Leeds Tykes has a proud and long heritage stretching as far back as 1878 and the formation of Headingley FC, who were later to merge with Roundhay RUFC to form Leeds RUFC.

A story of seven eras

In order to tell each part of the story we have broken the history down into seven eras…
















Headingley Football Club: A History

Headingley Football Club was founded in 1878 and was admitted to the Rugby Football and Yorkshire Rugby Football Unions in 1898.

Three years earlier twelve of the county’s largest clubs had left the County RFU to become founder members of the Northern Union, later known as the Rugby League. By 1904-05 only 14 clubs remained with the Yorkshire RFU and it seemed the end was nigh for Rugby Union in the county.

The man saviour was R F Oakes who was elected a member in 1901 beginning a 50 year association with the Club. He played only briefly, captaining the Club in 1903-4, David Jennings 10 but his major contribution was in administration. Elected Secretary of Yorkshire, under his auspices the Union was built up to 108 clubs and 57 schools by 1952. Along the way he was President of the County 1922-4, President of the Rugby Football Union 1933-4 and of Headingley FC from 1935 to 1952.

Although the club’s record was modest for a year or two after the Great War, by the thirties Headingley were one of the most successful sides in the country. Its fixture list came to include some of the strongest sides in the game and the quality of players rose accordingly.

In this period Headingley had eight internationals, six of them appearing concurrently and representing all four Home Unions. Rugby was suspended with the outbreak of war but when peace came four teams were soon being fielded in the traditional green, black and white strip.

In the 1958-9 season the club had three County captains, O Grievson (Yorkshire), J W Collard (Durham), and L F Reid (Cumberland), playing regularly in the first team. That too was the year that wing Peter Thompson got the last of his 17 England caps.

In the sixties the club continued its usual contribution to the county game but it was a period that saw the emergence of two exceptional players and the recognition of two exceptional men. On the playing side Ian McGeechan was promoted from the colts to make his first team debut against Waterloo in 1965. He went on to win 27 caps for Scotland, tour South Africa with the British Lions (playing in all four tests) and during his career captained Headingley, Yorkshire, North Eastern Counties, Scotland, Barbarians and the British Lions. If that were not enough he has gone on to become one of the greatest coaches in the modern game.

John Spencer who made his debut with Headingley in 1966 also went on to captain England in four of his 14 games and to tour with Lions in Australia and New Zealand. Like Ian he has gone on to serve the game at club level, returning to his native Wharfedale, and at National level in various administrative roles.

Of the other two great men, one was Air Marshal Sir Augustus Walker who was elected President of the Rugby Football Union 1965-66 and the other was RMA Kingswell who also held that high Office in 1972-73. He was a formidable and enthusiastic man. He was Captain 36-37, served on the Headingley committee for over 40 years and was President in 1968-9.

Headingley continued to field some fine players and in the ‘80s the club won the Yorkshire Cup no less than six times but as the game progressed with Merit Tables and then Leagues it found it harder to attract and hold those top quality players essential to maintain its high position in the English game.

Probably the finest player to emerge in this period was Peter Winterbottom. He went on to play in New Zealand and South Africa and with Harlequins who he captained. By the time he retired in 1993 he had earned 58 England caps and toured both New Zealand and Australia with the British Lions. His father, John Winterbottom, exemplified all that was best in the Headingley tradition of dedicated service. Joining in 1950, he became Chairman, President in the Centenary Year in 1978 and was involved in the creation of the new Leeds Club after the merger with Roundhay in 1992.

Roundhay: A brief History

Roundhay RUFC was formed in April 1924 following a meeting at the Mansion Hotel where Mr E P Sharman was in the chair. The first secretary was Eric Bleakley who was probably the strongest driving force in the formation and undertook the role for four years. He always was fixture secretary for the first five seasons.

Throughout the 78 year history the club was fortunate to have a succession of men of just the right calibre to continue to move the club forward off the pitch. To mention but a few — Reg Parkinson, John Scholefield, Dick Hunt, Vic Fairbourn, E.J. Loy Wooler, Jack Warrington, Lawrie Turnbull, Gordon Kirk, David Stead, Ronnie Bidgood and John Hopkins. 

