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Valentine 'Val' Cumberbatch

Broughton Rangers and Newcastle Player


Newcastle Rugby League FC

Jimmy Cumberbatch in action at Newcastle's second home ground - The White City Stadium in Blaydon (on the south bank of the River Tyne). This is a crop of a photo taken on 3rd January 1938, and it subsequently appeared in the "North Mail and Newcastle Chronicle". Jimmy (centre of the shot, facing the camera) was playing at number 5, on the wing, for Newcastle RLFC against Wakefield Trinity. Jimmy scored Newcastle's only try of the match.Also facing the camera are i) Ivor Frowen, Newcastle's number 7 (scrum half), who is in the foreground but behind Jimmy, (to his left, on our right as we look at the picture), and ii) Jack Suddes (Newcastle hooker, number 9), between Jimmy and Ivor, but very much in the background. Jack is very blurred in that image but, having looked long and hard at this - and much clearer - pictures of him, I'll be more than happy to take the blame if it ever turns out to be some else!
I wasn't able to identify any of the other players in shot. [Iain Robson]

Barrow and England Rugby League Player

Brothers Val and Jimmy Cumberbatch both played rugby league. Val Cumberbatch was a strong and popular player for Barrow and won a single cap for England scoring a try in his international debut. Val Cumberbatch played in Barrow's first Cup Final at Wembley and in 1947 he and four other Barrow players, the "Big Five", were the beneficiaries of a several tesimonial games for their service to the club.

Barrow's First Wembley Cup Final

SALFORD (4) 7    4 (2) BARROW

Saturday 7 May 1938

Salford Barrow


H. Osbaldestin F. French
B. Hudson V. Cumberbatch
R. Brown J. Higgin
A. Gear D. McDonnell
A.S. Edwards J. Thornburrow
A.J. Risman L. Lloyd
W. Watkins W. Little
H.A. Williams G.A. Rawlings
H.C. Day D. McKeating
D.M. Davies W.J. Skelly
H. Thomas L.A. Troup
P. Dalton R. Ayres
J. Feetham A.E. Marklew


Tries:  A. Gear
Goals:   F. French
Drop Goals:   W. Little


Referee: F. Peel (Bradford)
Attendance: 51,243
Receipts: £ 7,474
Cup Presented by Donald Bradman, the Australian Test batsman

Match Report

The strength and superb tactics of the Barrow forwards dominated a game that many described as the worst ever seen at Wembley. Barrow's strategy was simple - they had to control and contain the game with their mighty pack and do their utmost to throw the clever and confident Salford back division out of gear. The Barrow pack monopolised the ball in the first half so successfully that, to some extent, they spoilt the match as spectacle and little was seen of the finer points of the game. The full-backs on each side handled well but were guilty of some very poor, almost aimless kicking for touch, and only very rarely did they start a passing movement. French, the Barrow full-back, handled faultlessly but constantly kicked into touch on the full. One newspaper was scathing in its criticism of the match: 'The game was smash and grab, crash and bang, ten yards run, tackle and play the ball and hardly one concerted movement.'

The showpiece started with a very poor attempt at goal from Gus Risman, following a penalty against Barrow. After eight minutes play Fred French put Barrow ahead from a successful penalty-kick.

Gus Risman put Salford on level terms with a penalty-goal and on the half-hour collected a loose ball well and made himself the space and time to drop a good goal to put the Reds in front.

For the first 30 minutes of the second half, each side attacked furiously but incoherently. Barrow had the best of the play but were unable to score and missed one of the best chances of the game when Cumberbatch was stopped, despite two Salford players lying injured on the ground. With 14 minutes to play, Billy Little collected the ball from a scrum on the Salford '25' and dropped a brilliant goal with his left foot.

The surprise score was the catalyst for a tremendous burst of play from each side and with about a minute remaining, Barrow were penalised on the half-way line. Risman found touch ten yards from the Barrow line with a long, raking kick. One account describes the last few dramatic moments of the game: 'Five or six men jumped for the ball when it came out of the scrum, and there was a fine confused melee, in the course of which it was fumbled and juggled across the field in front of the Barrow goal posts until, finally, Gear dashed in, took the ball on the bounce, forced his way past two tacklers, and threw himself over the line with three men hanging on to him.'

The goal-kick was missed but the try was enough, for there was not even enough time left to restart the game.

