Championship Focus: History and culture hold sway at Batley Bulldogs

It’s not unusual for coaches to tap into the history and heritage of their club as they try to motivate players.

Matt Peet did exactly that before Wigan Warriors extended their record tally of Challenge Cup triumphs to 20 at the expense of Huddersfield Giants in May.

But few coaches can have been as invested in that area as Batley Bulldogs’ Craig Lingard.

For not only is the former Batley player and assistant coach, who has been at the helm since September 2019 closing in on a second successive Championship play-off appearance for the Yorkshire side, who got within a win of making last season’s Million Pound Game.

But the 44-year-old one-time fullback, who is the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium (aka Mount Pleasant) club’s all-time top try-scorer with 142 (in 205 games) between 1998 and 2008, has also been at the heart of the Batley Bulldogs heritage project, which attempts to list every player who has ever worn the shirt, along with their debut match and unique number.

The club’s ‘Roll of Honour’ goes right back to 1895, when Batley were among the 22 founder members of the Northern Union, playing at their current ground with its famous slope and winning the first two Challenge Cups (against St Helens in 1896/97 and Bradford, who later became Bradford Park Avenue Football Club, in 1897/98).

At the moment, it is made up of 1,755 names, starting with Tom Elliker and the other 14 who faced Hull at home on September 7, 1895 – 13-a-side wasn’t introduced until 1906 – and ending with Oli Field, along with fellow on-loan Leeds Rhinos youngster Levi Edwards, the last of the eleven who played for Batley for the first time in 2021 (in their case, when Toulouse Olympique visited on July 11).

The list, which of course includes Lingard (heritage number 1,455, debut at home to Doncaster on July 26, 1998) will not only be updated at the end of each season, but also amended should any fresh details of players gone by come to light.

“We have worked hard to ensure the list is as correct as it can be, but given the sheer volume of players and the lack of club records, it’s impossible to say we are 100 percent accurate,” explained Lingard, who along with John Roe and his wife Sue, Ken Pearson and Terry Swift, started work on the project five years ago, when he was coach at Keighley Cougars (having previously been John Kear’s right-hand man at Batley).

“For instance, there were cases of names being similar, and we couldn’t be certain whether one was a misspelling or whether they were actually different people.

“Also, sometimes only surnames were used in historical lists and newspaper reports, so there have been issues over whether it was the same player, given the surname might have been a common one, or there were brothers or cousins in the side.

“There are also instances in which people have played under pseudonyms, such as AN Other, and while we have done our best to establish who they were, there is always the chance of being incorrect.

“It could be that there are relatives or people with documents who can provide us with further information, and we’d be more than happy to hear from them so we can make any changes, because we want the roll of honour to be as correct as it possibly can be.”

Lingard and his colleagues have spent many hours going through documents held within the Rugby League archive at Heritage Quay at the University of Huddersfield as well as electoral registers, old newspapers and private records kept by supporters and the game’s historians.

“It’s taken us longer than we originally planned due to the pandemic, because there were times when we couldn’t get to the places where the various records are, but we’ve just kept plugging away,” he added.

“It’s been a big team effort, but a labour of love, and I think it’s something to be really proud of.

“I’m into history in general, and particularly that of Rugby League and especially Batley.

“I actually come from Wakefield, and was in the development system at Sheffield Eagles before returning to my home club Sharlston Rovers.

“When I first walked through the door at Batley back in 1998, I didn’t think I would have the association with the club that I’ve built up over the years. It’s been a big part of my life.

“It’s a special club, not just for me, and I think that’s been reflected in the response to this project.

“We’re issuing heritage certificates, and hopefully that will help reconnect us with past players, and the relatives of those who are no longer with us.”

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