Dick Hunt was the first captain and John Scholefield took over a treasurer in the third season and stayed until 1956 a stint  of 30 years. Gordon Kirk then completed the final 36 years during which time the club always made a small profit and was never overdrawn.  Just after the second world  war the role of Chairman of  the General Committee was brought into being. Tubby Hutton undertook this task in the first year, only Lawrie Turnbull, Ron Bidgood and John Hopkins took the role in the next 45 years. 

The move to Chandos Park in 1932 helped to focus the minds on building a stable club which had a reputation for playing fast attractive rugby. Just before the move to Chandos the best season in the first half century was enjoyed at Bracken Edge when the club won 28 of 35 matches scoring 703 points and conceding just 202.  During World War II over half of the players were called up, but despite the difficulties the club kept going. It emerged stronger for the experience and in 1948 Jack Best, a canny full- back, became the first player to represent Yorkshire. Many followed including Dennis Wilkins who also went on to gain the highest honours playing 13 times for England in the period from 1951-1953 playing all the 5-Nations games plus one test against South Africa. The ‘Squire’ as he was known started his rugby career in the ‘B’ side having only played soccer at school. 

As standards improved the 1950-51 season must rank up there with the best as 27 games were won from 33 matches with David Stead kicking 210 points. 1954 saw the side reach the County final for the first time when they lost 17-3 against the Royal Signals at Otley. In 1963 Bev Dovey propped for England against Wales and Ireland whilst at University and after a series of moves round the country returned to Leeds in 1973 where he soon captained the side.

The quality was improving throughout the sixties and seventies and Roger Pullan had two years at the helm before Richard Aspey took the mantle for five seasons. The first County cup win eventually came in 1974 (the golden jubilee year), under Bev’s guidance, after several losing finals, but it only took another five years to regain the trophy.

By then another international Richard Cardus  was captain and Keith Smith, arguably one of the finest players to wear the famous emerald green with red and white hooped shirts, also appeared for the  club, Yorkshire and England with distinction. Keith was one of ten backs in ten seasons that ‘turned’ professional and moved to the rugby league code. Others were Ian Orum, Andy Mason and David Heselwood. In total club players made 97 appearances for the County during the 70’s with others not mentioned so far including Phil Bell, Colin Smith, Geoff Ramskill, Roger Dickinson, Albert Thundercliffe, Simon Tipping and Glen Cooper. 

The club twice topped 1000 points with the best being achieved in 1974-75 when 1066 points were scored with only six losses in 45 matches. In the last game of the 1979-80 season the final touchline conversion was kicked to make 1001 points scored in 43 games.

But for the real ‘statos’ the best return was probably the season before when only 28 games were won but bad weather had reduced the season to only 33 games giving an 85% success ratio. The final totals showed that the 1st XV played 2373 games and won 1402 and rather surprisingly drew 151 (including seven in 1965-66 from 33 matches). A success rate over the history of just short of 60%.

The last home league match was against Richmond on 11th April 1992. The last try scored for the club was by captain and lock Glyn Thompson at Clifton and he then scored the first try for Leeds in the inaugural game against Hull lonians at Kirkstall. 

It must not be forgotten that the club was more than just the 1st XV with the Trojans, the Foxes, the Rams and Baxter’s All Stars all adding to the wonderful spirit enjoyed at Chandos. For the biggest part of its existence 5 senior teams were run plus a Colts and for quite a number of years a junior section flourished.

Leeds RUFC: A brief History

The origins of the formation process of Leeds RUFC go back to a letter sent by John Winterbottom, the Secretary of Headingley FC to Trevor Richmond of Morley RFC and John Hopkins, Chairman of Roundhay RUFC.

This culminated in a meeting at the Hilton Hotel on Duncan Street in Leeds where Roundhay were represented by John Hopkins, Mike Bidgood and Harry McMaw. The concept of the three clubs merging to form one much larger club was the only topic on the agenda.

