Born on 14th November 1909 and ‘christened’ at Meanwood Road School, where his budding talent was quickly spotted by schoolmaster W. A. Davies, the Leeds centre of Rorke’s Drift fame, ‘Juicy’ became the lynchpin of the City Boys’ team over a period of two-and-a-half seasons, showing exceptional promise as a serum-half of remarkable rubber-ball resilience and guile. Even so, had he been born a couple of years earlier he might well have been lost to the game on leaving school. As it was, thanks to the initiative of Mr Eddie Pickard, and others, in persuading the Leeds Club to encourage local talent through the sponsorship of a 14-16 League and a ‘B’ team, he lived only for Headingley from the moment he turned out in a curtain-raiser to the Huddersfield match on 12th September 1925.
For all that he was taken on the Club register as a 16-year-old in August 1926 and made his debut just seven months later against Featherstone Rovers, ‘Juicy’ was more than content to serve an extended ‘A’ team apprenticeship, with odd 1st team outings, all the while maturing physically as he polished his natural, God-given skills in the hard school of experience. Came his big chance in May 1930, and the ‘Pride of Meanwood Road’ was ready! Drafted into a sadly weakened team for the Championship Semi-Final, he rose to the occasion splendidly, scoring a crucial try and rallying the ‘no-hopers’ to an incredible victory over St Helens at Knowsley Road.
As for the Final, if the rest of the Loiners had matched his heroic efforts against Huddersfield, particularly in the replay at Thrum Hall, the coveted Championship Trophy would have found its way to Headingley long before 1961! A jewel of a serum-half, found on Headingley’s very doorstep! And more than ready, as he proved, to take over permanently from Walter Swift, the rampant Loiners carrying all before them in the opening months of the 1930-31 campaign, with a long-overdue Yorkshire Cup Final triumph over Huddersfield and a sequence of seventeen games without defeat, the last five alone yielding 49 tries and a tally of 205 points against 33. If, as is often claimed, a team is only ever as good as its No 7, suffice it to say that Leeds had been superb.
All the more incomprehensible, therefore, was the blunt, matter-of-fact statement in the Christmas Day programme, to the effect that Busch, the Australian Test serum-half, had been definitely signed and would arrive in London on February 4th. Hardly the sort of Christmas present that ‘Juicy’ would have chosen for himself!
Nor one that the vast majority of supporters appreciated either muddleheaded, barmy, blind as blithering bats should resign en bloc and apply for admission to St Dunstan’s ‘Nothing but the best’? We already have one of the best, if only you’ll give him a chance! To their eternal credit, the England selectors promptly did just that, for no sooner had ‘Chimpy’ turned out for the first time at Wigan than’ Juicy’ was winning his international spurs with a highly creditable display against Wales at Fartown. County recognition followed a month later, victory over Glamorgan and Monmouthshire carrying with it a Championship medal, to set alongside the pair won in Yorkshire’s Cup and League Competitions, and that in his first full season! And yet…
And yet, indeed! Once the experiment of switching Busch to stand-off had failed, 1931-32 developed inevitably into a swings-and-roundabouts season, with the management torn between the sterling reliability and all-round consistency of the local-born master-craftsman, and the tearaway Australian with only one gear, whose full-throttle flashes of mercurial individualism frequently paid scant regard to teamwork. When it came to the end-of-season crunch matches, however, ‘Juicy’ was the one they turned to.
Selected only days earlier for the Australian Tour, along with Joe Thompson, Stan Smith and John Lowe, there he was at Belle Vue, ruling the roost in the Challenge Cup Semi-Final replay as Leeds ran out winners against Halifax by 9 points to 2. As for the Final at Central Park, his slick combination and telepathic rapport with stand-off Evan Williams and loose-forward Charlie Glossop proved more than a match for Swinton’s redoubtable trio of Bryn Evans, Billo Rees and Fred Butters.
No wonder, then, he sailed Down Under without a care in the world; no wonder, either, that his heart sank momentarily when he returned the following September, with one Test to his credit and a heightened reputation, to find himself supplanted by Busch. No matter, he would play second fiddle and bide his time. He had not reckoned on Cup fever! An out-of-the-blue swoop by Huddersfield on 27th January 1933 shock realisation that Leeds were willing to part with him and almost before he had time to gather his wits, he was signing on the dotted line in a daze of utter rejection. Transfer form? It seemed more like an eviction order, for Headingley had been his second home. And so it always remained in his heart.
Nevertheless, he went on to create Rugby League history, wearing Fartown’s claret and gold against Warrington in the free-scoring 1933 Wembley Final, and then going back there a couple of years later with Castleford, to plot the downfall of Huddersfield. Three Challenge Cup Finals; three different Clubs; three winner’s medals! Yet surely his finest hour came with Castleford in the 1939 Championship Final at Maine Road. Magnificent in defeat, he brought out the best in the men around him, rallying his forwards, whipping up the backs, and going through on his own time and again, with a splendid line in dummies for the unwary. It was the very stuff that serum-halves’ dreams are made on, and all done with the unhurried ease of the true master.
At one time Licensee of Woodhouse Lane’s Marquis Inn and later of The Park in Hyde Park Road, ‘Juicy’ served in the N.F.S., prior to volunteering for rear-gunner duties in the R.A.F. A team-man if ever there was one: in war, as in peace, he was prepared to give his all. One corner of a foreign field is forever Headingley.