Debut: Vs Bradford Northern (A) 19th April 1969
Honours: Championship (Finalist: 1970, 1973), Challenge Cup (Winner: 1977, 1978; Finalist: 1972), League Leaders’ Shield (1969-70, 1971-72), Regal Trophy (Winner: 1972-73),
One of the great travesties is that Graham Eccles was never accorded a representative honour in a glittering career, not even for his county. Team mates Phil Cookson, Ray Batten, Mick Crane, David Heron and even Bryan Adams wore the White Rose shirt during Eccles’s glorious 13 year stay at Headingley but not the most prized of workhorses, who consistently swept up the mistakes of his team mates with relentless energy and fearlessness.
Belying his 13 stone frame, Eccles was a hundred percenter every time he took the field in the shirt he so cherished, never letting the highest standards slip. He was one of the finest technical tacklers and his work rate phenomenal, perhaps best exemplified in the 1978 Challenge Cup Final. When it seemed that Leeds were down and out in the early stages, his cover tackling kept them in the game and set the foundations for the dramatic climax – in many ways, that performance summed up his career and approach. Signed from Market District Boys Club, he made his debut in the last game of the regular season in mid-April 1969, scoring a try in defeat at Odsal.
Within a year, under coach Derek Turner who valued the relentless nature of his performances, he was contesting a Championship final, typically industrious against a much more experienced St Helens pack who eased to victory, again at Bradford’s bowl. Two years later, facing the same opposition in a repeat final at Swinton this time, he was superb in tackling John Mantle out of the game as Leeds won 9-5.
Remarkably, he had been an unused substitute a week before, also against Saints, at Wembley. In all he played in 14 finals, winning every medal available, scoring tries in both the 1972-3 Yorkshire Cup and Championship deciders against Dewsbury, the first won, the latter surprisingly lost.
By 1976-7 and near-indispensable, he made 43 appearances and as well as winning at Wembley – the moment caught in an iconic post final whistle smiling, handshake picture with Chemics skipper Mick Adams, that sums up all that is best in sport – he was equally as proud to win the Player of the Year award. By the time he put the boots in storage, after a brief swansong with Wakefield and having made over 300 appearances for Leeds, it was that recognition, rather than caps, that resonated the most.
Trained as a joiner, he subsequently returned to Headingley in his role as a publican to take over the running of the old supporters’ club in the South Stand car park.