Details kindly provided by Lee Cumberbatch grandson of Val Cumberbatch. Val's son Barrie still has the shirt worn by his father in this game.

Barrow Testimonial Game for "Big Five"

Barrow vs. Oldham

Saturday, 25 January 1947 3:00 p.m. Kick off

About the benefit

Today marks an occasion unique in Barrow Rugby League history – a benefit game, proceeds of which will be shared by five players.

The war is partly to blame for the state of affairs, for the topsy-turvy football played during those years was, in the good old North Country term, “neither summat nor nowt.” Last season, the Barrow Club directorate decided that five of their players were worthy of recognition by the allocation of a benefit, and they named their men as Ayres, Cumberbatch, Higgin, Little and McKeating, good players all.

It was decided that these five should share the net takings of the game against Swinton, played on 27th April, 1946, and resulting in the sum of £167 15s 2d being set aside as a players’ benefit fund.
This season the players had the offer of two dates, and chose today’s fixture with Oldham.

In the meantime, the “Big Five” Benefit Committee came on the scene, and now over £500 extra has been raised by voluntary effort. On today’s takings depends the amount of the final cheque handed over to each of the quintette so aptly titled the “Big Five.”

It is fitting that such recognition should be paid consistent and really good playing service. Other clubs in the League have joined in helping to swell the fund, and each and every one has paid tribute to the fine sportsmanship of the men concerned.

Cumberbatch is now with Liverpool Stanley, but he is worthy of his share by virtue of his performances for Barrow over a period of years.
In thanking the Barrow Club and the sporting public of the town and district for what has been accomplished, the “Big Five” Benefit Committee feel that they are right when they assert that credit is being given where credit is due. Make it a bumper benefit.

Picture of Bob Ayres

Bob Ayres

The man who always comes up smiling, Club captain during the war years. A product of local football, signed in 1933. Has few equals as a second row forward. International and County player.











Picture of Val Cumberbatch











Val Cumberbatch

The local intermediate League produced Val Cumberbatch, now with Liverpool Stanley, having been transferred during the war. Still an entertaining player to watch. A Lancashire County winger. Signed by Barrow in 1932.











Picture of John Higgin











John Higgin

Reliability has been John Higgin’s watchword throughout his service with the Barrow Club – and he has been with them since 1933. He learned his football in the Barrow Schools League.

Picture of William Little

William Little



The man who spelt the end to Halifax R.L. Cup hopes in 1938. Member of a famous Great Clifton football family. International and Cumberland County man.

Picture of Dan McKeating



Dan McKeating



At present on Army service on the Continent, Dan McKeating came to Barrow from Whitehaven in 1932 and proved himself a great hooker. International and Cumberland County player. A top rank man who has given yeoman service to the Barrow Club.




Something About the Clubs


Until last season, Barrow was the out-post of the Rugby League. Advent of Workington Town has robbed the club of that doubtful honour, but there are many who envy the firm sway held in this rather remote corner of Britain.

Founded in 1871, Barrow joined the Northern Union in 1896, one season after its formation. Since then they have had three grounds – Cavendish Park, Little Park and the present headquarters at Craven Park, and many ups and downs. Runners-up in the R.L. Cup and Lancashire Cup in 1938, and three times runners-up in the Lancashire League. Barrow are a popular club, and generally rates as attractive opposition.

Fifth in the League last season. Now able to claim four 1946 Tourists in their ranks, in addition to their international and county men.


The Oldham Rugby League Club, with headquarters at The Pavilion, Watersheddings, have a good record behind them, and were the first Lancashire club to win the Rugby League Challenge Cup, defeating Hunslet 19-9 at Manchester in 1899. Batley had twice won the trophy before then.

Oldham have since taken it home in 1924-25 and 1926-27, and can claim three League championships, three Lancashire League championships, and have been five times Lancashire Cup winners.

The club was one of the founder members of the Northern Union, and, as a matter of interest, is two years younger than Barrow. In the first six seasons of the Northern Union, Oldham were champions twice and runners-up four times.

Fifteenth in the Rugby League final table last season,. Claim George Gummer, formerly with Barrow, in their playing strengths.

A Tribute from Barrow’s Chairman Mr John Atkinson

As Chairman of the Barrow Club, may I add my praise of the five players whose joint benefit falls today. May I say that in my long association with Rugby Leagure football an dthe local club, I have watched them make progress up the ladder of fame, and become the good club men they undoubtedly are.

