Rugby Football League Archive

Scope and Content

The Rugby Football League Archive contains the following:

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.

Administrative / Biographical 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.


The collection has been arranged in the functional classification scheme developed in 2014. Records have been retained in their original order where identifiable. Collections created by players or supporters in a personal capacity have been retained as discrete collections. Adminstrative records of the Rugby Football League have been arranged in series according to function and original order.

Access Information

Available to all researchers, by appointment

Acquisition Information

The Rugby Football League Archive was deposited with the University of Huddersfield Archives in August 2008.

Other Finding Aids

Physical Characteristics and/or Technical Requirements

Predominantly paper, but also includes, photographs, VHS video cassettes, dvds, medals, cups, rugby balls, shirts and other objects.

Conditions Governing Use

Photocopies, scans and photographic copies of material in the Rugby Football League Archive can be supplied for private study purposes only, depending on the condition of the documents. Prior written permission must be obtained for publication or reproduction of any material.

Appraisal Information

No further appraisal, destruction or scheduling is expected to take place.

Custodial History

Until the late 1980s, the RFL's administrative records had been housed at the then headquarters of the game at 180 Chapeltown Road in Leeds. Minute books, players' registers and similar documents were kept in the offices of the chief executive (known previously as the secretary and later secretary-general) and various other items were stored in the cellar of the building. Over the course of history of the sport, the RFL had acquired a range of printed material and ephemera but had made no attempt to catalogue, conserve or protect its heritage. In 1964, for example, the then secretary Bill Fallowfield had appealed in the pages of the 'Rugby Leaguer' for the return of the first minute book of the Northern Union covering the period 1895-98, to no avail. Moreover, various problems with ventilation and periodic flooding in the cellar at Chapeltown Road led to large amounts of material being thrown away due to dampness.

In the mid-1980s the RFL secured sponsorship from Whitbread Breweries to create a 'Rugby League Hall of Fame'. It opened in 1988 and was housed in the Oulton Arms at Rothwell, where it continued until 2000. The research and gathering together of the materials for the Hall of Fame was the work of historian and author Robert Gate, who the RFL had appointed as their first-ever archivist on a part-time basis in 1988. Along with Trevor Delaney, author of 'The Grounds of Rugby League', 'The Roots of Rugby League' and a number of other pioneering works, Robert set new standards of research and helped to preserve the RFL's archival holdings, bringing it to the attention of both amateur and academic historians.

Numerous items and collections were acquired over the years, although professional documentation standards would not be introduced until the late 2000s. These included the records of rugby league statistician Tom Webb, Huddersfield and Keighley player Idris Towill, Rochdale historian Colin Atkin, and Leeds and Great Britain's Dai Jenkins. In 2014 the archive received a Heritage Lottery Grant to purchase the Mike Stephenson Collection, which had previously been the basis for the Rugby League Heritage Centre exhibition at the George Hotel in Huddersfield.

Robert Gate left the RFL in the mid-1990s and it wasn't until 1998 that the RFL replaced him with the academic historian Tony Collins. In 1995 the RFL had relocated to Red Hall in the north of Leeds, offering greater opportunities to develop the archives. More systematic attempts were made to conserve and organise the archive and the RFL's various heritage holdings were consolidated into what became known as the RFL Archives. In 2007 the RFL reached an agreement with the University of Huddersfield for it to be the repository of the RFL Archives, and the two organisations launched a successful and unique partnership to develop a professional archive for the RFL as the basis for an extensive strategic programme of public engagement heritage activities.

The sports historian, Tony Collins, has acted as archivist and advisor to the Rugby Football League from 1999 and continues to advise the RFL on historical matters and care of the RFL archive.

In 2008 The Rugby Football League designated the University Archives at the University of Huddersfield as the repository for the safe storage of their archives.

Between 2012 and 2014 sections of the collection were listed by two volunteers.

In 2013 the University of Huddersfield Archives was awarded a National Archives National Cataloguing Grants Programme for Archives grant to employ a collections access officer for a year. The collection was catalogued between February 2014 and February 2015 following principles of More Product Less Process.

Since the original archive deposit in 2008 there have been a number of additions to the original deposit; these have been accessioned in line with departmental procedures and linked to the catalogue.


Accruals are expected.

Related Material

The University of Huddersfield Library Special Collections holds a collection of rugby league books and periodicals. A full list is available for consultation in the search room.

The 'Up and Under' Rugby Football League Oral History Project, which was conducted by the Centre for Oral History Research at the University of Huddersfield between 2007 and 2009, interviewed 100 or so people connected with the game from grass roots enthusiasts to professional players and referees.

The University Archive holds the digital sound recordings created during the 'Up and Under' and other digital recordings of ex-player interviews created during the 'Peoples Record' Rugby Football League Oral History Project (MLA).

The Gillette Rugby League Heritage Centre, at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, is a permanent exhibition dedicated to the sport of rugby league. The collections include sporting ephemera and audio visual displays.

Researcher interested in a specific team should also contact individual clubs, many of whom still retain their own records and actively collect souvenir programmes and other ephemera.


This archive was used extensively by the sport historian and official RFL archivist, Tony Collins, in his books: Rugby League in twentieth century Britain: a social and Cultural History, (London, 2006); Rugby's Great Split: class, culture and the origins of rugby league football, (London, 1996); Tony Collins and Wray Vamplew, Mud, Sweat and Beers: A Cultural History of Sport and Alcohol (Berg: 2002).

Tony Collins also contributed to the BBC 4 documentary, Eddie Waring: Mr Rugby League (2010) produced by Paul Greenan and Tony Parker.

Rob Light used the RFL archive for his book, No Sand Dunes in Featherstone: Memories of West Yorkshire Rugby League,(London, 2010).