The members of Roundhay left the meeting believing that the idea certainly had merit but were uneasy at the intentions of all. The concept of a club bearing the city name appealed and Mike Bidgood spoke to John Winterbottom and a few days later a company was formed called LEEDS RUGBY UNION FOOTBALL CLUB LTD on 6th June 1991 with the two as directors.

After further meeting during which time the three clubs consulted their members Morley withdrew from the discussions when it became apparent that the concept of selling the grounds of all three clubs and starting afresh was not acceptable to their members who would wish any merged club to be based at Scatcherd Lane.

Discussions were progressing smoothly when the RFU announced in February 1992 that the leagues were going to be re-organised at the end of the 1992- 93 season. This precipitated a decision that the merger should take place sooner rather than later. Roundhay had just beaten Headingley at Chandos and the clubs finished the season level on points.

The merger took place on 5th July 1992 and during the summer daily meetings took place between Mike Palmer- Jones, Mike Bidgood, John Hopkins and John Winterbottom to sort the detail. The first game played at Kirkstall between Leeds RUFC and Hull lonians on 1st September 1992.

In an interesting touch of equality the starting XV included five from Roundhay and five from Headingley plus five new recruits. Glynn Thompson scored the first try and Dan Eddie came off the bench on his 21st birthday. The club enjoyed a slow start but recovered well but missed out by a point on the quest to be in the new 10 team National League Three where home and away fixtures would be played between participants for the first time.

Promotion was eventually achieved and in May 1995 published a “Five year plan” that contained a very ambitious mission statement “To be in a position to make a challenge for the 1st Division in the year 2000” (on 1st January 2000 Leeds were top of National One). Late that year, in November the club agreed to sell Kirkstall to Morrisons Supermarkets and signed a five year lease to play at Headingley Stadium with the ‘old board’ of Leeds Cricket Football and Athletic Company Ltd from the start of the 1996-97 season.

Professionalism was introduced and Leeds had recruited Colin Stephens as their first Youth Development Officer. A pivotal signing was Phil Davies who was appointed Director of Rugby and commenced in post on 1st June 1996. The club moved to Headingley Stadium and played a friendly against Swansea on 17th August 1996. Crowds were sparse to say the least in the early days, but in a surprise move Paul Caddick bought Leeds CF & A Ltd including Headingley Stadium on 29th October 1996. On the field the team was promoted at the second attempt in Phil Davies reign with some record breaking performances. Back to back home wins against Redruth in the cup and then the league by 96-0 and then 84-24 were memorable.

Off the field Leeds RUFC and Paul Caddick entered into a joint venture arrangement to trade as Leeds RUFC Ltd on 1st December 1997 taking over the company formed in June 1991. Leeds Rugby Union adopted the brand name of Leeds Tykes in July 1998 and continued to attract better players but all this was at a cost. The funds from the sale of Kirkstall had been largely used and the joint venture arrangement between Leeds RUFC and Leeds RUFC Ltd and Paul Caddick was terminated by mutual agreement on 8th January 2001 as the club strove for promotion to the top level. Leeds Tykes were promoted to the Zurich Premiership on 1st July 2001. Crowds had started to watch the higher quality fare on the pitch and friendly games against Fiji and Tonga helped as well as two huge matches against Rotherham and one against Worcester when we averaged over 5000 in those matches. 

During the period 1992-1998 130 players made their debuts for the club and 7 of these played full international rugby during their careers.

Leeds RUFC player debuts 1992-1998

Leeds Tykes: A brief History

Leeds Tykes were part of a historic world first dual code rugby partnership alongside sister club Leeds Rhinos that ran from 1998 to 2007. It was the first time that one business had owned both a professional Rugby League and Rugby Union club with the sides using joint training facilities at Kirkstall and playing out of Headingley Stadium. 

The Tykes gained promotion to the top flight for the first time in 2001 from National Division One and established themselves as a force in the Premiership with a number of strong performances, including defeating Bath at Headingley in the first ever Premiership game at the stadium. 

This was the highlight of the club's history so far with Leeds Tykes enjoying success on and off the field. The first team twice qualified for the Heineken Cup, the first time thanks to a fifth place finish in the Premiership in the 2002-03 season and then in 2005-06 after winning the Powergen Cup at Twickenham. 

