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The rugby internationals of Bramley

By Paul Abraham

Just as Bramley’s long history up to 1999 is not littered with cup finals and trophies won the club has not often been in the forefront when representative honours are being distributed.  

No player has yet represented Great Britain in a test match while on the Bramley books, and only one player has won a place in an England side since the club joined the Northern Union (Rugby League) in 1896-97.

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Curiously enough as a Rugby Union club Bramley had its share of players honoured at the highest levels and had it not followed its northern brethren into the paid ranks of the Rugby League Bramley may well have been one of today’s foremost Union clubs.

The club’s first celebrity and international was a forward – as indeed have all the club’s internationals have been. This was Charlie Mathers, who had the distinction of being a member of the first international rugby touring team which went out to Australia and New Zealand in 1888. The tour lasted a mere eight months!

No tests or international matches were played but Charlie remains the only Bramley player to tour Australasia, albeit as a Union player.  Mathers was also the first player from the club to represent Yorkshire at Union, making his debut on February 14, 1885 as the Tykes defeated Cheshire at Wakefield by a goal and three tries to two. Charlie played six times for the county while with Bramley and a further seven in 1887-88 after joining the Leeds St John’s club.

Two Bramley players represented England under Rugby Union Laws. The first was Harry Bradshaw, a sterling forward, described by a contemporary critic as “a thorough bulldog in determination, and a glutton for work”.  

Bradshaw first played for England on March 5 1892 when a 5-0 victory was obtained over Scotland in Edinburgh. In all he received seven caps between 1892 and 1894, scoring tries against Ireland (1893) and Wales (1894). He played in the solitary Rugby Union International to be played at Headingley when Scotland defeated England 8-0 on March 4, 1893. In addition to his England caps Bradshaw won 28 for Yorkshire under Union auspices (1891-1895) in the days when Yorkshire were undisputed champion county.

The other Bramley man to attain England status was policeman W. (Bobby) Whiteley, another forward who won his cap in 1895-96, Bramley’s last season as a Union club. Whiteley was a member of the England side that overwhelmed Wales 25-0 at Blackheath on January 4, 1896.

Lou Marshall, who joined the Villagers from Leeds in February 1919 in exchange for winger Squire Stockwell (later a Test player), holds the unique distinction of winning an international RL cap while with Bramley.  Marshall played loose-forward for England when they were defeated 13-2 by Wales at Wigan on February 7th, 1923.  Among his team-mates that day were “ immortals “ such as Harold Wagstaff, Jonty Parkin and Billy Batten.

Historical Note

In 1879 – when Bramley were formed by the Rev Cope – there was just one rugby code (Rugby Union) this continued to be the case until 1895 when a number of clubs felt they had suffered enough of the control of the southern gentry and formed their own Northern Rugby Union and split from the Rugby Football Union. Bramley, being cautious, stayed with the RFU before joining the NRU in 1896.  

The NRU changed its name to the Rugby Football League in 1922, which incidentally was the year that Bramley RUFC – based at the Warrels – were founded and are now known as Bramley Phoenix RUFC.

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