Debut: Vs Bramley (H) 2nd February 1935
Honours: Challenge Cup (Winner: 1936), Yorkshire Cup (Winner: 1937-38)
Born on 27th November 1909, he was brought up amid the densely-populated, claustrophobic grime of the industrial North, where for many a mile the only cherry blossom he was ever likely to see was in tins. Not that his rugby was any the worse for that, his eye-catching displays for the local amateurs, West Leigh Recs., paving the way to a professional career in Leigh colours and a Mather Lane debut against Featherstone Rovers on 1st November 1930.
As luck would have it, when the long-awaited chance came to prove himself in higher company, his co-centre in the England team to face the Australians at Gateshead in the last match of the 1933-34 Tour was none other than Jim Brough, whose glowing first-hand assessment alerted the Headingley management: ‘Scored the winning try in great style. Fast, strong and clever. He’s your man without a doubt!’ For once, however, money didn’t talk, Leigh turning a deaf ear to Secretary-Manager George Ibbetson’s cheque-book overtures; and they were no less adamant a couple of months later either, after Fred had played for a Northern R.L. XIII against Jean Gallia’s French team at Warrington and put winger Alf Ellaby over for four tries.
Sure enough, within three weeks of turning out for Lancashire at Headingley on 9th January 1935 in a fog-ruined County match, Fred was back to sign on the dotted line, hard-up Leigh reluctantly agreeing to part with their popular captain for a record fee of £1,200, equalling that paid by Leeds just ten months earlier for the services of Stan Brogden.
Whilst some die-hards, still lamenting the departure of Jeff Moores, were all too ready to make unfavourable comparisons, Eric and Fred were busy on training nights, developing and perfecting a partnership that was to take the game by storm.
Came 1935-36 and the wraps were off with a vengeance, as Hull found to their cost in the 3rd Round of the Challenge Cup at The Boulevard .. . A narrow squeak at one end, now a glorious try at the other! Ken Jubb it was who set the blue-and-amber wheels in motion, with a high midfield pass to Gwyn Parker, whose handling expertise saved a vital split-second and when did Fred Harris need more, out he sped to the wing, expertly holding the ball behind his back, to put the scissors on offer, a fatal moment of indecision by the Hull defence, as Eric crossed and there was Fred, retaining possession and swerving at top speed between full-back Miller and the touchline, to score as fine a try as one could ever wish to see.
Nor, for all their pre-match planning, were Huddersfield able to keep their line inviolate in the Semi-Final at Belle Vue. A half-opening contrived by Ralph and Parker, and the Harris duo were in business, with Fred veering out to the wing and all options open, first the dummy scissors, sold at lightning speed, then a dummy inside, as he flashed down the touchline, with a trail of bamboozled defenders in his wake and only Scourfield to beat, a gem of a pass, and there was Eric, going over for a breath-taking try, with Evan Williams delighted to tag on the goal.
And where better than Wembley for Fred to weave his monogram in thread of pure gold, the dummy scissors, the acceleration, to take him clear of all save the full-back and then, as the desperate cover cut down his options, a perfect chip over Shankland, to regather on the full and cross for a try of incomparable artistry.
So off he went to Australia at the height of his powers, yet only, alas, for a broken collar-bone to rule him out for all but twenty minutes of the Tour, and that after scoring two blistering tries against Southern Districts at Leeton. Thereafter, richly as he deserved his Yorkshire Cup-winner’s medal in 1937, and well as he played during a ’38-39 season shadowed by impending hostilities, recurring injuries took a toll of his confidence and blighted any hopes of recapturing more than odd flashes of his 1936 brilliance. Even so, he gave all he had, like the true Loiner he was, until a fractured jaw brought his career to a painful end on 1st September 1945.
Both a miner and a monumental mason during his time at Leigh, Fred was Ground Staff Foreman at Headingley for a number of years, and ‘A’ Team coach for a spell, prior to moving to Bradford with his wife Elsie, to take over as Licensee of The Travellers’ Rest, Dudley Hill and later at Tyersal’s Quarry Gap Hotel.
Retirement tempted them back to St Michael’s Lane, within a stone’s-throw of Headingley’s Field of Remembrance, not least of Fred, who died at Tyersal in September 1980.