Bramley Rugby League History
Rugby League in Bramley has a long history, going back to 1879 when the Reverend S.W.Cope founded the Bramley club and became the first President. In the1880’s the new club played at Whitegate Farm, and changed in the popular Unicorn public house off Town Street.
The club had gone through its’ first season unbeaten and had players selected for representative honours. C. Mathers was selected for the first international tour to Australia and New Zealand. The 1890s saw more players selected for Yorkshire and England, the most famous being Harry Bradshaw, who played seven times for England. Bradshaw was the “sports celebrity” of his day, and on his wedding day at his local church in Bramley lots of adoring female fans turned out to see their hero, over 100 years before “Beckham mania” appeared.
The refusal by Twickenham to support the wishes of the Bramley club to compensate Bradshaw for”broken time” to help him travel with the England team to Dublin in 1894 was a trigger for the subsequent breakaway of the northern rugby clubs to form the Northern Union in 1985, which evolved into Rugby league as we know it today.
Bramley joined the Northern Union in 1896 and though not winning many trophies the club was involved in several landmarks or milestones of Rugby League. In that first season Bramley secured a 0-0 draw in the first ever Northern Union fixture against Leeds! In the 1900-01 season, a club record attendance of 12,000 was at the Cup game against Oldham.
Around this time Bramley was involved in the first ever transfer fee payable to a club for a player. Bramley did not want to lose James Lomas, but he decided to sign for Salford. After protests by Bramley, the Salford club was ordered to pay £100 compensation to Bramley. Lomas went on to Salford and eventually became Great Britain captain.
The first-ever international tour to Britain by New Zealand took place in the 1907-8 season and Bramley was given the honour of staging the opening game, the first ever Tour match in Britain. The New Zealand All Golds beat Bramley 25-6, before a crowd of 6,000 at the Barley Mow.
Bramley played a part in the establishment of Rugby League in France in the 1930s. In 1932 Bramley Chair, Walter Popplewell was elected Chair of the Northern Rugby League. He played a part in discussions to establish Rugby League in France, which saw Jean Galia bring the first French touring team, the Pioneers, to Britain. Two games a week against established English RL teams took its toll of injuries amongst the French party, and Popplewell loaned Bramley players, playing under assumed French names, to the French tourists to plug the gaps.
One of Bramley’s star players, Welshman Ivor Rees toured France with the Northern Rugby League XIII representative side.
After the Second World War professional sport boomed and attendances were high. In 1945-6 Bramley defeated Leeds for the first time since 192 and went on to secure their first league double against their so-called “bigger” local rivals. A new club record attendance of 12,600 was established for the visit of Leeds to the Barley Mow in the following 1946-7 season.
The 1950s and 1960s saw the club consolidate in the league with a reputation for blooding young players, but adding some old heads. The club signed 3 Maori players 1n 1953, including fullback Johnny Wilson, who was to become a Bramley legend for his goal kicking and tackling, and who became mine host at the Barley Mow pub.
Up to the sixties, there was just one league of 30 professional clubs, clubs playing the clubs in their respective counties plus three from outside. Thus Bramley played all of the other Yorkshire clubs plus three from Lancashire.
This changed when two divisions were introduced in 1962. Bramley secured First Division status by virtue of finishing 13th in the 30 team table. Playing the likes of Wigan and St.Helens instead of other Yorkshire rivals the club was relegated, but the two division experiment was abandoned after just two seasons. During this period the club moved its’ ground sideways, McLaren Field, named after the land benefactor Mrs McLaren, just alongside the historic Barley Mow. However two divisions were re-instated at the end of the 1972-3 season, and Bramley once again made the cut for the First Division.
This decade was a “purple patch” for the club. The following season saw the club secure its’ first ever silverware in the form of the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy, beating such illustrious names as Wakefield Trinity away, Castleford and St.Helens, before lifting the Trophy over Widnes at Naughton Park on 18th December 1973 The club also reached the Semi-Final of the John Player Trophy before losing out to Rochdale Hornets. But the icing on the cake was that the club retained its’ First Division status, thanks to a memorable 17-13 victory over Leeds at Headingley in April 1974, after a mercurial performance from new Bramley legend Johnny Wolford. Relegated in 1975 the club once again bounced back securing promotion back to the First Division in 1977 following two mighty “battles” with local rivals Hunslet, who were also promoted.
The economics were against the club retaining First Division status for more than a season and the eighties and nineties saw the club in the lower tier and suffering financial and ground issues. The club moved from McLaren Field, which was sold for housing and the club played at Clarence Field, Kirkstall then seeing out its final days playing at Headingley, before the club was dramatically closed down and withdrawn from the Rugby League in 1999.
Fans were shocked but mobilised to form their own “fans owned and run” club, Bramley Rugby League Community Club. Applications to rejoin the League playing at Farsley Celtic and Morley Rugby were rejected by the RFL but the new supporters’ owned club. Constituted on co-operative lines as an Industrial and Provident Society successfully applied to join the then National League Three.
The famous amber and black shirts returned to competitive rugby league when the Bramley Buffaloes hosted Sheffield Hillsborough Hawks in the inaugural NL3 game in 2004 before 1,200 excited fans, a record for the newly formed club, at Stanningley’s Arthur Miller Stadium.
Supported by the Leeds Co-operative Society the new club was innovative on and off the field, inspiring the creation of similar supporters’ owned clubs elsewhere. Success came to the club in the form of appearing in five consecutive Grand Finals of National League Three or Rugby league Conference National, as it was re-branded, winning two of those against Hemel Stags and Huddersfield Underbank Rangers.
Following a restructuring of the Rugby League’s competitions, Bramley Buffaloes joined the Yorkshire Men’s League for the 2013 season.
At the end of the 2013 season, following a narrow defeat in the YML Play-off Semi-Final at Skirlaugh Bulls, the club entered discussions with neighbouring club, Rodley Rockets, and subsequently both clubs shareholders/members voted to merge the two operations, but retaining the historic name of Bramley RLCC, aka Bramley Buffaloes, and the historic amber and black colours. The club now has a base at the Canal Grounds, Rodley. But for reasons of temporary ground unavailability, many of the senior games in the summer based YML were played at Stanningley Park to allow for some ground redevelopment, which is still ongoing.
Yet despite the ground issues, the 2014 season saw yet more silverware for the Bramley Buffaloes Senior Team. Under Head Coach, and former Buffaloes playing stalwart, Steve Gill, the Buffaloes turned in some memorable performances to triumph, 30-22, in the Grand Final, against a strong West Hull side, at Castleford Tigers Mend-a-Hose stadium. The squad was amongst the best ever assembled in the era of the Buffaloes, and recognition was received in the selection of two Buffaloes heroes, Ben Dean and Robin Wilks being selected for the Yorkshire Lionhearts Tour to Ukraine this summer. Popular player Craig Boot was also signed on pro forms by Championship club Newcastle Thunder, fitting recognition for both player and club.
Overall the sport of Rugby League has undergone many structural changes in recent years. The reborn Bramley club, itself innovative in forming the first ever fans’ owned club, has played in, and been successful in three major competitions in its’ short history. Change is a certainty in our sport, witness the new structures for the professional game introduced this season. Bramley RLCC has a track record in adapting to change but that change is exciting. So the club continues to work to ensure that Bramley Rugby League will play a high profile role and contribute to the life of the Bramley and broader West Leeds community.