George Boak, Jock Forsyth And The Birth Of Rugby League
Sincere thanks to David Gronow for permission to publish the following article and photographs.
In August 1893 Huddersfield signed the best two three-quarter backs in Cumberland, George Boak and John 'Jock' Forsyth from Carlisle-based club, Cummersdale Hornets. Investigated for offering enticements to these players, contrary to the strict rules of the Rugby Football Union (RFU), Huddersfield received a lengthy suspension from playing matches. It was one of the most severe of several punishments administered to clubs from the industrial north around this time, fuelling a growing anger and frustration with the RFU's intransigence over any kind of payments to players. This culminated in a momentous meeting on 29 August 1895 at the George Hotel in Huddersfield, where 20 northern clubs broke away from the RFU, setting up their own Northern Union. This was effectively the birth of rugby league, the name adopted by the sport in 1922.
Team Sports Become Established
Rugby and association football both had their origins in the centuries-old lawless excesses of folk, or mob, football. In 1848 a particularly bloody encounter is reported between Hepworth and Holmfirth, the earliest account of a rugby-type match in the Huddersfield area.
Encouraged by the public schools, the rules became formalised. From the 1850s to the 1870s mob football diverged into two distinct sports, association football and rugby football. The Football Association (FA) was founded in 1863 and the RFU in 1871. As their rules became widely understood and adopted, matches between teams from different places were possible, and the first cup competitions were inaugurated.
The blueprint for the organisation of many early football and rugby clubs came from cricket, aready an established sport – Yorkshire's oldest cricket club, Lascelles Hall, was founded in 1825. Many of the association football and rugby clubs were founded as an extension of the local cricket club, or at least run by men who also ran the cricket club. Huddersfield was one such club, rugby initially played as a winter-time sport for the members of Huddersfield Cricket and Athletic Club, which was founded in 1864.
Football and rugby matches became the focus of local attention. As in cricket, teams were a source of local pride. In the industrial north, those that carried the name of their village or town began to draw large crowds. A successful team meant larger gates and clubs therefore wanted to attract and retain the best players they could. To achieve this, payments to players, and other enticements such as goods, a job and accommodation became increasingly common.
Amateurs and Professionals
Cricket was the first team sport to accommodate professionals, the issue that was to prove rugby's Achilles heel. Cricket had inherited a tradition of professionals from its earliest days when players were among the beneficiaries from betting-fuelled single-wicket matches.
As northern club cricket developed, professionals played alongside working class amateurs and were fêted for their skills. This contrasted with the professionals' second-class status in county cricket, where the amateurs were revered for their high social class as gentlemen who could afford to play for nothing. By implication, the amateurs were playing for the sake of the game and were therefore moral sportsman who did not need to 'win at all costs'. Professionals needed the money – in itself a public display of lower social class – their 'poorer breeding' and financial dependence implying an increased likelihood of unsportsmanlike conduct. Cricket conveniently ignored the conduct of some amateurs, most notably WG Grace, who received large payments of 'expenses' and was not averse to bending the rules. But, whilst reflecting the hypocrisies of the rigid Victorian class system, cricket stumbled along a pragmatic route that accommodated every man from north to south, aristocratic gentleman to working-class factory worker. The key to this diversity was that it accommodated both amateurs and professionals.
By contrast, professionalism was banned in both football and rugby until, during the 1880s, the FA faced a growing crisis about payments and other enticements to attract and retain players. The catalyst was clubs' craving for success in the FA Cup and in the increasing number of provincial cup competitions. Most of the offending clubs were in the game's northern hotbed of industrial Lancashire. Fortunately for the FA, they had at the helm Secretary, Charles Alcock, who had invented the FA Cup in 1872, played in its first final, and fully appreciated what it meant to win it. In 1885, under his astute leadership, the FA bowed to the inevitable and allowed payments to players.
The RFU's Amateur Ethos
Of the three major team sports, only rugby now disallowed payments to players. In 1886, partly in reaction to the FA's decision, the upper-class gentlemen amateurs of the RFU formalised a ban on payments to players in the game's rules.
The RFU's amateur ethos – fair play and participating for the sake of the game – had been indoctrinated through 'Muscular Christianity', the ideal that underpinned sport in the public schools. If boys adhered to the rules of the game and demonstrated the unwritten codes of sportsmanship, they were more likely to show similar qualities off the field and become good, moral citizens. Enshrining amateurism in the RFU's rules was an extension of this code. It kept rugby, at least in the eyes of its ruling elite, unsullied, morally and socially superior to association football.
