Preparation and Progress
The first few years of the Northern Union brought changes intended to increase its popularity. Its administrators showed willingness to experiment, as was evidenced by tentative changes in the laws of the game.
Other developments went alongside, and, whereas in 1895 the only payment allowed has been for broken time (not to exceed six shillings per day) and professionalism was adopted, the basis being match-pay only. And with it came a works clause requiring that, in order to be eligible for a weekend game, a player must have worked for at least three days in the week.
As most of the Trinity players were of local origin and employed in the neighbourhood, this did not bear hardly with the club until a little later when, recognising that it might be necessary to strengthen the side by bringing in players from the "outside". Trinity persuaded three Rugby Union players from Hartlepool to join the club. Employers doubtless stepped in to ensure that these efforts should be supported, and all three were able to assist the side. One of then was James Auton, who was soon to prove himself of such great value in the front rank, though he had started his Union career as a three-quarter.
Thus this match-pay brand of professionalism began to have the effect of attracting players from more distant parts. South Wales, for instance, became known as the "happy hunting ground" for our Northern organisations. It was as well, for the rival Soccer code was making inroads in the Northern counties, and well-established Rugby strongholds were being challenged in the heart of their own territory. Trinity, however, were able to forge steadily ahead, holding the affections of the public, and Wakefield and the districts immediately around never lost their allegiance to the oval ball.
Before attempting any further review, it may be interesting to recall some names of players and teams of that period. In the season 1897-8 Manningham were still in the Northern Union and had not yet re-formed into Bradford City in the Soccer world. But they were no longer quite the power they had been, whilst Trinity were on the up-grade. In the second match of the season, Trinity met them at Manningham and defeated them by 6 points (two tries) to 3 (one try). The following was the Trinity team: Metcalfe; Howell, Dicky Lockwood, Malkin, Price; Breakwell, Milson; Walton (W.), Thresh, Sugden, Crossland (C.), Smales, Hale, Evans, Allchurch.
On October 29th, the Trinity team to play Batley was: Kershaw; Price, Malkin, Howell, Kingswell; Breakwell, Evans, Walton, Crossland, Hale, Smailes, Whitaker, Gallimore, Parker, Thresh.
In the season 1898 – 99 the following teams composed the Yorkshire Senior Competition: Batley, Bradford, Hull, Hunslet, Huddersfield, Holbeck, Leeds, Leeds Parish Church, Manningham, Wakefield Trinity, Halifax, Brighouse, Castleford, Heckmondwike, Bramley, Liversedge.
The following were also playing under the N.U. rules in the Second Competition: East: Outwood Church, Hull Kingston Rovers, Featherstone, Normanton, Goole, Kinsley, York, Rothwell, Ripon, Pontefract. West: Todmorden, Elland, Morley, Dewsbury, Eastmoor, Birstall,, Bowling, Idle, Luddendenfoot.
To return to the early days of last century, we can record that, after two years in Division 2, Trinity gained promotion. But 1905 brought a further change. There was a growing popularity of Association football, and this brought on an increase of tensions within the Northern Union. Clubs in small centres of population were finding it more and more difficult to stand the strains of professional football. The small-town clubs were moving down the slope from comparative insignificance to non-existence.
It was a time for re-thinking and radical change. The response was re-formation and 1905 saw the first big League in existence, with too many clubs for each one to have fixtures with all the others. So the percentage system was evolved for the Championship. With County Challenge Cup competitions and the Northern Union Cup series, the competitive side of the Northern Union game was emerging into something like durable shape.
Trinity were naturally concerned in these changes, but there were no more unfortunate hesitations. They began to apply themselves diligently to the building of a side which could carry prestige in any country.
Although giving good account of themselves in the League, Trinity were unable to get within the reach of honours. A very capable side had, however, been brought together by the fourth season of the new full league – a team which was to show its attractive skill to great advantage in the Northern Union Cup Competition of 1909. The progress of Trinity at that time aroused enthusiasm in the city to a high pitch, and, as round after round was sucessfully negotiated, the interst grew. It seemed that, as a force in Northern Union football, Trinity had definately arrived.
In spite of the final victory over Hull in the Final at Headingley, it was felt that Trinity's greatest achievement had been their victory over Wigan in the semi-final at Broughton. Trinity had there been obliged to field a team containing a few reserves against one of the very outstanding sides in the Union, and, contrary to the expectations of most people – outside the city at least – had gained a decisive victory, 14-2. Details of this match, as of the final, are given later.
Behind a really fine pack, Trinity had assembled backs of considerable ability. It may be that much of their success sprang from one of the best half-back combinations in the history of the club – that of Harry Slater, who had joined Trinity from the Balne Lane R.U. club, and Tommy Newbould, from the Castleford R.U. team. Behind them, at different times, were three-quarters of the calibre of Ernest Bennett, Billie Malkin, E. Sidwell, W. Lynch, Tommy Poynton, W. G. Simpson and Bob McPhail. These were in part the successors of Horace Price, Bob Jacques, and Jack Goodyear. And at a full-back there was the ever-reliable Jimmy Metcalfe, with Dave Holmes as a capable deputy.
The seasons 1909-10 and 1910-11 brought further proof of Trinity's merit, the Yorkshire Championship being theirs each time, in addition to the Yorkshire Cup (1910-11). These were some of Trinity's best days. Though they were unable to carry these successes to anything tangible in the Northern League, yet they were one of its most accomplished sides, and once again reached the Cup Final in 1914, when in the last minutes of the game at Halifax, they were defeated by Hull (6-nil).
Though one or two of the players were by 1914 showing that they had passed their zenith, yet other youngsters were coming along, such as that great half-back, Jonathan Parkin. There seemed to be every reason for confidence that the team would be able to maintain – and even improve upon – its high standards, when there came the First Great War. During this four year period official league football ceased although there were unofficial leagues. Trinity had a side in a war-time league in season 1916-17, but they did not compete in 1915-16, nor in 1917-18. We must look upon 1914 as the last year of an era for Trinity as, on the resumption of regular football, it was clear that almost total rebuilding of the side had to be undertaken.
The good work of the years immediately preceding the war had not been without avail. It had brought Trinity to an certain prominence in the Northern Union world, and it had demonstrated by what means a successful side could be assembled and maintained, a valuable experience for players and administrators alike. But, unhappily, some of the players had been killed or severley injured, whilst others had grown older to the point when they could hardly be expected to be effective in the game. So it was almost a case of beginning again in the double sense of resumption and of finding new players.