A history of Coventry v Leeds
A century scored, then a century’s gap; a brief history of Coventry and Leeds encounters.
by Mike Hyde
Leeds Rhinos; multiple Super League Winners, steeped in Rugby League history, based at the iconic Headingly stadium, scene of many dramas and much excitement stretching back to 1870. And then there’s Coventry Bears; still very much new kids on the block as they embark on their fifth year in League 1 at the Butts Park Arena. Most fans would not expect there to be any history between the two sides, but there is.....The Rhinos’ home is also a famous cricket ground, but it was over on the Rugby playing side of the stadium that a cricket score was achieved as Leeds were the victors that day in 1913, beating Coventry’s Northern Union [Rugby League to us today] side 102-0.
To anyone that’s ever played the game, there is nothing worse than not scoring a single point in a game, except maybe having a century scored against you. For Leeds, this is a record which still stands as their biggest ever victory, but it effectively signalled the end of Coventry as a Rugby League outpost. For the Leeds spectators, it must have been great sport at first, but then rather hollow as the scale of the victory grew and grew. Close games always make for the best entertainment. Then, as true supporters of the game, they must have realised that Coventry were in deep trouble and a bucket was passed around the ground to raise a collection for those sportsmen facing a long trip home by steam train. There was no M1 in those days so at least the journey was probably quicker.
Then World War 1 broke out. And that really was the end of Rugby League in Coventry, or so it seemed.....Fast forward to 1998, and a new Rugby League club is born in Coventry, and a young Alan Robinson has the crazy idea of starting a Rugby League team in the Midlands.
Twenty one years later, just look at the Bears’ team, its deep roots in the region, the dedicated and loyal fan base, and the way they are now chalking up victories against long established outfits such as Hunslet and Keighley, both neighbours of the Rhinos. Last season started with a friendly against Leeds, just like this season, and the Super League side won 14-74, a gap 42 points less than in 1913.
The biggest cheers of the evening came when first Chris Vitalini, then Dan Gover and finally Hayden Freeman crossed over the line for the Bears and the overwhelming memory for those there that night last January wasn’t the score line but the atmosphere under the Butts Park Floodlights, with the record breaking and appreciative crowd. And that surely helped spur the Bears on to a good cup run and a string of well deserved victories later in the season. So, let’s hope for a good night once more, and a further narrowing of the gap!
Coventry Bears v Leeds Rhinos
Friday 18th January 7.30pm Kick off
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