25. Leagues and Gentlemen: Professionalism and the schism between rugby union and rugby league
Goole FC probably thought they were safe when the cast of the Little Red Riding Hood pantomime challenged them to a match. Nobody thought to shout ‘behind you’ as a Yorkshire Rugby Union official pointed out that the thespians had recently played a charity match against Northern Union club Batley. Oh no they didn’t. Oh yes they did!
Professionalism among northern clubs almost led to division in English soccer, but the FA eventually endorsed the practice. But the RFU was unwilling to seek similar compromise, meaning soccer was practically unchallenged in the commercialisation of football.
But clubs in Yorkshire and Lancashire were unhappy with the situation, and following the infamous schism of 1895, they formed the breakaway Northern Union.
In enforced isolation from the rest of the rugby world, the professional clubs made so many changes to the game, often to make it more attractive to the paying public, that there would eventually be two separate versions of the same game.
But does that make rugby union the more traditional of the two sports, or did rugby league set several standards that the amateur code would later follow?
The chapter ends with an examination of the RFU’s decision in 1995 to also allow professionalism, and the effects it could have on both codes.