The Self-Isolation Chronicles: Hunslet

1. One of their ex-players has featured on the big screens from Flash Gordon to Dracula.

Ted Carroll had played Rugby League for the first time while serving in the British Army as with the Desert Rats during World War 2, although he had played for Castleford RU. One of the fellow soldiers, Harry Thompson, had a brother called Bill who played for Hunslet. Harry had been a professional boxer, before the war, and he saw Ted’s potential in the game. He pointed Hunslet towards his abilities, once the war was over, and he featured for them between 1948 and 1949, being part of the Challenge Cup semi-finalists who were defeated by Bradford Northern in his first season. Carroll became known for his heavily misshapen nose, which he had broken several times, but that didn’t stop him from becoming a star of TV, film and theatre. Carroll went on to feature in Emmerdale, The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Coronation Street, Kes, Dracula and even Flash Gordon. He also ran the Rose and Crown pub in Ilkley alongside his minor parts on screen.

2. One of their most legendary figures famously said he was a better rugby player than Leonardo da Vinci.

Alf Burnell, affectionately known by club supporters as “Ginger,” was part of the Hunslet team between 1939 and 1958, emerging as one of the sport’s outstanding half-backs in the immediate Post War period. Burnell, who also served as a submariner in World War 2, played 351 games for the club and helped Yorkshire win the County Championship in 1946, as well as featuring for England and Great Britain. Clearly, as an expansive half-back, he had the creative flair and that transferred directly onto the canvas, as he was also a gifted artist. An armchair critic once quipped: “You’re no Leonardo da Vinci,” to Burnell who replied by saying: “Happen not, but I was a sight better bloody scrum-half than he was.” He later used his artistic skills to raise money for local charities and ran three pubs in Leeds: the Red House, the Drysalters and the Spotted Cow. He died in August last year, aged 95.

3. They had the first reported black athlete to compete in Rugby League.

And the first American to play the 13-man code professionally, as well. Lucius Banks was born in Virginia, USA in the 1880s and served in the U.S. Cavalry, excelling in cricket and American Football. One of the Hunslet directors spotted Banks playing American Football in New York and bought him out of the US Army, as they thought he would draw attention and spectators to the club. His first game came against York, in January 1912, and he scored four tries in his first four games. Much of the newspaper coverage at the time was not supportive of his partaking in the sport but Banks remained undeterred, staying with the club until December 1912 before returning to USA. He went on to serve in the First World War, in France, and then joined the Boston Police Department after he returned home once again.

4. One of their former players was born in Windsor Castle.

John Culley played for the club between 1901 and 1906 and has the unusual accolade of being born in the royal residence. His father, also named John, served in the Household Cavalry and protected the royal family for over three decades. He later retired to Hunslet and became a travelling salesman, paving the way for John to play Rugby League for Hunslet. Culley’s own grandson, Brian, would also play for the club after signing on in 1954 and featuring for a number of years in the forward pack. A junior sevens tournament in Hunslet was later known as the John Culley Sevens in his honour.

5. Jason Robinson turned down Leeds for Hunslet.

As a schoolboy, Robinson broke onto the scene with Hunslet Boys Club in the Leeds area, before playing for Hunslet Parkside and then Hunslet Hawks, in 1991. He was famously offered a contract by Leeds but turned it down due to personal circumstances. He would not receive another offer from the club, after he rebuffed their initial proposal, and joined Wigan Warriors in 1992. He quickly established himself as one of Super League’s most clinical finishers before joining Sale Sharks in 2000, following a rugby union switch with Bath in 1996. He would reciprocate his form in the 15-man code, being part of the 2003 World Cup-winning squad at the peak of his powers. He initially retired in 2007 but came out of retirement in 2010 to play three games for Fylde. Robinson later had a brief stint as head coach of Sale, between 2010 and 2011, and returned to Rugby League last year by becoming Joint Operations Manager of Jamaica Rugby League. How different that all may have been if he signed on the dotted line for Leeds, we wonder.