Almost three decades since one of York Rugby League Club’s most prominent teams were last united in action, Les Sheard, skipper of the team that headed the likes of Wigan and cash-rich Fulham, tells PETER MARTINI the survivors will get together again this year.
IT’S been 28 years since they were last together, but one of York rugby league’s greatest teams are to finally unite once more.
The York team that famously lifted the old Division Two title in 1980-81, topping big-guns Wigan and big-spending Fulham on the way, slowly began to go their separate ways soon after the glorious trophy tilt.
But they are now set to stage a one-off reunion at Huntington Stadium this summer, and on a fitting occasion, too, when York City Knights host Hunslet – the team York beat 53-7 to guarantee themselves the title with two games to spare.
It is all the idea of a key man in that title triumph, captain Les Sheard, with the help of star loose-forward back then, Paul McDermott.
Sheard, who spent most of his career with home-town club Wakefield, had only that one year with York, but, in his own words, it was an unforgettable season.
He then left to coach and “play a bit” at Huddersfield after deciding his 36-year-old legs would not have been up to a season in the top-flight, but soon left the game completely after taking up a teaching post in Devon, where he still lives.
McDermott, though, still lives in the York area and still has strong links with rugby league in the city, as director of coaching of the York Lokomotive amateur team who play in the summer season.
Sheard – who scored 11 tries from 31 appearances at centre – and his fellow organisers are trying to get all 33 surviving members of that squad together again.
A total of 35 played in that season under Bill Kirkbride, though Alan Maskill and second-rower Brian Adams have since passed away.
Families and any backroom staff will also be welcome, with one notable attendee being centre Tony Redford, who is flying all the way from his home in South Africa for the occasion.
Sheard said: “We’re trying to get all the players together again. It’s a bit of a one-off. We’ve got in touch with many of them but some we haven’t yet.
“There were a lot of lads who contributed to the success, and it will be nice to get that team back together.”
Of his time at Clarence Street, Sheard added: “We had a tremendous season.
“I think some of the players had bets on us at the start of the campaign. We were something like 60-1 to win it.
“We had Wigan below us and a heavily-promoted Fulham side, who had vast funds put into them, plus other clubs who many thought should have been better than us.
“We just had a really well-balanced side. It was a really confident side that always seemed to play to its ability.
“We went to (First Division side) Hull, who were at the beginning of their resurgence, in the John Player Cup.
“It was a big crowd (11,129) and we outscored them on tries only to lose 11-10 on goal kicks.
“We’d beaten Oldham, another First Division side, in the first round in front of a big crowd at Clarence Street (5,514).
“The club lost Clarence Street a while back. It was a wonderful ground, right in the centre of town. I really enjoyed it. What an atmosphere there was.
“They were a great bunch of people. It’s amazing what you can achieve when you’ve got a really good team spirit.”
As for his move to Huddersfield, he added: “I didn’t have the legs to go back into the First Division. I played a few games with Huddersfield but I was losing pace at a great rate of knots.”
Eighteen months later, he left for Devon.
“I still watch the game on television when I can, but that was really it for me and rugby league,” he lamented.
“This (reunion) is something I felt we ought to do but we’ve never been together again since then.”
McDermott scored 23 tries in 30 appearances that year, but was topped by free-scoring stand-off Johnny Crossley, who racked up 35 tries in 33 games – still a York record – including four in that defeat of Hunslet in front of 4,500 at Clarence Street.
That old ground also crammed in 7,300 to witness a 15-10 win over moneybags Fulham.
Sheard said: “I always felt York were a club that, given the right amount of promotion, could have been one of the forerunners in rugby league, but it’s never really occurred.
“It seems the horns were never grasped somewhere along the line. There’s good amateur rugby league in York. It’s amazing the club has never taken off more than it has. Hopefully the current club can do that at some point.”
The Knights’ Championship One match against Hunslet is on Sunday, July 26.