For the 1984-85 season the powers that be had come up with yet another weird and wonderful formula to determine the fixtures. There's a PhD waiting for someone to do research into the history of such formulae in the last 100 years of Rugby League. Understanding "A Brief History of Time" pales into insignificance when trying to understand the logic behind a Rugby League fixture list. Anyway for what it's worth this was how the fixtures for the Second Division had been determined for that particular season.
The Second Division comprised 20 clubs playing 28 matches each. The clubs were divided into two groups.
Clubs 1 - 10 played each other home and away.
Clubs 11 - 20 played each other home and way.
Clubs 1 -5 played clubs 11 - 15 home and way.
Clubs 6 - 10 played clubs 16 - 20 home and away.
The final Second Division Table looked like this with Swinton, Salford, York and Dewsbury gaining promotion.
Second Division Final Table 1984-85
As well as Southend Invicta a number of the clubs who played that season no longer exist:
Carlisle City had been admitted to the League in 1928-29 but had withdrawn after 10 games. Half a century later, encouraged by the success of Fulham, Carlisle RLFC were admitted to the Rugby League in April 1981, sharing the Brunton Park ground with Carlisle FC. The club had significant success in their first season (they had two of the 1973 Dewsbury Championship heroes in Alan Agar and Nigel Stephenson) and gained promotion. Their average attendance was 2,950 in that season but plummeted in First Division when winning became much more difficult.
Thereafter the club was plagued by debts and poor attendances. Unable to afford the high rent demanded by Carlisle United they moved to Gillford Park for the 1988-89 season. They became Carlisle Border Raiders for the 1990-91 season but continued to struggle. Home crowds struggled to get into four figures and at the end of the 1997 season they "merged" with Barrow Braves. Their final game was at home to Workington on 7 September 1997 when they lost 34-24 to Workington in front of a crowd of 453. Their last league match on 20 July 1997 had produced a record score of 72-10 against another doomed side Prescot Panthers (see below).
Joined the Second Division, along with Sheffield Eagles, in 1984-85. They were named after the lager of their sponsors, Mansfield Beers. An autonomous rugby board signed an agreement with Mansfield Town to share their Field Mill ground at £25,000 per year. Their General Manager was Dave Parker, who is now a neighbour of mine in Brighouse and writes regularly for the Rugby Leaguer and the Brighouse Echo. The team was based in West Yorkshire and used to train at the Hipperholme and Lightcliffe High School.
The first home game attracted a healthy crowd of 2,291 when they defeated Wakefield Trinity 15-0 and they managed to win eight of their first nine games (the only defeat being at Dewsbury by 7-6). However, they struggled after this and crowds steadily declined. Their final home game of the season against Rochdale Hornets was watched by 321 spectators and they went down 9-8.
The club lost £90,000 in its first year and could not afford the rent at Field Mill. The final game there was on 2 February 1986 when Marksman lost 32-2 to Leigh. The club then moved eight miles to the Alfreton Town Sports Stadium. The first game there was on 23 March 1986 when Marksman lost 42-18 to Workington Town. The crowd was 290. The club moved once again for the 1998-99 season - to Sutton Town's ground at Kirby in Ashfield. A board room split occurred over the decision in June 1989 to move the club to Nottingham, two junction down the M1. The move also led to the withdrawal of sponsorship by Mansfield Brewery and the club was renamed Nottingham City.
Nottingham struggled and finished bottom of the Third Division at the end of the 1982-83 season, winning only one game. Their final game was against Huyton on 11 April 1993 when they lost 39-6. Along with Chorley Borough and Blackpool Gladiators they were demoted to the National Conference and effectively condemned to oblivion.
A Blackpool club were members of the Northern Union Lancashire Second Competition in 1898/99. However, it was December 1950 before the first unsuccessful application to join the Rugby League was made by a professional club in Blackpool. Success followed when Blackpool Borough was accepted into the Rugby League for the 1954/55 season.
