Derrick Schofield: Researching my rugby-playing grandad

Julie Wakeling

In this article, I want to tell you a bit about my grandad Derrick – and in particular, his rugby career.  But I also want to talk you through how I found the various bits of information I’ve got about him.

Some bits I know from talking to family – or to Grandad while he was still with us – but I’ve picked up a surprising amount of detail from the internet.

I found some great photos

So – first thing’s first. 

This is my grandad, Derrick Schofield, all decked out in his GB kit and cap.  This photo was taken in 1955, when he played against New Zealand. 

My uncle Rodney has this picture hanging on his wall, but I actually found this copy via a public post on Facebook.  My cousin Ian had posted it as part of a conversation with someone in the “Rochdale Hornets RLFC 1958-64” group on Facebook – you do get some very random and specific groups on there! (You’ll need to be logged in to Facebook if you want to view the post, but you can see it here.)

That same conversation yielded another picture I’d never seen before, which was the 1952 Rochdale Hornets team – his last year with the club before he transferred to Halifax.  My grandad’s the one in the top left, stood next to the coach.

But a lot of this, I already knew…

Now, seeing these pictures was great, but I already knew the basic details about his career. 

So I knew he got three international caps – the one in the picture (against New Zealand) and another two for the England team (one against Wales and the other against France).  He started (and ended) his career at Rochdale Hornets, and played for Halifax and Castleford in the middle.  He coached for years once he’d finished playing.  He was never a superstar, but he was a really solid rugby league player.

I also remember his stories of going up to the lakes to play against Barrow (a really big team at the time) and Whitehaven.  According to my grandma, as rowdy and drunken an excuse for a bunch of lads as you’ve ever seen!  Certainly in the 50s, a gentleman’s sport rugby league was not.  And I loved to hear him belting out the old rugby anthems – Jerusalem, Swing Low Sweet Chariot, and the immortal Ilkley Moor Bart’ At.

But the most interesting things I’ve found about him have come from newspaper clippings, and digging a bit deeper into individual matches…

A world record breaking crowd

For example, he played on the second row for Halifax in the 1954 Challenge Cup final against Warrington at Wembley Stadium.  (Can I just say that again.  My grandad Derrick played at Wembley Stadium… and never told me…). 

Turns out that match was a draw, so they had another go a couple of weeks later. The rematch was at Odsal Stadium in Bradford, and it attracted a record-breaking official crowd of 102,575 (and more actually – since they opened the gates part way through the match).  That record for the biggest official crowd at a Rugby League game wasn’t beaten until 1999 – and in practice, there’s probably never been a crowd that big again.  Quite a piece of history.

I found a little bit of grainy footage from the match actually – again on Facebook.  If you want to have a look, you can see him quite clearly at about 10 seconds in – he’s wearing a number 12 shirt.

Articles on the British Newspaper Archive

The British Library have a huge archive of local and national newspapers, going all the way back to the 1700s – and they’re gradually digitising it all.  You can search the archive for free, but you need a subscription to see the full article (although they give you the first three articles for free when you sign up).  I searched for my grandad and found some lovely little snippets.

One that made me chuckle was about a match that he didn’t play in actually… because he couldn’t get out of work.  (There’s top-flight rugby in the 50s for you!)  League has always been professional, so he got paid to play, but you’d never earn enough playing rugby to keep a wife and kids.  So to pay the bills, he was a production manager at a cloth mill in Rochdale.

I also found a couple of articles about the end of his career.  In 1956, he moved from Halifax to Castleford. He played a solid two years, then retired in 1958 at the ripe old age of 30.  He ended up as a coach for Rochdale Hornets, but I found an article about the end of that too.  He was sacked after they were knocked out in the first round of the Challenge Cup against Warrington in 1971.  It sounded a bit brutal, honestly.

By the time my big sister was born the following year, he’d left all that behind him and moved on.

It’s funny looking back, though. To me, he was just Grandad – now he’s got his own little Wikipedia article. Who’d have thought it!

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3 thoughts on “Derrick Schofield: Researching my rugby-playing grandad

  1. This article / story about your grandad is fantastic, Julie – thank you.

    Makes me realise how much we love(d) our grandads (and nanas, of course!)

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