Excitement mounts at Hunslet ahead of Lucius Banks family visit

Hunslet RLFC will be welcoming the family of Lucius Banks, the first black professional sportsman in Britain, on Friday (29 March 2024) for their match against Keighley Cougars.

The famous ‘Hall of Fame’ tunnel at AMT Headingley Stadium includes many players who have paraded their talents on the iconic pitch in Hunslet’s myrtle and flame colours, and others who escaped the Parksiders’ net to grace Rugby League in the blue and amber of Leeds.

The passageway, which connects the stadium’s concourse to the dressing room area, is adorned with images of players of not only Leeds, but close to a couple of dozen of other clubs, chief executive Gary Hetherington taking great pride in the fact that Headingley is now the only stadium with a direct connection to the sport’s illustrious past. It’s a history, in fact, that dates back to the inaugural Challenge Cup Final, when Batley beat St Helens 10-3 in the 1896/97 decider.

Leeds Foundation’s Rugby League Development Coordinator Darren Higgins kindly took time out to ensure that Hunslet’s Finance Director Phil Hodgson and former press officer (another Phil Hodgson) recently enjoyed access to the superb display. The likes of Albert Goldthorpe, Walter Goldthorpe (as members of the Hunslet side that beat Halifax in 1907/08 in the first Yorkshire Cup Final to be played at Headingley, on the Parksiders’ way to glorious ground-breaking All Four Cups glory) gaze down from the walls.

The passage-way also includes Jack Walkington and Alf ‘Ginger’ Burnell, together with Fred Ward, the former Leeds player who was the last man to captain Hunslet to a major trophy triumph with the 12-2 victory over Hull KR in the 1962 Yorkshire Cup Final.

Others to have starred, like Ward, with both Hunslet and Leeds, and who are duly celebrated, include the likes of Harold Buck, Arthur Clues, James Lowes, Bernard Prior, Bill Ramsey, Brian Shaw, Jeff Stevenson, Frank ‘Shanks’ Watson and Terry Webb. Similar men to have connections with both sides of the city are David Creasser, Derek Hallas, David Heron, Syd Hynes – an avowed Hunslet fan, who joined the Loiners, as they were known until the launch of Super League, from Leeds NALGO RUFC – Garry Schofield and Barry Seabourne.

Perhaps none of that illustrious list, however, have more historical relevance than Lucius Banks who, in 1912, became the first person of colour – or American – to play professional Rugby League, when he signed for Hunslet after having been spotted by one of the Parksiders’ committeemen while on a business trip to New York.

Banks – whose signing was, very sadly, not universally welcomed by local newspapers – returned to the United States after a couple of years. His appearances included his outing in the first Lazenby Cup match, between Leeds and Hunslet at Headingley at the beginning of the 1912/13 season.

Astonishingly, eminent historian Dr Tony Collins, who has celebrated the episode and its aftermath in a memorable podcast, was contacted recently by descendants of the famous player. The family members are visiting the United Kingdom shortly and will be taking in Hunslet’s home game with Keighley Cougars on Good Friday (29 March).

The club will be taking the opportunity to present Lucius Banks’ heritage certificate (no 405). The Lord Mayor of Leeds, Cllr Al Garthwaite, will be doing the honours and, fittingly, the prestigious occasion is being sponsored by Bartlett’s Insurance Brokers, whose founder – Fred Bartlett – was a director at Hunslet for many years, and whose duties included capturing the signatures of many leading Welsh Rugby Union players in the post-war era, when the Parksiders regularly raided the Valleys for outstanding talent.

Hunslet play Keighley Cougars under the lights at South Leeds Stadium on Friday (29 March), kick off 7:30pm, tickets from: hunsletrflc.ticketco.events/uk. The match will be preceeded by a fundraising match for another Hunslet legend, Steve Pryce, as he battles early onset dementia. Steve will be joined by Shaun Irwin, Mick Coyle, Dave Brook, Karl Gunney, Richard Baker, Rob Wilson and Rob Darcy as his team takes on West Bowling ARLFC at 5:15pm.

 

This post is based on a press release issued by Hunslet RLFC

 

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