The life and times of Albert Goldthorpe

ARGUABLY one of the most famous scenes in ‘This Sporting Life’ is where Frank Machin, played by Richard Harris, is introduced to Anne Weaver, the wife of the chairman of the City rugby league team.
It starts when she questions Machin as to whether he is the new star of the team.
“We don’t have stars in this game, Mrs Weaver – that’s soccer,” comes the retort from Machin.
“Well what do you have then?” asks Mrs Weaver, somewhat indignantly.
Machin pauses briefly and simply replies: “People like me.”
But while the rugby versions and the novel by David Story, who had a stint playing league for Leeds’ A team, on which it was based graphically portray the more brutal side of the 13-man code at the time, the sport has always had its stars who have shone bright.
One of those from the formative years following the formation of the Northern Union in 1895 was honoured last week with induction into the Rugby League Hall of Fame alongside one of the greats of a more recent vintage, Shaun Edwards.
That man was none other than Albert Goldthorpe, whose goal-kicking prowess and longevity helped win him admirers both at club Hunslet and beyond.
One of five brothers, four of whom played rugby and the other plying his trade in the round-ball game, Goldthorpe made his bow for the team he would go onto enjoy a 22-year career with as a 16-year-old against Wortley in October 1888.
County honours followed and he captained Yorkshire against Cheshire as a 20-year-old, followed by helping Hunslet win the Yorkshire Cup three years before the split from the Rugby Football Union.
The Northern Union Championship and another county cup triumph followed in 1898 and 1905 respectively, but the 1907-08 season was to prove both Goldthorpe and Hunslet’s finest – having originally intended to retire two seasons prior.
The concept of winning ‘All Four Cups’ was regarded as the ultimate for any team, although had yet to be achieved when the Northern Union kicked off its 13th season in the autumn of 1907.
Hunslet would soon write their names in history though, beating Halifax 17-0 in the Yorkshire Cup final, winning the Challenge Cup final for the first time with a 14-0 triumph over Hull and topping the Yorkshire League table.
They could only finish second in the combined table, but after despatching Broughton Rangers in the play-off semi-finals, Hunslet went on to be crowned champions with a replay victory over Oldham after the initial match in the final was drawn 7-7.
Goldthorpe, by now captaining the team in the halves, exerted a huge influence over Hunslet – helped in no small part by a pack which had earned the nickname ‘The Terrible Six’.
At 36. Goldthorpe brought the curtain down on his career in 1910, having established a then-record of 101 goals in Northern Union matches and being believed to have kicked over 200 drop-goals.
He went on to join the club’s committee and was appointed secretary-manager in 1924, serving in the post for seven years.
A successful cricketer too, such was his popularity that the man affectionately known as ‘Arh Albert’ was presented with a piano after getting married – the funds for which to buy the instrument were raised by public subscription.
Goldthorpe died in 1943 and is remembered as much for his clean-living and humble nature as much as his rugby league prowess, somewhat in contrast to the hard-drinking thug he was portrayed as in the 1988 film ‘The First Kangaroos’.
His legacy continues to live on with the Albert Goldthorpe Medal, awarded by Rugby Leaguer & League Express to the top player in Super League each season.
His enshrinement as one of the now-25 members in the Hall of Fame is another fitting tribute to one of rugby league’s great pioneers.


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