The smiling face of Bob Ayres; the steady, reliable play of John Higgin; the mercurial touch that is Val Cumberbatch’s; Dan McKeating’s remarkable performances as hooker; and the sterling worth of Bill Littler, are all well known to Barroow supported. These men have done – and are indeed still doing – their share for Barrow and the game.

It gives me particular pleasure to recall my visit to Billy Little’s Clifton home. Mr. Gabbatt and I, making an approach on behalf of Barrow, found him and five other Littles stripping in the wash-house after a local game. That was my first introduction to a man who typifies the spirit of the men to whom we pay tribute today – sportsmen all.

I say “Thank you” on behalf of the club, and I wish them all well.

Teams for Saturday, January 25th 1947 3-0 p.m. Kick off

Referee: A Holbrook (Warrington). Touch judges: D. Halliday and S. Inman

BARROW (Colour Blue and White)

1 Jones
2 Lewthwaite   3 Knowelden                                         4 Bowker          5 Francis
6 Horne                           7 Bowyer
8 Longman        9 Woods (W)     10 Hornby         11 Ayres           12 Petcher
13 Little
13 Thomas
12 Ayres           11 Shaw            10 Moore          9 Brooks           8 Ogden
7 Smith                         6 Rees
5 Large             4 Harris (Capt.)                        3 Mahoney        2 Evans
 1 Griffiths          

OLDHAM (Colour: Red and White)

“May the Game Further Cement The Bonds of Our Friendship”

Mr. Fred Mills, President of the Oldham Club, asked to send a message for inclusion in this souvenir programme, conveys his Club’s sincere good wishes for a “bumper” benefit.

He writes:-

“It is with great pleasure that I write to convey greetings and congratulations to our old friends, Barrow F.C., and in particular. To your tried and proved loyal players, Ayres, Cumberbatch, Higgin, Little and McKeating, men who have proved their skill and ability, not only at Barrow, but throughout the Rugby League. On behalf of Oldham F.C. and its officials, I wish to convey our sincere good wishes for a very successful benefit.

“We, at Oldham, feel honoured to be your opponents on this occasion, and are looking forward to our usual pleasant game with you. In sending my personal good wishes, I recall the many occasions on which I had the honour of acting as referee for your games, which bring back many happy memories of when I was privileged to control such worthy exponents of our grand old game as thos who today, are to take their well-merited recognition by your Club.

“May it be a ‘bumper,’ and prove not only a benefit to the players concerned, but be the means of further cementing – if that is possible – the bonds of friendship which, through all these years have so happily existed between Barrow and Oldham.

“Wishing you all a prosperous New Year, and looking forward to being with you today.”


A grand compliment to the “Big Five.” We extend a welcome today to Mr. W.H. Hughes. Chairman of the Rugby League Council. Such was his desire to pay personal tribute to the five players that he has expressed his intention of coming to watch the game, though he landed in England from Marseilles only on Thursday. He was at the France-Wales International on Sunday.

A Message from the Secretary of the Rugby League

“It gives me the greatest of pleasure to write a few words in praise of the contributions made to the Barrow Club, and to the Rugby League in general, by those grand players, Billy Little, Dand McKeating, John Higgin, Bob Ayres and Val Cumberbatch,” says Mr. W. Fallowfield, Secretary of the Rugby League.

And Another from the Chairman


“I gladly avail myself of an opportunity to pay a personal tribute to the beneficiaries, all of whom I have known throughout their long and honourable careers in the Rugby League game.” Writes Mr. W. H. Hughes, Chairman, R.L. Council.

“The Barrow Club is indeed fortunate to have been able to command the services of such loyal and enthusiastic servants, who by their skill and manly bearing on the field have made a substantial contribution to the progress of our game, not only in their own district, but throughout the League.

“I feel sure the supporting public of Barrow and district will support enthusiastically the efforts being made to pay a well-earned tribute to these fine sportsmen who have ‘played the game so well.”

Good Wishes

Good wishes for this benefit game have come from others than those actively associated with the code. Instance a letter from a local business house: “We do hope it will be a ‘record’ day for the benefit.” To all these well-wishers the “Big Five” Benefit Committee say “Thank you.”


