Rugby Football League Archive RFL

Dated 1880s-2014

Extent: Approx. 800 boxes

Records created by the Rugby Football League in the course of its activities as the governing body for rugby league in Britain and Ireland.

The collection includes central administrative records relating to strategic planning. These include: minute books and correspondence; annual general meeting records; annual reports; and records relating to the Rugby Football League's involvement in the All Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group. Other administrative records include central financial records; records relating to the RFL's communication with broadcasters such as the BBC and Sky television; and records relating to governance and ensuring that clubs adhere to the RFL's operational rules.

There are also large numbers of records relating to the Rugby Football League's role as a central body involved in organising competitions and tours which include British or Irish rugby league teams and clubs, including Academy (age-grade) rugby organised via professional clubs. Records relating to competitions include: administrative and financial records relating to individual tours and competitions; programmes; promotional records; kit (clothing), trophies and medals; photographs; and scorebooks.

The Rugby Football League is a central representative for rugby league in Britain and Ireland; it has therefore created and collected large numbers of records as part of its relationships with professional UK clubs, rugby league supporters, amateur rugby league organisations, international rugby league clubs and governing bodies, and other sporting bodies such as the Rugby Football Union. Records created and collected as part of these relationships include administrative records such as correspondence, reports, and policies; programmes; Official Guides (year books); club records such as histories and statistics; photographs; menus; commemorative objects; magazines.

Over the years the Rugby Football League has collected commercial publications as sources of information about the sport; these include magazines, journals and manuals on rugby league. Many of these are preserved in the archive and date from the 1940s to the 2000s. There are also some centrally collected press cuttings in the collection.

Since the 1980s the Rugby Football League has accepted donations of personal archive collections from rugby league players, administrators and supporters. These collections range from single item donations such as Albert Rosenfeld's New South Wales cap; to much larger collections such as David Hinchliffe's administrative collection relating to the All Party Parliamentary Rugby League Group and Dai Jenkins' collection of programmes, photographs, letters and clothing relating to his rugby league career. Within supporter collections there are also a large number of press cutting scrapbooks covering a range of teams, players, countries and themes.
Admin History
The Rugby Football League was founded on Thursday 29 August 1895 (known as the Northern Rugby Football Union until 1922) when 21 clubs met at The George Hotel in Huddersfield and voted to break away from the Rugby Football Union. Although many factors played a part in the split with the Rugby Football Union, the main division was caused by the Rugby Football Union's decision to enforce the amateur principle of the sport, preventing "broken time" payments to players who had taken time off work to play rugby.

By 1907 the Northern Union was participating in international competition as the first tourists arrived from New Zealand, followed a year later by the Australians and the first England versus Wales fixture. In April 1910 twenty-six players left England for the Northern Union's first tour of Australia and New Zealand.

In 1922 the Northern Union changed its name to the Rugby Football League; reflecting the game's move from a professional version of rugby union to a new game with new rules and style of play and its own distinct cultural identity.

The inter war years saw the first Challenge Cup Final at Wembley in 1929 and the establishment of rugby league in France.

The outbreak of hostilities in September 1939 led to the New Zealand touring team returning home after only two fixtures but the Challenge Cup and War Emergency League continued under difficult circumstances with many clubs closing down for the duration of the war.

The International Rugby League Board was formed in 1946 and the success of the immediate post-war years appeared to indicate that a bright future was opening up. Attendances reached record levels, club coffers were overflowing and the sport was playing a significant national role, touring Australia and New Zealand in 1946 with the outward journey on the warship HMS Indomitable.

However, as with all spectator sports, crowds fell steadily throughout the 1960s and 1970s despite a number of initiatives including the introduction of substitutes (1964), professional rugby matches on Sunday (1967), and a six tackle rule (1972) to attempt to stop one team monopolising possession. In 1971 just 13,351 watched the three test matches against the New Zealand tourists, and barely 36,000 had seen the test series against the 1973 Australian tourists. Even rugby league's own supporters thought the game was dying.

The decline in gate money began to be gradually offset somewhat in the 1970s by the growth in commercial sponsorship, particularly from the brewing and tobacco industries. Television had a huge impact on the game in the 1990s, when Rupert Murdoch negotiated world wide broadcasting rights.

In August 1994 the Rugby Football League published its 'Framing The Future' document which called for a soccer style Premier League and club mergers. Less than eight months later, following approaches from Rupert Murdoch's News Ltd, it was agreed that a 14 club Super League would start in 1996. This suggestion proved controversial and, after protest by supporters over the announcement that 15 clubs would have to merge, the proposal was withdrawn and a return to three divisions with a 12 team Super League was agreed. The emphasis of the Super League today is upon a fast-paced game and providing family entertainment. Today rugby league is played globally although the strongest rugby league nations are England, Australia and New Zealand.

In addition to the professional and semi-professional game, rugby league is also a popular amateur game. In 1973 the British Amateur Rugby League Association was formed and after only two seasons could claim 300 member clubs organised in twenty district leagues; it is now played in every county in England through amateur teams, school and youth teams, universities and colleges, and in the armed forces. Rugby league is also played in more than 50 countries worldwide at professional and amateur levels.

For further information on the social, cultural and administrative development of the Rugby Football League see:
Collins, Tony 'Rugby's Great Split'(2nd revised edition, Routledge, 2006)
Collins, Tony 'Rugby League in Twentieth Century Britain' (Routledge, 2006)

Access Conditions:
Original available: how to access.

Related Material:
Huddersfield Rugby League Club Players Association Archive (held at the University of Huddersfield, HPA)
Terry Wynn Archive (held at the University of Huddersfield, TW)
Up and Under Project Archive (held at the University of Huddersfield, UAU)
Records relating to universities rugby league held with the British Universities Sports Association Records at the University of Liverpool Library, Archives and Special Collections (GB 141 D741)
Surviving records created by individual clubs may be held by the club or may have been deposited at a local record office.
Bradford Bulls Foundation have their own archive collection containing match day programmes (1920s - present), DVDs (1970-present), Photographs (1950 -present) , Scrapbooks, Shirts etc. A more detailed catalogue will be available in due course. Please contact the Foundation on 01274 729728 to find out more or book an appointment to view items in the collection.