Borough initially used the St Anne's Road Greyhound Stadium but had to rely on their soccer neighbours for big games. Their record attendance was on 10 September 1955 when they drew with the New Zealand tourists 24-24 at Bloomfield Road. The crowd was 12,015.
The Greyhound stadium was sold for housing and in April 1962 Blackpool Council agreed to grant a 21 year lease to Borough for a new ground - Borough Park - on the former gas works and coach park site at Rigby Road and Princess Street. In April 1982 Borough were put into liquidation less than nine months after being taken over by a Cardiff businessman. A new company, Savoy Sports and Leisure Ltd, then bought the club and a new Blackpool Borough RLFC was formed on 4 August 1982 and accepted into the Rugby League for the new season. Following the Valley Parade fire the club was ordered to carry out safety measures on the ground by Lancashire County Council by 1 February 1987 or quit the ground. Failing to get grant aid from Blackpool Council Borough quit the ground, the final game being on 4 January 1987 when a crowd of 386 saw the club lose 8-5 to Whitehaven. The last 6 remaining home games were played at Bloomfield Road.
Another consortium took over the club in April 1987 on condition that Borough moved from Blackpool. Following an offer from Wigan FC the club relocated to Springfield Park (the then home of Wigan FC) for the 1987-88 season and became Springfield Borough. However the move was not successful. Because the pitch was suffering from overuse in January 1988 Wigan FC gave Borough 6 months to quit.
The following season they moved to the Chorley AFC ground at Victory Park and became Chorley Borough. A boardroom split occurred over the announcement in February 1989 to move to Altrincham and five Blackpool based directors resigned to form a new Chorley club at Victory Park.
Borough then became Trafford Borough when they moved to Moss Lane Altrincham (sharing with Altrincham AFC) for the 1989-90 season. They survived three seasons as Trafford Borough before returning to Blackpool as Blackpool Gladiators for the 1992-93 season, playing at the Blackpool Mechanics FC ground. The season was a disaster, culminating in their final home game when they were beaten by Dewsbury 90-5. Their last ever game as a professional club was on 11 April 1993 when they lost again to Dewsbury 56-0. They were demoted to the National Conference for the following season and the professional game in Blackpool finally disappeared.
Another club with a chequered and complicated history. Wigan Highfield were formed around 1880 and went out of existence for a few years following the schism of 1895. They reformed in 1902 and were admitted to the Rugby League in 1922/23. In 1933 they finished second from bottom in the league and were only temporarily saved by the intervention of the owners of the White City Greyhound Stadium in London who agreed to pay off their debts.
The Rugby League gave approval to the club's move to the White City in 1933 and they were renamed London Highfield. They revolutionised the game by playing under floodlights. By today's standards crowds were good but the White City Company lost money on the venture and decided not to continue Rugby League beyond this first season.
The club then transferred to the Stanley greyhound stadium in Liverpool and became Liverpool Stanley. For the start of the 1950/51 season the club moved to Mill Yard, Knotty Ash and was renamed Liverpool City for the 1951-52 season. In July 1964 the club's board were informed that the Knotty Ash lease would not be renewed and negotiations then took place with Huyton local authority for a 21 year lease at the new Alt Park Ground which was eventually ready in August 1969. The club continued as Huyton RLFC until the 1984-85 season when the club moved to Canal Street, Runcorn (the home of Runcorn Football Club) and became Runcorn Highfield. The club became infamous when they forfeited ground advantage in the Rugby League Cup tie against the mighty Wigan on 13 November 1988. This provoked a players' strike and the team that faced Wigan comprised a number of trialists and reserves together with the coach, Bill Ashurst, who had come out of retirement. Highfield lost 92-2 in front of a crowd of 7,233 at Central Park and Ashurst was sent off.