Val Cumberbatch won one England cap scoring one try for three points[1]
Valentine Cumberbatch was born 14 February 1911 at 25 Boundary Place, Liverpool, England. He was the son of Theodore Theophilus Cumberbatch, a ship’s steward, originally from Barbados and Mary Ellen née Kewin originally from Ramsey in the Isle of Man. Val married Mary née Lightfoot in 1937 and he died in 1973.


Newcastle Rugby League Football Club


By Iain Robson 2013

Part Two

After my train had left the MetroCentre - the out-of-town shopping centre just south of the Tyne - I suddenly panicked. Those drawings approved by Mr. Bolton of Blaydon Urban District Council seventy-six years ago had shown a railway line going behind what was to become Newcastle RLFC's second home ground.

And my train was on it. 

Trying to spy a trace of something through the trees, my chance was gone as the trackside “site of the Blaydon Races” marker flew past. In any case, the stadium had been knocked down years ago.

But in the final paragraph of “Cherry & White” , the short book on Newcastle RLFC, John Proud asked: “ … how many of the players found a new team for the last season before World War 2? … And how many of them went on to serve in that conflict? …”.

It turns out the White City itself was requisitioned during the war to make camouflage netting. A letter to the owner dated 18th January 1944 refers to, “ … one or two defective floor boards in the Club room … ”.

Whoever typed the (unsigned) piece of paper advises that, “ … to avoid possible claims for damages should any worker catch her heel in holes … ”, they had, “ … asked Jackson to have them made secure” ('Jackson' seemingly the contractor).

Jack Suddes signed for Bramley on 10th December 1938, and his front row team mate, Dick Walton, went back to Castleford (his original club) for the 1939/40 season. And I was on the train to meet Jack Suddes' son, John.

I arrived early at Hexham, the little stone-built station twenty miles west of Newcastle. And I wonder now if Dan McAvoy, Billy Brown and Beattie had come through here, coming across from Cumbria?

Or, unlike Iowerth Jones and Jim Turton, did they find work in Newcastle?

But when I wandered back to the station, I could see just a bit of Jack Suddes in the gentleman wearing the lightweight sweater, waiting outside. He gave me a lift to a café.

Mr Suddes was soft-spoken and careful, but in a friendly sort of way. And he was deeply proud of his dad. He didn't spell it out in the daft way MasterChef contestants sometimes do. But sitting next to him, every now and then, you could sense it like heat coming off a coal fire.

Suddes! Here!

Mr Suddes had never seen a photo of Jack playing Rugby League, but he'd kept the 1930s contracts his dad signed with Newcastle and Bramley. After talking a bit of this and that, Mr Suddes remembered how Jack's reputation as a hooker followed him to Grammar school, when a games teacher called out:

“Aww, you! Young Suddes! Come here!”

As well as winning trophies with Tynedale RU, running the All Blacks close with Northumberland & Durham RU ( “North Mail” match report the following day: “ … Suddes was almost complete master in hooking”), scoring Newcastle RLFC's last ever try, grafting for Bramley and possibly becoming England RL reserve

hooker in 1939, Jack had also, as a boy, captained the team of little John's new school.

Mr Suddes burst out laughing as he recalled:

“Well, I mean, even practice games: 'Suddes! Here! Want to see you! Don't let your father down!' And I was getting hammered time and time again!

I asked if he'd played the same position as his dad:

“It started off there, yes. But, I mean, this was him, it was trying to replicate … I eventually graduated to the back row, thank God for that!”.

A little while later, I asked Mr Suddes if he thought life was maybe a bit narrower, but simpler, back in his dad's day:

“I think people strived a lot more to get where they wanted to be. He was a prime example in that he wanted a house. He was in the joinery business and he worked for a builder - J.S. Emerson.

“But, I mean, they were working nearly five and a half days a week. He'd have to take some hours off before he got on the bus or a train to get to Bramley - you know, come back late on Saturday night, shattered.

“And then be back at work on a Monday, which, er, tremendous, really.”

In Some Measure

Mr Suddes later told me over the telephone that Jack worked as a policeman during WWII - at one point, ending-up in London. And I wanted to find out about the other players, too.

And, after asking around, Westoe RFC put me in touch with someone who'd met Lenny Clough.

