THE GOLDEN YEARS
1895 - 1914
The Rugby Football Union had now been in existence for over 20 years, and in that time had made a tremendous impact on rugby football. In 1877 the number of players per side had been reduced to 15, and this, more than anything, had contributed towards the increased speed of the game, which had changed from an often long drawn out battle of forwards, to one in which there was much running and passing. The game we know today had begun to take shape. It was now played under the control of independent referees, who were answerable to the various County Unions which had been formed.
The average number of spectators at Sandylands on Saturdays would be between 100 and 200, depending on the opponents,"Needle" matches against local teams like Otley and Keighley, Skipton's nearest rivals would attract numbers in excess of these figures, as did the fixtures against Bradford, which was considered the best fixture the Club had. A modest open air grand stand had been erected on the west side of the field, to accommodate spectators, and a charge of 3d was made for admission, plus 3d extra on the grandstand.
Rugby in Yorkshire was progressing into a highly entertaining method of spending Saturday afternoon, and other teams were attracting similar numbers of spectators, some of the leading Clubs many more. Storm clouds were gathering in Yorkshire and Lancashire, and in 1893 the "broken time" dispute began to come to a head. Time off work to play rugby in the Industrial towns of Northern England, meant that already meagre pay packets were hit even harder, and some clubs were faced with claims from players for compensation to cover this loss. At the Annual General Meeting of the Rugby Football Union in 1893, it was proposed that Clubs be permitted to pay compensation for bona fide loss of time. The motion was defeated, but there was a surprising amount of support for the motion, which was defeated because the R.F.U. was anxious to retain the amateur status of Rugby Football, and saw this as the beginning of players paid on a professional basis. The support for the motion gave hope to the supporters of the "broken time" clause who continued to meet informally, and finally in 1895 a total of 22 Clubs in Yorkshire and Lancashire withdrew from the Rugby Football Union to form the Northern Union. The same rules of play were kept, the only difference being that payment was permitted for bona fide loss of time. Many of the leading Clubs in Yorkshire turned to the Northern Union, Skipton chose to remain true to the amateur code, and entered a remarkably successful period, probably the most successful in its history.
The Club entered this period with an excellent team, under the Captaincy of W. (Bill) Cartman, a noted all round sportsman, who also played cricket for Yorkshire. He was never capped for Yorkshire at rugby football, but his presence in the pack, and his robust play inspired his fellow players. The Club had an energetic Committee, Waiter Morrison M.P. being President, J. Newby was the Club Secretary having held the post since 1888, and he was to continue in that position until 1902. So began a period of stability, and though fixtures within reasonable travelling distance were hard to come by in view of the withdrawal of so many Yorkshire Clubs from the Rugby Union, Skipton was able to retain a full fixture list, and to take advantage of the situation which the formation of the Northern Union had created.
One other member of the Club who must be mentioned is William Greenwood, who took over the post of treasurer of the Club in 1899, to hold that post until 1908. Apart from his keen interest in the Skipton Club, "Billy's" interest went further afield in Yorkshire rugby and he was elected on to the Committee of the Yorkshire Rugby Union in 1901. He remained a member of the Union for many years, holding the posts of Junior and Senior Vice Presidents from 1910 to 1919, and finally the position of President in 1920-22.
First official recognition of the playing status of the Club came in 1897 when Robert Little was chosen to represent Yorkshire in a match against Westmorland. Many more Skipton players, 25 in all, were to follow during the next 17 years up to World War 1, many of them appearing several times. Four of them were to Captain the County side on occasions. G. P. Ackroyd in 1900, John Green, the Skipton Captain in 1903-06,
W. Knox in 1904-06 and R. (Bob) Duckett 1906-07.
International honours were bestowed on two Skipton players, in John Knox who represented Scotland in 1903, and who was also connected with the Glasgow Club, Kelvinside Academicals. John Green was capped on eight occasions for England between 1905-07. John was a forward of note, being particularly outstanding in his line out play due to his stature, he was also later President of the Ilkley Club for many years.
Another Skipton player of almost International status was F. Longthorne, who was an England trialist in 1905-06. Fred Bonsor, the Bradford International also played on occasions for the Skipton team in the 1890s, and still retained his interest in the Club often appearing in the stand as a spectator in later years.
Football in Skipton, meant, Rugby Football, though an Association Club had been formed in the town in 1899, known as Skipton Rangers Football Club, with a ground quite close to Sandylands on Ings Lane. Other Association Football Clubs began to spring up around the turn of the Century, and in 1904, an Association Football team was begun by Skipton Football Club in addition to the rugby team. The two teams, each with its own Captain and Vice Captain were run by one Committee, until 1908 when a separate Association Football Committee was formed within the Club. This heralded the parting of the ways, and the two Committees and teams split up.
Skipton Football Club were to retain the name for a few more years, before finally adopting the name Skipton Rugby Football Club in 1920 to differentiate from the number of Association Football clubs which continued to grow under the Craven and District Amateur Football League.
