Born on 1st December 1952, and recruited for Headingley Juniors direct from schools’ rugby in the Castleford area, Les Dyl’s debut against Batley in September 1970 signalled the emergence of a bright new star in the rugby firmament. Taking over shortly after the interval for the injured Atkinson, with the Loiners hanging on grimly to a three-point lead and the Mount Pleasant atmosphere charged with animosity, the well-built 17-year-old showed not the slightest trace of nerves, slotting in at centre like a seasoned campaigner and manoeuvring skilfully in an unavailing bid to put John Langley over, before opening his own account with a brilliant long-distance effort in the last minute.
After a display like that, anonymity was a thing of the past! Indeed, with Leeds frequently featured on BBC Grandstand, and Eddie Waring ever ready to sing his praises, he became something of an overnight sensation and a household name. Not without good reason either, for he notched up 13 tries in 18 appearances, earned a winner’s medal in the BBC 2 Floodlit competition by virtue of two vital touchdowns in the 1st Round at Barrow, and rounded off his first season at Wembley, as sub for Ronnie Cowan in the controversial Cup Final clash with Alex Murphy’s Leigh.
Eighteen years old, and two medals to show already! There were fourteen more to come, too, the Dyl-Atkinson duo collaborating in twelve Finals with a success rate fit to turn the likes of Ken Livingstone and Tony Benn green with envy. Extremely popular at Headingley, he was no less welcome in Yorkshire’s ranks, drawing losing pay once only in eight games, and that in his very first outing in the White Rose jersey, at Whitehaven in September ’72. Needless to say, there was little likelihood of matching that record at international level, but he gave yeoman service nonetheless, making thirteen appearances with England, including three Down Under in the 1975 World Championship, and a further eleven for Great Britain
For all he was never a naturally gifted ‘feeding’ centre, cast in the classic mould, (though some, no doubt, will maintain that John Atkinson’s tally of 340 tries gives the lie to that), Les Dyl had more than enough strings to his bow in attack to amply compensate for any possible lack of finesse. Tremendous power-driven pace, a good pair of hands, a fearsome hand-off, terrific overdrive acceleration along the arc of a devastating swerve, a colour-blind disregard for quaking opponents as times without number he tore through lights clearly at red and, above all, a positive commitment to plant the ball down over the chalkline, come what may.
419 games, 193 tries, and highlights galore as one turns the pages of memory’s magic scrapbook. That unstoppable buffalo charge from Headingley’s halfway line in 1974, to settle Warrington’s hash with a desperately luck muck-or-nettles touchdown; in 1975, racing in to take over as acting half-back at a play-the-ball some twenty yards out and thundering between the posts, to snatch the Yorkshire Cup from Hull Kingston Rovers with barely three minutes to go; nor would he let Featherstone lay a finger on the Cup a year later, his two tries giving Leeds the edge in the Final with just four points to spare and who could ever forget Wembley in 1977, when he pounded clear shortly after the interval and rounded full-back Dutton with consummate ease, to put the skids under Widnes; or his tireless cover defence in 1978 as the epic battle with St Helens ebbed and flowed; and then, the heartbreak semi-final at Station Road in 1982, when he surged up to take a short pass from Kevin Rayne and stomped over in high glee, yet only to be robbed of victory in the dying seconds by Mick Adams’ shameless flirtation with a crossbar. So many memories, and the majority of them happy.
All the greater, therefore, was the disappointment when the news broke in 1983 that Les was resigning his appointment as a Public Health Inspector in favour of life under the Spanish sun, as proprietor of a bar in Benidorm. He was to return briefly, however, to grace the Headingley scene during 1984-85, with games against Bridgend and Widnes, before making his final bow with a try against Hull Kingston, to warm and prolonged applause from spectators mindful of the many thrills he had given them since way back in 1970.