That 2005 Final is a day that will live long in the memory of Rugby Union fans in Yorkshire as South African international Andre Snyman and centre Chris Bell set Leeds on their way to victory over Bath at the home of English Rugby Union before Scottish international Gordon Ross made sure the Cup was heading back up the M1 with a man of the match performance.

That 2005 Final is a day that will live long in the memory of Rugby Union fans in Yorkshire as South African international Andre Snyman and centre Chris Bell set Leeds on their way to victory over Bath at the home of English Rugby Union before Scottish international Gordon Ross made sure the Cup was heading back up the M1 with a man of the match performance.

The clubs academy was established during this period under the leadership of former player and future England boss Stuart Lancaster. A host of future stars would emerge of the years including the likes of Danny Care, Luther Burrell, Paul Hill, Jack Walker and Lewis Boyce. The clubs first ever England international was our first star graduate from the Academy, Tom Palmer, when the second rower was capped against the USA in 2001.

After five consecutive seasons in the top flight, Leeds were relegated in 2006 and Phil Davies long association as Director of Rugby came to an end. Stuart Lancaster took over and immediately plotted a return to the Premiership the following year which brought about a change of ownership once again.

During the period 1998-2007 156 players made their debuts for the club and 67 of these played full international rugby during their careers.

Leeds Tykes player debuts 1998-2007

Leeds Carnegie: A brief History

Following the Championship winning campaign of 2006-07, it was announced that Leeds Beckett University had entered into a joint venture with the club and taken a majority stake in Leeds Tykes, with the club renamed Leeds Carnegie for their return to the Premiership Rugby competition. The change of ownership was seen as a ground breaking arrangement in British sport with an educational institution taking over ownership of a professional sporting organisation.

The team enjoyed success in the Premiership under the coaching duo of Neil Back and Andy Key and, against the odds, stayed up the following season, defeating Worcester Warriors at Headingley in the crucial deciding game to condemn the Warriors to relegation. Despite a massive increase in spending the following year, Carnegie were unable to retain their Premiership status with a heart breaking defeat at Northampton on the final day of the season when they were relegated by a single league point. 

In May 2009 it was announced that, following promotion back to the Premiership Rugby competition that the club was re-structuring with Leeds Rugby taking control of the club once again.

In order to attract further financial support for the club, Leeds Beckett returned its 51% stake in the club to Leeds Rugby and agreed a revised strategic partnership arrangement, which included sponsorship.

The name Carnegie comes from the Scottish entrepreneur and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie whose Carnegie Trust funded the establishment of a PE teaching training college in 1930s. Carnegie College is now the Carnegie Faculty of Sport and Education within Leeds Metropolitan University.

During the period 2007-2014 127 players made their debuts for the club and 29 of these played full international rugby during their careers.

Leeds Carnegie player debuts 2007-2014

Yorkshire Carnegie: A brief History

On 9th July 2014 following support from the Yorkshire RFU and approval from the RFU, Sir Ian McGeechan revealed plans to create Yorkshire Carnegie from the start point of Leeds Carnegie and put in place the foundations to create a sustainable and successful club for the county at the elite level of the game.

Commenting on the launch, Sir Ian McGeechan said, "Our vision remains to produce and sustain a Premiership team in Yorkshire, based on Yorkshire talent with Yorkshire support."

Yorkshire has long been associated with the success at the elite level of the game of Rugby Union. One in seven of all English born, full internationals for England were born in Yorkshire.

Despite narrowly losing a two-legged play-off against London Irish, ultimately the ambitions sadly went unrealised leading to the club overcommitting resources ahead of the 2019-20 season. The club went through a CVA and started that season with a decimated squad and were relegated to National One with winning a single game. The onset of Covid-19 shortened the pain.

Phil Davies returned in January 2020 to start the re-building process that would lead to the next chapter.

During the period 2014-2020 166 players made their debuts for the club and 9 of these played full international rugby during their careers.

Yorkshire Carnegie player debuts 2014-2020

Leeds Tykes: The Story Continues