According to John Proud in “Cherry & White” , the winger had been the “man of the match” in the seven-all draw against Leigh on Christmas Day, 1936. Then, on p.27 of that book, John Proud wrote that Lenny, “ … who’d had such a promising opening to his Rugby League career, announced he had taken up a position in the Midlands and would no longer be available for selection … ”.

That was at the beginning of Newcastle's second season in 1937. But Harold Yeoman, now ninety-two years of age, explained to me over the 'phone that he'd watched Lenny play before he'd joined Newcastle (when he Lenny was a Westoe winger).

Later, in the RAF, Mr Yeoman crossed paths with him again. Lenny, by Mr Yeoman's account, sounded like good company in uniform - apparently happy to share a beer and, to use Mr Yeoman's words, he “put it down in some measure”.

Mr Yeoman then told me how, on 28th September 1942, Lenny took off from RAF Mildenhall on a mission to the Dortmund-Ems canal in Germany. Several hours after take-off, Lenny's plane was hit by a Focke-Wulf 190 and, as Mr Yeoman went on to say:   

“ … crashed 18:02 into the IJsselmeer, 8km south of what in 1942 was the island of Urk … Flight Sergeant Clough was last seen, using a fire extinguisher, bravely trying to put out the fire that was raging inside the fuselage. He has no known grave … ”.

Mr Yeoman had seamlessly gone from recounting personal experiences to reading from p.228 of

“Royal Air Force Bomber Command Losses of the Second World War “ , Volume III,  by W.R. Chorley.

Casualty details on indicate Lenny was thirty-one years of age, and survived by his mother, father and wife, Marjorie.

Rising Sun

A gentleman who works at the shop where Basil Liddle sold carpets (it trades under a different name now) put me in touch with Basil's nephew, Stewart McKenzie. Basil, of course,  had been Jack's team mate at League and Union.

When I telephoned Mr McKenzie, I was keen to learn a bit about the Newcastle RLFC half-back's personality:

“I think he was quite a ladies' man, from what I can gather. But there wasn't much said about that [laughs]. “According to me mother he would always try and be immaculate, when he went out.  'Cause he had to be, sort-of, tidy and clean and well-shaven and nice hair combed. “So, he used to look after himself, I suppose.” Mr McKenzie explained that he was too young to get to know Basil personally. So I asked how his uncle was talked about among older family members: “Just that he was - whatever he did, he had to do well. He had to be, sort-of, the best. “You know, he was really into it. He really, sort-of, tried to be as good as he could. No matter what it was he did. Mr McKenzie told me a story from 1944, when a thirty-four year old Basil Liddle, who'd been stationed with the Royal Artillery down south, making Lance Bombardier, was back up in his native North Shields: “Me mother said he was walking along the road, and you'd think he was drunk, yet he didn't drink. It'd be after tea time, because me grandfather came in from work and, er, his brother came in from work - so that would be after five o'clock. “So it'll be about half-past five. They just thought they'll take him up a cup of tea and, er, he was dead in bed. According to Mr McKenzie, Basil had spent time in the Scaffold Hill isolation hospital - about half-way between Newcastle and the coast, near the old Rising Sun pit (now a country park).

Although Mr McKenzie wasn't sure, he suspects Basil may have been discharged from the Army due to ill health. The cause of death was TB.

Back in the café, I mentioned the manner of Basil's passing to John Suddes:

“Yeah, well, it was rampant in those days, TB. I mean, they had the hospital along here, Wooley Sanatorium, and all my family had it.

“I had it. Me mother died of it. My father got it.”

I wondered if the lives of two Newcastle RLFC players been taken by something we get a routine vaccination for now. I asked Mr Suddes if Jack had died of TB, too:

“I couldn't put my finger on and say 'yes'. But it was, obviously, it was there. 'Cause he spent time up in Wooley Sanatorium. He had about, I think, nine months up there and came back. 

“And, speaking from experience, once you get TB, you know you've got it.”

Ships and Seaports

In the side office on the industrial estate, Mr Craven told me that, after Newcastle RLFC folded, Don probably played Rugby Union again under a false name. (Perhaps using his forename, Donald, as a surname.)

He'd apparently continued with his job as a machine operator throughout WWII and, come retirement at sixty-five, Don was employed as a conductor on British Rail restaurant cars.