When the soccer club increased the rent for Canal Street Runcorn signed a 99 year agreement with St Helens Town FC during August 1990 and moved to Hoghton Road, Sutton. The move was opposed by St Helens RLFC and the Rugby League Board but approved by the full Rugby League Council by 26 votes to 6 on 5 October 1990. The club was renamed Highfield for the 1991-92 season. The 1994-95 season was a disaster for Highfield. They won only two games all season - against amateurs Ovenden 12-6 in the first round of the Regal Trophy and against Barrow 14-12 in the league. They lost to amateurs Beverley 27-4 in the Challenge Cup and their final game (played at Rochdale Hornets ground on 23 April 1995) was a humiliating 104-4 defeat by Keighley Cougars. Their final home game was on 17 April 1995 when they lost 34-8 to Barrow in front of a crowd of 195. Needless to say they finished bottom of the Second Division with only two points. They conceded a grand total of 1,604 points in 30 league games.
Despite all this Highfield survived into the Super League era but fared even worse in the 1995-96 season managing only one win (against amateurs Hemel Hempstead in the first round of the Regal Trophy) and a 24-24 draw in the league against York. Their final game was a 82-0 defeat away at Hunslet on 21 January 1996. In a final desperate throw of the dice Highfield emerged as Prescot Panthers for the start of the 1996 season and they enjoyed by their standards a comparatively successful season winning two games. They struggled on for the 1997 season again winning two games but bowed to the inevitable and resigned from the League at the end of the season. Ironically the club's final game was a 72-10 defeat by Carlisle, who were also playing their final league game before their subsequent "merger" with Barrow.
The end had come when chairman Geoff Fletcher accepted a one-off payment of about £30,000 for the club to resign from the Rugby Football League. Their demise came in a familiar position as Prescot finished at the bottom for a fifth successive season.
When a club like Bramley bites the dust you begin to fear for the future of the game. Founded in 1879 the Villagers moved in 1881 to the famous Barley Mow ground and were admitted to the Northern Union on 2 June 1896. On 9 October 1907 they became the first club to entertain a touring side when they played New Zealand.
On 1 February 1919 they beat Bradford Northern 21-3. The match was significant in that making his debut at stand off for Bramley was one Harold Edmondson who at 15 years and eight one days became the youngest ever professional rugby league player. Because Harold unwittingly signed professional forms he lost his amateur status at both swimming and athletics, which was of great concern to him. As a result the age at which a player could become professional was thereafter set at sixteen and has remained so ever since. Harold's son was Peter Edmondson, a colleague of mine at Calderdale Council, where he was Deputy Chief Education Officer until his tragic death in 1995.
Bramley were always overshadowed by the mighty Leeds but did manage to win one trophy in their long history - the BBC Floodlit Competition. Ironically, due to power cuts, the final against Widnes at Naughton Park took place on the midweek afternoon of 14 December 1973.
Bramley almost went into liquidation in October 1983 but survived. In 1990 the club was faced with an estimated bill of £250,000 to carry out comprehensive safety work at McClaren Field for the start of the 1991-92 season. Bramley managed to survive at McClaren Field until the end of the 1994-95 season. The following seasons they played at Clarence Field and then moved to Headingley in 1997. Crowd numbers were inevitably affected and the overshadowing of Bramley by Leeds became ever greater. At the end of the 1999 season Bramley did a "deal" with Leeds which effectively meant the end of the club as a professional team. They resigned from the Northern Ford Premiership to become some kind of reserve or "feeder" team for Leeds although this never seemed to subsequently materialise.
A group of supporters is keeping the Bramley name alive and they applied for membership of the Northern Ford, along with Gateshead Thunder, at the beginning of the 2000-01 season. The bid was rejected and Bramley remain in suspended hibernation.
Bridgend were the last in a relatively long (though short lived) line of professional Rugby League clubs in the Union stronghold of Wales. The first League team was Merthyr Tydfil who joined the Northern Union on 9 July 1907. The team certainly had a fanatical following, being suspended twice for attacks on the referee, the latter occasion being after the game against Dewsbury in January 1910. Merthyr resigned from the League on 2 January 1911 after being unable to pay the rent on their ground. Other Welsh Rugby League clubs included Ebbw Vale (1907/8 to 1911/12); Aberdare (1908/9); Barry (1908/9); Mid-Rhondda (1908/9); Pontypridd (1926/27 and 1927/28) and Treherbert (1908/9 and 1909/10).