The Skipton team also appeared five times in the final of the Yorkshire Challenge Cup or "T'owd Tin Pot" as it is affectionately known, between 1903 and 1912. The first appearance against Castleford in the 1902-03 Season, was not the happiest of clashes leading to a storm of controversy. The final played at Harrogate on 18th April, 1903, was a drawn game, the replay scheduled a week later at Belle Vue, Wakefield. The controversy arose when Castleford decided to play J. T. Taylor, an International three quarter back from West Hartlepool in the replay. A written protest was handed to the referee by Alec Ross the Skipton Captain, before the kick off, stating that they did not consider Taylor to be a bona fide member of the Castleford Club, within the rules of the Competition. The match, however, was played, the Castleford side including Taylor, who scored the winning tries, Skipton being beaten 6 points to nil. The Cup was presented to the Castleford Captain after the match, and Ross in his reply speech, stated that he did not consider Skipton had been beaten by a representative Castleford side. Nor apparently did the Yorkshire Committee who met the following Monday, and unanimously decided that Taylor was not a bona fide member of the Castleford Club, and ordered the match to be replayed. Castleford refused to replay the match, on the grounds that they considered the trophy had been fairly won. The Yorkshire Committee was unmoved and unanimously decided the Cup should be awarded to Skipton. There remained some, controversy about Castleford having had the Cup inscribed, and when it finally arrived at Skipton, it was found to contain 15 dumb tits, presumably the last derisive fling by the Castleford side who felt they had been unjustly deprived of the trophy.
Castleford were to have their revenge however, when the two Clubs met again in the final in April, 1908 when they beat Skipton 29 points to nill. The bitterness about the incident remained, and for many years afterwards, the fixture against Castleford "was always a bloodbath", as an older member describes it. Happily time heals all, and the Clubs now meet in friendly rivalry in the true spirit of the game.
Skipton won the Yorkshire Cup in the 1903-04 Season, when they beat Mytholmroyd by 3 points to nil, in the final played at Harrogate in April, 1904.
Skipton were to be involved in another unfortunate controversy when they played Headingley in the final in April, 1909, at Ilkley. There was no score up to five minutes before half time, when the ball was touched down for Headingley by Dobson. It was alleged by the Skipton Captain Bob Duckett that the ball had been over the dead ball line when it was touched down, and Duckett pointed this out to the referee, Mr. R. C. Bell. Mr. Bell apparently did not take any notice, saying, "I shall give a try here" , it was said that he then added that if the decision did not suit the Skipton Captain he could leave the field. The upshot was that in the excitement of the moment, Duckett did just that, and led his team off the field. The referee signalled that the match was over, and there were wild scenes as spectators invaded the pitch. Mr. Bell having to be escorted from the field by the police. The controversy continued to rage in Yorkshire Rugby circles. It was considered unsportsmanlike of the Skipton team to leave the field, and the incident was regretted by all, probably most of all by Duckett himself, who in leading his team from the field, had destroyed any chance of Skipton winning the match in the second half, when the wind and slope would have been in their favour. The Yorkshire Committee awarded the Cup to Headingley, and considered banning Skipton, from future competitions. They decided, however, that there had been a little unfairness towards Skipton, who had to change at a public house 1/2 mile from the field, and that the referee had cautioned the Skipton players before the kick off, whilst saying nothing to the Headingley team. These had the fact that a Skipton Player, Horner had been sent off without a prior caution, had all contributed to a feeling by the Skipton side that they were being discriminated against in favour of Headingley, and the final regrettable remark by the referee had been the "last straw" as it were.
Skipton did not reach the final in the next two seasons, but met Otley in the final in April, 1912 again at Ilkley. This time Skipton won the match 7 points to nil, and the Yorkshire Cup came to Craven for the third time in 10 years. Up to this time, a trophy of a silver rugby ball had been presented to the runner up in the Cup Final. To mark Skipton having won the Cup on three occasions the first team ever to do so, the silver football trophy was presented to Skipton outright. The Captain on this occasion was C. (Kit) Tosney, who was later an England International Trialist in 1920, and was capped for Yorkshire a total of 31 times between 1908 and 1920.
In all their appearances in the final of the Yorkshire Cup Skipton were very well supported by Skiptonions who travelled to the final wherever it was on Special Excursion trains. The return of the team was always greeted with wild enthusiasm, and on the occasions when the team was triumphant, they were met at the railway station by the local brass band, who preceded them on a tour round the principal streets to the Town Hall where they were welcomed by Civic Dignitaries. The evenings were usually rounded off by celebrations at the Club's Headquarters.
The silver football was a much prized possession of the Club, it was valued then at £50, and during the year was kept at the Grammar School, being brought to Social Functions occasionally. The very shape of the trophy was sufficient to suggest a "game" and on the occasions when high spirits prevailed, the Club was faced with minor bills for repairs to it. It remained in the possession of the Club until 1948 when the Committee decided that it should be returned to the Yorkshire R.F.U. to again be awarded as runner up trophy in the Challenge Cup Final. Ironically Skipton became first holders when they were defeated by Harrogate in the final held April, 1949.
The Club still had the wanderlust, its headquarters being moved from the Brick Hall Hotel to the Ship in 1902 and to the Midland Hotel in 1904. This latter move brought some improvement to the changing accommodation, rooms above the stables at the back being used, and bathing done in a stone horse drinking trough in the yard. The Midland was also better situated in relation to the field being about 300 yards from it, and opposite the railway station. The headquarters moved again in 1907 to the Unicorn Hotel, and back to the Ship in 1908, but changing was still done at the Midland. These constant changes do not appear to have had any detrimental effect on the Club, the reasons for them are unknown.
The Club continued to improve both the playing and spectator facilities at the ground. County Championship matches had been played at Sandylands since 1902, Skipton occupying an ideal position in the North West of the County for matches against Cumberland, Westmorland and Durham.