It seems Don didn't go straight from the factory job to the railways, though. Mr Craven mentioned that his dad also worked in hotels:

“One of his nephews was a steward for Cunard on the cruise ships, and I think they made a fair bit of money. You know, in those days, tips were - if you were in the right hotel, you could make a fair bit of money.

“And I think that was the attraction.”

“His running and his rugby subsidised his wages. But then, when he couldn't play anymore, he found that the factory job wasn't as rewarding as he needed it to be.  And he found that that side of it was better paid.”.

And another one of Don's nephews, David, cross-coded to Halifax RL in the 1945/46 season.

But working at sea was also a factor in Jimmy's life - as Bob Cumberbatch of told me by e-mail:

“Jimmy at some point moved to 201 Wingrove Avenue, Newcastle-on-Tyne and in 1946 he was in the merchant navy as a fireman - i.e. he fed the boiler with coal.

“He probably served in the merchant navy during WWII and this might explain why I cannot find any brothers or sisters for their son James. My guess is that Jimmy and Eva probably did not have the time to expand their family during the war years”.

And Mr Craven recounted how Don went to see his nephew (who was playing for Halifax RL) in February 1949, after David was injured in a match against Workington:

“My father was with with him when he died. Me father was actually in his hospital room when he, when he actually passed away.

“He asked to be made more comfortable, and someone moved him. And he just, he literally took his last breaths as he was being moved, ye knaa?”.

According to Andrew Hardcastle of Halifax RLFC, David Craven had his neck dislocated during the Saturday match, then passed away the following Thursday.

In his introduction to “Cherry & White” , John Proud recalled how his school friends in the North East talked about the funeral “shortly after the event” (though he remembered the name as 'Peter', rather than David). 

Around this time Don apparently played his last game of rugby - although Mr Craven couldn't be sure if it was League or Union. And he told a story about the evening his dad came home from his final match:

“My mother said they literally had to cut his trousers off – his knee was so badly swollen. And there was no question of any treatment or anybody taking responsibility. I mean, he was left to get on with it.

“He was virtually, a cripple's the wrong word but, you know, he walked with great difficulty for the rest of his life, after his rugby career.

“And it was down to injuries, knee injuries.

Public Speaker

During his BR days Don became, according to Mr Craven, active within the Newcastle Branch of the National Union of Railwaymen:

“He was the secretary - spoke at conferences and all sorts. In fact, to be honest, he probably could have done better for himself. He was very much a strong trade unionist.

“My mother often said he was offered a job in London, and he turned it down because it meant he had to resign from the union and become part of the management. He was that staunch, that his principles wouldn't let him.

“He could have had a much better lifestyle himself later on, by being in management. But it meant compromising his beliefs in the union.

“I never heard him, but my mother said he was a fabulous public speaker. He could go to conferences and stand up without any notes and talk for twenty minutes. And he was quite an intelligent guy himself, if the truth be known.”

And, although Mr Craven speaks with a North East accent, he later told me that Don - who lived in Rowlands Gill, County Durham - spoke with a Yorkshire accent and was originally from Leeds.

Gretna Green

Mr Craven could remember giving his father lifts to local NUR meetings in the 1960s And one Castleford fan, who preferred not to be named, told me that during the same decade Dick Walton - who had packed-down forty-nine times alongside Jack for Newcastle - had a falling out with his son, Dougie. 

So I telephoned Geoff Smith, of the Castleford Player's Association. And Mr Smith told me:

“Basically, what happened - he's only a teenager, fell out with his dad over the girlfriend, so he's shot off to Gretna to get married. That annoyed his father even more.

“And then he got picked for Great Britain - still only a teenager. The publicity that followed was that his dad didn't go to the match to see him play for Great Britain against France.”

Mr Smith also said:

“They were only a couple of kids at the time. But, let me tell you - I mean, Dougie's sadly died not all that long since. And Dougie, and his teenage girlfriend that he eloped with, were still the best of friends 'til the day he died.

“Little fairytale.

“I mean, his Dad fell out with him 'cause he didn't think it were gonna last, and it lasted right up 'til the very end.”.

And it turns out that the end came for Dick's son the very month I began researching Newcastle RLFC. But the Castleford fan who tipped me off sang Dougie's praises, describing him as “a smashing lad”, and that, on the pitch, “he took everybody by storm”.

