Bernard Shooman's photograph of Wilf Rosenberg's try for Leeds Rl in the Championship semi-final against St Helens, 1961
Name: Bernard Shooman's photograph of Wilf Rosenberg's try for Leeds Rl in the Championship semi-final against St Helens, 1961
Description: Bernard Shooman's photograph of Wilf Rosenberg's try for Leeds Rl in the Championship semi-final against St Helens, 1961
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Contributor: Bernard Shooman, West Yorkshire Archive Service
Rights: Bernard Shooman, West Yorkshire Archive Service
Bernard is a former rugby league referee and player, and life-long Leeds supporter. He now sits on several committees that advise the Rugby Football League.

As part of the 50th anniversary celebrations of Leeds' first Championship win, the Sporting Heroes project were able to interview Bernard twice at Headingley Stadium on 7th April 2011. Please see the recording and transcript below for both of these interviews:

For someone who was still on the terraces, I imagine it was an exact reverse of that.

Yeah I guess so because it was so long in coming. Everybody thought ‘well, we’ve beaten St Helens, we’ve had all the luck we’re going to get this year – can we do it against Warrington?’ I remember as if it was yesterday the fact that Wallis Daniels were booked up and when I went down, no more coaches, so I had to go by Heepsie’s. Anybody remember Heepsie’s?

[Laughing]

So we went with them and going to the match…before the match certainly we were full of trepidation ‘cause everybody was absolutely on edge – Can we do it? Can we do it?

Such a good team Warrington [Wigan], such a good team and in the event it was very much an anti-climax ‘cause Leeds never looked in any danger at any stage of the match were we losing. Because Derek’s [Hallas] mentioned quite rightly the size of the Leeds pack and the Warrington [Wigan] pack but another thing about the Leeds pack, which people realise – not only were they wriggly but very, very mobile. Two of the pack used to be centres and can still gallop a fair bit. Brian Shaw had a unique position of being a proper Leeds ???, worked his way forward and he was a big lad. He could gallop. I think the foundation for that one was largely due to the fact that Leeds had this big, mobile back who tackled Warrington [Wigan] off the pitch.

I mentioned to Derek, at what stage do you think you’re on the verge of something? As a fan you’re never really sure and even today you know the weekly rounds are only taking you somewhere for another journey to begin. At what stage in the ‘60/’61 season did you think we really do have a great team here?

I think it grew gradually. They had some very good results and I think the main thing that was keeping Leeds out of the limelight was the fact that they were prone to be a little bit short in the tackling stakes. But that season they seemed to get a bit of grit and determination, and a bit of backing each other up and the defence was very, very good that season. That gave us a little bit of added confidence I think.

You said in the game itself, the final was a little bit of an anti-climax. Just talking a little bit again about the semi-final ‘cause that’s another game that’s gone down in folklore here at Headingley. We listened to Derek talk about Wilf Rosenberg’s try. Was that the opposite of that? Was that one of those occasions you’ll never forget, being in the Headingley crowd that night?

Because of the fact that although they were in command for most of the match, they weren’t comfortably in command. There was always a thought that well if the Voll [Tom van Vollenhoven] gets the ball and does one of his specials, it could be a different story. But again Leeds put on a really good show that night. I think of the bonuses that must have been on that night, Derek.

[Laughing]

What was it? Three pound fifteen?

[Laughing]

I’ve actually got a picture there of Wilf Rosenberg starting his run for that try and he’s going round the outside of Mick Sullivan. Lewis Jones’ head’s just behind Mick Sullivan and Barry Simms is backing up in the middle. That was a unique try. I don’t think anybody will ever forget that try because it was in the Yorkshire Evening Post and the Yorkshire Evening News, both from slightly different angles. But again, a never-to-be-forgotten try.

And we sort-of know how the media are going to react to Leeds getting to Old Trafford. There’s going to be that week leading up to the game where the excitement rises and the players are going out and about, the intensity increases and the nerves start to jangle. Was it like that in ’61 as well?

Yep, yep.

The press got behind them? Every night you were eagerly looking at the two papers?

I think it was John Bapty who was at the Yorkshire Evening Post. He did a column and as it got near the weekend, it got a few more inches. I think he must have had the editor’s arm up his back. Yeah, good coverage. Nothing like the coverage you get now ‘cause the dailies were absolutely bereft at printing anything about rugby league. It was a naughty word.

Same again now then. So, you’re at Odsal. The team are playing to a standard perhaps not anticipated beforehand. At what stage did you know that your team had won?

I think after about quarter of an hour. I was really keyed up at the start. I went for about three wees in the first quarter of an hour before the match.

[Laughing]

Then the teams came out and there was a bit of toing and froing for a few minutes. Then everything that happened, Leeds were doing better clearly than Warrington [Wigan]. They were tackling better. They were taking the ball up better. They looked smarter and sharper in everything they did. They looked better coached. Warrington [Wigan] looked very, very nervous and my anxieties before the match started to erode after about ten minutes, quarter of an hour. By half time, we thought we can’t see anything happening here.

There are some stories, some of which may be apocryphal, that when the final whistle went, grown men wept, couldn’t leave their spot that finally this club had delivered. Were you one of those? Did you witness any of that?

No, I just got a smile from ???

And did you mob anybody as they made their way up that long walk back to the dressing room?

I was right at the far side of the ground, just couldn’t get through. Another thing I remember about that match, actually, that we thought there were a lot more Leeds supporters there than Warrington [Wigan]. As it turned out, there were loads of Warrington [Wigan] supporters in the blue and yellow strip. There probably wasn’t that many Leeds supporters there. They were probably half and half.

And we know now what it means to the city for a Championship to be won but obviously it was virgin territory then. Did you feel that this was a statement not just about the rugby league club, not just about the place of rugby league in the city but it said something about Leeds itself? This was perhaps the start of when Leeds was emerging as just being another dark, black, industrial city to a place that actually had an identity and sport was a very important part of that.

Yeah, I think that’s absolutely true especially ‘cause at that time I think the general opinion of Leeds was that they were a bit of a flash Harry team. They could turn it on when they wanted attacking-wise but when it got to the grit, mud and hard work of the occasion, they were sometimes a bit lacking. But I think they disproved that that season and they were a very complete team. They had good goal kicking. They had good drivers in the ball, good grafting forwards, bit of pace in the forwards, a lot of pace and a lot of skill in the backs and they had an unusually penetrative full-back in Ken Thornett. He was a very, very aggressive player and people didn’t realise how strong and how fast he was.

Just finally, how did you celebrate the win? When you got back to Leeds, did you chase the team to fete them when they arrived at the Town Hall or did you just go out and do what most people do when Leeds win things, and find plenty of pubs to go to?

I think I got as relaxed as a newt, actually.

[Laughing]

Excellent. Ladies and Gentlemen, Bernard Shooman.

[Applause]

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