Ok I admit it I’m a bit of a geek when it comes to our Sports heritage , give me an obscure fact about Acton and Willesden’s lone season in the league (1935-36 if that sort of thing floats your boat ) and I’m there, but my understanding of the games eventful history pales into nothing next to the knowledge of the RFL’s Roll of Honour latest inductee .
Take a bow Professor Tony Collins esteemed Rugby League Historian, Academic, Author, Blogger, and serial Podcaster extraordinaire . He’s also a Hull KR fan but we wont hold that against him .
Along with long serving RFL Administrator Emma Rosewarne he will join a the 2004 introduced Roll that highlights individuals who have made massive contributions to the sport across all its guises both on and off the field . Other inductess incude the likes of Ray French, Bev Risman and Maurice Oldroyd alogside some less well known , June Kennedy the long serving former Workington Club Secretary and Pat Crawshaw stalwart administrator of the Amateur Game among them .
My first encounter with Tony’s work was the one time I’ve actually met him in person .That was back in 2015 , at a Rugby League Heritage Forum held at Huddersfield’s rather unimaginativly name Heritage Quay ,The local Universitys own paticularly fine Historical Record Centre and home of the RFL’s Archive Collection, . ( If you ever get the chance have a visit – fascinating place ! )
I’d only attended the event on a last min whim after seeing it mentioned on a Fan Forum and on arrival found myself a bit ‘fish out of water ‘ alongside a bunch of Club Historians , Authors and Geeks who obviously a) all knew one another and b) even more obviously were far more well versed in Acton and Willesdens lone season in the league than me. Self doubt began to creep in and I was seriously consideroring getting the flock out of there and into the sanctuary of the Grove or the Rat and Ratchet for a pint to ease my anxiaties.
Several speakers including Phil Caplan of 40/20mag and representatives of Swintons Club Heritage Project ‘Lions Tales ‘ were lined up throughout the event with Tony taking centre stage first discussing the evoloution of the rules of the game from the split with the Northern Union in 1895 .
It not yet being opening time and making my my escape would be blindingly obvious to all present Prof Collins lecture it would be .With everyone else making their way to the lecture theatre and I being the only one heading in the opposite direction for the exit when I’d already had my free tea and biscuits Prof Collins talk it was to be
I’d love to say I was hooked from his first words but honestly I wasn’t , but the more I listened and took in the more his knowlege and opinions you began to realise that here was a bloke who knew his stuff and more importantly could relate it to the game we love today .
Having devoured a couple of Tonys Books ,be warned they are not an easy read but
In the sport’s 125th anniversary year, the RFL recognised the importance of Collins as an outstanding historian, both of Rugby League in particular, and of the sport’s social and cultural significance.
He has been a sage to the RFL, and to many others in the sport – for example Rugby League Cares, and the Rugby League World Cup – for many years. He is regarded as one of the leading historians not only of Rugby League, but of both codes of rugby, and indeed in sport as a whole – and has therefore become an eloquent advocate for the sport.
He was born in Hull, into a Hull Kingston Rovers family. He was taken to a couple of Hull Dockers fixtures by his dad before attending his first Rovers match, against Featherstone, in October 1969. He was immediately hooked – by being part of a crowd; by the sport he was watching; and especially by Roger Millward.
He lives in Leeds now, and is emeritus professor of history at De Montfort University in Leicester, a Research Fellow at the Institute of Sports Humanities and also a visiting professor at Beijing Sports University.
His books have won the Aberdare Prize for Sports History four times since 1999, and he has been a consultant to numerous TV and radio programmes, including BBC Radio 4’s 30-part 2012 series Sport and the Britishwith Clare Balding.
In addition to his work in Rugby League, Tony is a member of the RFU’s World Rugby Museum sub-committee, and from April 2017 to March 2019 he was a member of the Yorkshire and Humber committee of the Heritage Lottery Fund.
This year, he has been a key figure as the RFL sought to celebrate the sport’s 125th anniversary in fitting style. Much of that work has been behind the scenes, but he joined a redoubtable panel also featuring Jamie Jones-Buchanan, Dave Woods and Kath Hetherington to consider some of the greatest names and occasions in the history of Rugby League.
He has also written a number of significant books including: Rugby’s Great Split; Rugby League in Twentieth Century Britain; A Social History of English Rugby Union ; The Oval World: A Global History of Rugby; and in 2020 Rugby League: A People’s History.
Fat, Fifty Rugby League Enthusiast .Avid follower of all things League 1 and unfortunate survivor of a 50 year love affair with Keighley RLFC..