The same fan described Dick as a “well-known character” in the homes surrounding the Castleford ground. And when I asked about the playing reputation of Jack Suddes' front row team mate - sent-off playing for Newcastle against his old club in 1936 - my source said:

“Oh yeah, he were a big, hard … you know, they talk about tough and what not not these days, but they were brutal then, I would say.”


Over the telephone, Judy Cumberbatch cheerfully remarked that Jimmy was “probably more of a man's man” than his son, although she described them both as the “quiet gentleman” type.

Mrs Cumberbatch explained that Jimmy's son, who also went to sea, played pedal steel guitar in a band. Jimmy apparently had remained in the Merchant Navy, and “used to come to the venue to meet him when he was home from leave”.

Mrs Cumberbatch also said she had no more than a few opportunities to speak to Jimmy:

“When I met my husband, Jim, who was their only son, he only ever saw his father when he came home on leave.  And it was while he was home on leave  that he did die”.

According to Mrs Cumberbatch, he separated from his wife, Eva, in the mid to late 50s. And Mrs Cumberbatch didn't marry Jimmy's son until after the former Newcastle and England player had passed away.

“It was sudden, you know, it was sudden. I'm not sure if they knew he was home from leave, actually, this particular time”.

Jimmy was apparently staying in Newcastle lodgings then. And when I telephoned his grandson, Jamie Cumberbatch, he told me Jimmy may have lost his eyesight shortly before the end came (in the early months of 1972):

“I thought me dad meant that he went blind sort-of leading up to when he passed away. But I think me mam was saying that he went blind through one of the issues that he had - basically on his last few days”.

Early Bath, Blood Bath

In his introduction to “Cherry & White” , John Proud, referring to North East Rugby Union in the old days, wrote:

“ … Lots of working class lads played the game and some of the teams were part of a factory or colliery welfare set up. I can remember, as a raw teenager, being persuaded to join Winlaton Vulcans in the kitchen of a council house on the Hanover Estate. Our prop forwards arrived for the match, eyes still rimmed with coal dust, straight from the foreshift at the Mary and Bessie Colliery. How they loved to play the Old Boys teams. Now that really was class warfare …”

That incident occurred within fifteen years of Newcastle RLFC folding. But, separately, Mr Craven told me that Don was “always fairly critical of the snob value of Rugby Union in those days”, and that “he preferred the people he met in Rugby League.”

Seghill RFC is the North East RU club that produced Stan Edwards and John Ellerington – not to mention Kenny, the half-back who played against Newcastle for Jimmy's old club, Broughton Rangers, on 27th April '38. 

I wasn't able to track down John or Stan's relatives but, a year or so after Jimmy died, George Arnott began playing for their club. And, today, Mr Arnott is Seghill chairman. And I read that quote from John Proud's book to Mr Arnott over the phone.

Thinking of the “snob value” Mr Craven mentioned, and of those harsh old Rugby Union attitudes and laws about what clubs and players were (not) supposed to do, I wondered how things had really played out on the ground. On North East grounds - at clubs like Seghill.

And, among other things, Mr Arnott said:

“Where you had, I would say, the public school connection - we always refer to them as 'the other clubs' - where you had that public school connection, you did have that kind of attitude. 

“Literally, until the mid fifties, I would say 90% of the team were made up of people who worked in the collieries. When the pit closed in the 60s people came to the club from Tyneside and South-east Northumberland.

“Like, Blaydon, Winlaton, Ryton, Ashington. You know, Blyth, clubs like that. Chester-le-Street, Washington - you can go through all the clubs that have been linked to some kind of pit thing.

“I can remember teams from Armstrongs, the works on Scotswood Road, they had a team. Smith Docks at North Shields had a team. Me dad's old factory in Hebburn, Reyrolles - they had a rugby team.

“There was a lot of working class rugby teams around the North East.

“I'm almost sure I can remember a northern Rugby League side photograph in the old clubhouse.

“I would imagine there will be certain clubs, and mostly your county committees are full of representatives of these type of clubs, that's where you get the feeling from that they don't like this cross-code, you know?”

While researching these articles, I'd been told a tale about how, in the 1960s or 70s, a player who'd crosscoded to League went back to the North East club where he'd started out.

After some individual 'spotted' him having a pint with his old RU team mates, the story goes that the general emotional response was somewhere between 'so what?' and 'what you gonna do about it?'.

