Born in 1924, into a family with 10 other children, Alf Burnell grew up in Hunslet during the tough years of the Depression. Rugby League provided one of the very few weekly highlights for Alf and his friends and, as well as watching the local professional team at Parkside, they spent many hours playing matches in the streets, often with a ball made from rolled up newspaper. After gaining county honours in schoolboy Rugby League, Alf’s fledgling career was interrupted by the Second World War. During the conflict, he served in the Navy and spent four hard years as a submariner on detachment as part of the United States task force in Australasia.
On his return to civilian life after the War, Alf’s career began to take off. He captained Hunslet and Yorkshire, gained international honours with England and Great Britain, and was selected for the 1954 Australasian tour. But despite his representative honours, Alf retired in 1958 having never appeared in a major final. Nevertheless, he remained a loyal servant to Hunslet and turned down offers from other leading clubs before spending time as groundsman, coach, and director at Parkside when his playing days were over.