A Welsh League of eight teams was established in 1949/50 concentrating on the area around Neath and Abertillery but a combination of little money and lack of grounds meant it never established itself. The first Bridgend RL club played their first game in the Welsh League on 20 August 1949 losing 45-10 to Cardiff. Cardiff (playing at the Penarth Road Stadium) were subsequently admitted to the Rugby League on 30 April 1951, the same day as Doncaster. Their opening game attracted 2,500 spectators against Widnes on 22 August 1951 but thereafter they struggled to get good crowds and only 199 saw them play against Workington. One gate totalled £14 and the club expired at the end of the 1951-52 season after the RFL had subsidised it to a tune of £2,234. By that time the Welsh League was also in ruins. The Welsh Rugby Union rejoiced. Judge W. Rowe Harding had told the annual meeting of the Welsh Rugby union in 1950: "The Rugby League is only an infant but it wants strangling." His wish had come true.
It was to be another thirty years before a professional rugby league club played again in Wales.
Like Carlisle, the initial success of Fulham RLFC encouraged Cardiff City Football Club to jump on the Rugby League bandwagon for the 1981-82 season. Their managing director was the legendary David Watkins, who had been a superstar at both Union and League, and their coach was the former St Helens Lion John Mantle. The club rocked the WRU by signing four recent Union internationals - Steve Fenwick (Bridgend), Tommy David (Llanelli and Pontypridd), Paul Ringer (Ebbw Vale and Llanelli) and Brynmor Williams (Cardiff, Newport and Swansea).
The Blue Dragons shared Ninian Park with Cardiff City Football Club and the first game against Salford on 30 August 1981 attracted a record crowd of 9,247. However, they never attracted a crowd like that and finished half way up the Second Division. They played for three seasons at Ninian Park with ever declining crowds. Cardiff transferred their game against Huyton to Eugene Cross, Ebbw Vale on 29 April 1984 when the attendance of 1,400 was double the average at Ninian Park. Their final home game of the 1983/84 season saw them lose 28-26 to York in front of 446 spectators.
The club was bought out of liquidation from Cardiff City's owners, Kenton Utilities, by a consortium in July 1984. The new owners immediately came under pressure from the Welsh FA who wanted Ninian Park as their permanent headquarters and were opposed to ground sharing with rugby league. As a result the Blue Dragons changed their name to Bridgend following their move to Coychurch Road, the home of Maesteg AFC and now used by Bridgend Town. The club played one season - 1984-85 - finishing bottom of the Second Division with one win. Their first home game on 9 September 1984 had been encouraging in that it attracted a crowd of 1,983 to watch Bridgend go down 28-16 to Swinton. After that attendances dropped alarmingly and by February 1985 less than 200 fans were watching the home games. Their lowest gate was 148 for the final home game against Doncaster on 21 April 1985 when they went down 28-10 to Doncaster. Their solitary victory was against Sheffield Eagles 28-12 on 24 February 1985 in front of 186 spectators.
During the season a total of 64 players appeared for Bridgend, 26 of them trialists. Indeed, 'trialist' was the leading try scorer with six tries. Four days before the opening of the 1995/96 season the Rugby League struck Bridgend out of the fixtures for failing to secure a ground. Bridgend decided not to seek reinstatement for the 1986-87 season and professional rugby league in Wales expired yet again.
The final (so far) attempt to establish a Welsh professional Rugby League team was the South Wales Club which played for the 1996 season in the Second Division (ie third division with the establishment of the Super League) at Cardiff Arms Park. The club finished mid table but again crowds were poor and the club withdrew at the end of the season after failing to be fast tracked into the Super League. We await the next coming.