But in the North East that Newcastle RLFC left behind, did the stereotypical differences of class and snobbery that many might expect to find, dividing League from Union, exist instead within North East rugby itself? 

And perhaps that was already the case when Alfred Peel went to the Rugby League, or John Wilson came to the County Hotel, in 1936?

Something else Mr Arnott said was:

“When I joined the club, there was a general feeling that there were certain clubs, who, erm, thought themselves way above anybody else. And that if you played for a club like ours, you weren't worth knowing.

Mr Arnott also remarked that he'd played alongside six men who, in his opinion, had the ability to play at the “top level”. But only one of them went on to do so.

So I asked if he thought the others might not have gone as far as they might have because they weren't the 'right people':

“Oh yeah. I mean they were constantly being poached by the better clubs - the so-called better clubs - in the 60s, 70s and 80s. And it caused a lot of bad feeling.

“When we used to play these 'other clubs', I mean, it was a blood bath. Y'know, nowadays it would be probably fifteen, thirty players standing on the touch line banned.

“They think we're not as good as them, so let's just show them that we are, you know?

“And it still goes to this day”.

The Old Days

While discussing rugby from times past with Harry Edgar, editor of the “Rugby League Journal” , I was wondering if class  lines had gone through, rather than around, the North East rugby scene Newcastle RLFC left behind. I mentioned Mr Arnott's list of pit teams. And I was interested in the idea of players not getting picked because they weren't the 'right people'.

Mr Edgar didn't feel that such things had been limited to the North East. And he also said:

“I think, actually, it's a really interesting thing. 'Cause people have this thing about, 'Oh, Rugby League, Rugby Union, class differences', and it's fair enough.

“But, of course, this only manifested itself in the areas where Rugby League existed, to be honest. Which are only basically three counties - Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cumberland.

“In other parts of the country, I don't think there was prejudice against Rugby League, it was just total ignorance. Nobody really knew what it was. It wasn't that people had this thing about it, it just wasn't an issue, you know?

“So you find that the most virulent anti-Rugby League people tended to be in Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cumberland - because there they really had a rival.

“And, of course, they didn't like it.”

Stuff Your Rugby Union

Back in the café with Mr Suddes, it was getting close to closing time.

Apparently, for Jack, Tynedale RU was always his club – the team he'd played for since leaving school and, as Mr Suddes said, “all his friends and everything”.

I'd already been told that Jack attended Tynedale matches later in life, so I asked Mr Suddes to tell me about it:

“He was banned.”.

Mr Suddes drew out the word a little, to take the mickey.

“He was invited to join the committee. And he was told, no, you couldn't come into the club house, you're a Rugby League man.

“This was a directive from the Rugby Union but - I take me hat off to the rugby club, anyhow - they said stuff your Rugby Union, he's coming. They took him in. I mean, he was well into his forties, I'd imagine, then.”

I asked Mr Suddes if he remembered Jack ever saying anything about that.

“No, he wouldn't. He was a man would just, er, take it, not say anything. It would be there. This was the way he'd play rugby, though.

“Somebody, they could hit him once, he wouldn't say anything. The next time, he would hit him, you know? Payback time, yeah.

“And it was the same with that, the same with everything that happened to him. He'd absorb it BUT he'd remember it.”

Time on the Clock

Newcastle of the 1930s was a different place to the cleaned-up city centre we know today. The North Easterners listening to Alfred Peel's second-half radio commentary from Byker knew a different Rugby League to the game we watch on Sky these days.

But when fans in the heartlands defend their game, or when Geordies defend their city, the changes aren't so big that there's nothing left to recognise.

By putting things in to, or leaving things out of, these articles - for space, to 'engage the reader', to catch the eye - I was wary of serving-up a fact-peppered fiction: something that's to your taste and mine because of things we think we know today, when maybe we don't.

One thing is writing to a deadline; another is living with what you've written once the deadline is met.

Take that reporter who said that Suddes, Cumberbatch, Liddle, Luckey, Edwards, Ellerington and Taylor had become "the forgotten men of rugby league” in 1938. Whatever the flaws and limits of my articles, perhaps I can now suggest that he spoke at least seventy-five years too soon?

For Jack, Jimmy, Basil, J.B., Stan, John, Bob and Lenny; not forgetting Dick and Don the Yorkshire, and all the rest.

Gan canny, lads.