013Nov. 15thNew Zealand 40Scotland4


1966Sept. 21stYorkshire17Lancashire22
1973Jan. 17thYorkshire20Cumberland7
2001June 5thYorkshire24Lancashire36
2002June 19thYorkshire28Lancashire36


1907Oct. 26thLeeds2New Zealand All Golds 8
1908Dec. 25thLeeds  10Australia14
1912Jan. 6thLeeds6Australia8
1921Oct. 19thLeeds5Australia11
1926Oct. 27thLeeds11New Zealand13
1929Oct. 23rdLeeds8Australia7
1933Nov. 29thLeeds7Australia15
1934Mar. 14thLeeds25France17
1937Dec. 1stLeeds21Australia8
1947Nov. 12thLeeds  16New Zealand23
1948Oct. 27thLeeds  2Australia15
1950Sep. 11thLeeds  56Italy41
1951Nov. 17thLeeds  4New Zealand 19
1952Nov. 22ndLeeds  4Australia45
1955Oct. 15thLeeds16New Zealand 18
1956Oct. 13thLeeds  18Australia13
1959Sep. 12thLeeds  20Australia44
1963Sep. 21stLeeds  10Australia13
1965Sep. 18thLeeds  13New Zealand 28
1967Nov. 25thLeeds4Australia7
1972Nov. 15thLeeds  11New Zealand6
1978Oct. 17thLeeds  5Australia25
1980Oct. 26thLeeds  5New Zealand25
1982Oct. 20th  Leeds  4Australia31
1985Oct. 29thLeeds  10New Zealand16
1986Oct. 19thLeeds  0Australia40
1989Oct. 15thLeeds  4New Zealand34
1990Oct. 21stLeeds10Australia22
1993Oct. 24thLeeds  6New Zealand35
1994Oct. 5thLeeds6Australia48  
2015Oct. 23rdLeeds  16New Zealand34