Dwarfed though he was by the giants around him, yet cracking the whip none the less on that account, the ‘Little General’, as Barry Seabourne came to be known, was a shrewd master-tactician with all the arts of serum-half wizardry at his command: the slick sleight-of-hand conspiracy with loose forward Ray Batten; the roundabout switch with live-wire stand-off Mick Shoebottom; the overarm dummy that seemingly hypnotised would-be tacklers into stoat-like immobility; raking punts to the flank, for wingers to chase; relieving grubber-kicks to touch; cunning blind-side sorties; inspirational defence-splitting passes that turned ‘red’ into ‘green’, with never a hint of amber in between, and sent his shock troops motoring upfield in top gear; and finally, a drop-goal toll that time and again reduced the opposition to frenzied desperation. An Artful Dodger in the Jonty Parkin-Herbert Goodfellow mould, Barry was a ‘natural’, whose blend of flair, finesse and downright chicanery more than made up for any lack of pace.
Once upon a time there was. Barry’s early career reads like a fairy story! Born on 16th February 1947 on the wrong side of the river, though he could scarcely be held responsible for that, he was a box of tricks from the start, even as an eight-year-old at Bewerley Street C.P. School, before going on to Belle Isle Secondary Modern to win his spurs as captain of Yorkshire Schoolboys for two seasons. And more, for he succeeded in bamboozling Alex Murphy, the Lancashire No 7, into a state of speechless, bunco-booth bewilderment.
Well, almost speechless! All too often the glittering stars of precocious youth fade into oblivion when schoolbooks are put away. Not Barry! Crossing the ‘great divide’ to join Headingley Juniors, within a year he was by-passing the ‘A’ team and going straight into the Seniors to make his debut against Hull Kingston Rovers at Craven Park at the age of 16 years 3 months, thereby creating history as the Club’s youngest player of all time. An old head on young shoulders he showed himself to be, too, but the management wisely nursed him through an extended’ A’ team apprenticeship, so that although he made nineteen 1st team appearances in 1964-65, including a Yorkshire Cup Final versus Wakefield Trinity at Fartown, the signing of Ken Rollin led to yet another spell in the reserves.
Patience is said to be a virtue, and virtue its own reward. Came 1967-68, however, came a bonus rich beyond compare, his base-of-the-serum triangle with Mick Shoe bottom and Ray Batten generating the vital spark of ingenuity as the Loiners garnered a bumper harvest. Eighteen consecutive victories, to equal the Club record established in 1957, Yorkshire Champions, League Leaders and then that dramatic water splash Wembley Final. Of Barry’s many memorable performances during the season, none surely was finer than that in a League match at Hull, his seven goals, including two ‘drops’, rallying a team sadly depleted by the absence of Risman, Hynes, Gemmell and Dewhurst. Mind you, to go back there the following September and give an unsolicited encore in the 1st Round of the Yorkshire Cup was tempting more than providence, his four drop-goals (two right-foot, two left, and each worth two points), turning the Boulevard’s graveyard of mournful humiliation into a seething bedlam of bawdy, beer-garden abuse. Not that he had time to enquire into his parentage, for within four days he was on his way to Whitehaven to celebrate his second appearance for Yorkshire with an accomplished match winning performance against Cumberland.
Celebrations were the order of the day just five weeks later, too, for within hours of winning the White Rose Trophy for the outstanding individual display in the 1968 Yorkshire Cup Final triumph over Castleford at Belle Vue, he was taking over the reins from Mick Clark, to become the club’s youngest ever captain at the age of twenty-one. Nor was he found wanting, the Loiners responding with vintage rugby and silver to match. League Leaders, Yorkshire Champions, as well as Cup-winners and that unforgettable League Championship in which Barry, a captain courageous if ever there was one, suffered the whole gamut of pent-up emotion, excruciating agony, as he battled on to the bitter end in the Semi-Final against Salford, despite four visits to the bench with recurring shoulder dislocations. A fortnight later, in the High Noon show-down with Castleford at Odsal, when the inevitable dislocation enforced his first-half retirement on medical advice. Sheer bliss, as John Atkinson strode away in the closing minutes, for Bev Risman’ s conversion to seal a memorable victory.
Whereas his team fell from grace slightly during 1969-70, merely ending the sea-son as League Leaders, Yorkshire Champions and League Championship runners-up, Barry went from strength to strength, two appearances for England in the European Championship confirming his complete recovery from shoulder-pinning surgery. And what rejoicing there was at Headingley when he was selected for the Australasian Tour, along with John Atkinson, Syd Hynes, Mick Shoebottom and Alan Smith, yet only for a chronic knee injury to restrict him to just one Test against New Zealand, and eight matches in all.
Far worse, it cast a blight on his career. Indeed, limited as he was to sixteen appearances in 1970-71, it is highly unlikely that he would have turned out against Leigh at Wembley had it not been for the tragic injury to Mick Shoebottom a fortnight earlier. As it was, having missed all the earlier rounds, and woefully short of match fitness, he generously invited his deputy, Syd Hynes, to retain the captaincy for Rugby League’s show-piece: a noble gesture that deserved better of heartless Fate than the trauma of defeat and headline notoriety.
Sadly, because of recurring injuries, the wheel had come full circle all too quickly. lt was at Hull Kingston’s Craven Park that the ‘Little General’ made his debut in 1963; there it was, on 22nd October 1971, that he paraded in Leeds colours for the last time, the advent of Castleford’s Keith Hepworth no doubt coming as a considerable disappointment. Once upon a time an eight-year-old box of tricks had reached for the stars and touched them; injury prone or no, he would do the same again at twenty four!
And so he did, with Bradford Northern, making a mockery of his bargain-basement £3,000 transfer fee as he revelled in every new challenge. What matter his dream of another Wembley Cup-winner’s medal was rudely shattered by Featherstone Rovers in the 1973 Final, two years later, there he was at Wilderspool, inspiring Northern to an incredible one-point victory over all-conquering Widnes with a marvellous man-of-the-match performance in the John Player Final. Moreover, before hanging up his boots in March 1979, he put in a two-season spell as player-coach with Keighley.