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Keeping the Huddersfield R.L.F.C. alive

With the Huddersfield Giants now a well established Super League Club, it’s difficult to imagine that around 20 years ago professional Rugby League in the town was just days away from extinction. But that was the unfortunate situation which faced the club at the end of the 1980s. The previous decade had also been a disappointing one for the club. After the introduction of two divisions in 1973, all but one of the following seven seasons was spent in the second division and a mediocre start to the 1980s saw average crowds drop below the 1,000 mark.

In an attempt to inject new finance into the club, three directors were co-opted onto the board in 1983. One of the men, John Bailey, became chairman and at the end of the season launched an innovative new approach to marketing the club. Fartown was renamed ‘Arena 84’, whilst the first team became the Huddersfield Barracudas and the second team the Huddersfield Piranhas. But although these changes anticipated the subsequent re-branding of the sport as it entered the Super League era 11 years later, they were met with little enthusiasm by already disenchanted Claret and Gold fans.

Over the next few seasons the club’s decline continued despite the introduction of a number of talented local youngsters. Crowds continued to fall and further demands were placed on already dwindling finances as considerable renovation work on the stadium became necessary with the introduction of new safety standards following the Bradford City fire tragedy. Players were sold to help ease the financial burden with, amongst others, Paul Dixon, Seamus McCallion and Wilf George, all moving to local rivals Halifax where they enjoyed both Championship and Challenge cup successes.

Finally, during the 1988/89 season John Bailey abandoned the re-branding approach, much to the delight of the supporters, and offered to give the club away. Keith and the rest of his family, who had already been working voluntarily at Fartown for some years, stepped in to keep professional Rugby League in Huddersfield alive until a consortium with resources to begin to rebuild the club could be found. Their intervention was vital and the controversial outgoing chairman later told the Huddersfield Examiner,

‘No praise is high enough for Keith and his family. They have stuck with the club through thick and thin and the fact that there is still a club is down to them.’