Regardless of their ability, rugby players who were not financially independent had to earn a living outside the game. In the south, where the game was primarily played by upper class gentlemen in front of mainly small crowds, this was not an issue. In the industrial northern towns of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cumberland the amateur ideal was economically unsustainable. Rugby's Yorkshire Cup, inaugurated in 1877, had the same effect as the FA Cup. Seduced by the allure of cup glory, clubs increasingly used enticements to attract and retain players, mirroring their Lancashire counterparts in the association game.
Matches between leading clubs in the north attracted huge crowds. 27,654 watched the 3rd round Yorkshire Cup tie between Leeds and Halifax at Headingley in 1891, bigger than the crowd for the FA Cup Final that year. As rugby's popularity and affluence increased, so did the tension between what clubs could afford to do and what they were allowed to do. No doubt many payments and other enticements went undetected, a good number were unproven, but for those who were caught, the punishments were harsh.
In 1889 one of Wakefield Trinity's best and longest-serving players, Teddy Bartram, was banned for life for receiving payments. In the same year Heckmondwike, whose players included England international and future captain Dickie Lockwood, were banned from playing for three months, found guilty of paying and finding work for some of their players.
In July 1890 the Yorkshire RFU blocked the move of Albert Storer to Otley because he was to be a professional in the club's cricket division. Similarly, Yorkshire wicketkeeper Sandy Bairstow was banned from playing rugby for Keighley because he was also Keighley's cricket professional and groundsman. Such bans were tacit admissions that the Yorkshire RFU could not police whether payments for rugby were hidden in cricket salaries.
In 1891 the Yorkshire RFU, pressurised by its leading clubs, inaugurated a league, the Yorkshire Senior Competition. They were attempting to copy the success of the Football League, which had been founded in 1888. Huddersfield committeeman, the Reverend Frank Marshall, accurately regarded the new league as 'a step towards professionalism'.
Marshall had been headmaster of Almondbury Grammar School since 1878, was a respected referee, an acknowledged authority on the game and absolute in his belief in the amateur ideal. As the new league intensified competition between clubs to sign and retain the best players, suspicions and accusations of professionalism increased and Marshall became the scourge of the clubs. Charges were brought against several, notoriously Bradford and Elland in 1892, the latter implicating two Huddersfield players. Rooting out professionalism resembled a witch hunt, with the Reverend Marshall, Huddersfield's representative on the Yorkshire County Committee, self-appointed witch-finder general. In his view, clubs 'had to be compelled by the stringency of rules' because of their 'evident disinclination to be tied by the spirit of honour'.
The leading northern clubs were largely defensive when professionalism was discussed – most if not all were guilty – but they were more aggressive in their support of bona fide 'broken time' payments, which the RFU also disallowed. Broken time pay was the repayment of wages lost if a player had to leave his place of work early to play. In an era when mines and factories were open until 1 or 2pm on Saturday afternoons, broken time payments were common recompense in club cricket and in association football, particularly for players in away teams. An overwhelming majority in the north believed such payments were just and should be applied to rugby footballers too.
On 5 June 1893, the Yorkshire RFU's AGM made a unanimous decision. At the AGM of the national RFU on 20 September, Yorkshire President, James Millar, would propose a modification of the laws, permitting remuneration for players' bona fide loss of time as 'the only means of resisting professionalism'.
A special train was chartered to Kings Cross to maximise votes in favour and, before a packed Westminster Hotel, Millar put his proposal. He urged the RFU to recognise the unfairness of working class men playing at a financial loss they could ill-afford, before thousands of spectators who were paying to watch them. Most of the Lancashire clubs were in support, but the motion was defeated by 282 votes to 136. Millar felt particularly betrayed by the Reverend Frank Marshall who broke ranks with his Yorkshire colleagues by speaking and voting for the status quo.
The meeting then passed even more stringent regulations in favour of amateurism. Any player or club accused of professionalism would be regarded as guilty until proven innocent, contrary to the country's accepted burden of proof. In prioritising the Corinthian amateur ideal over the economic reality of working-class players, the message was clear. If a man could not afford to play rugby he should not play. A schism in rugby's ranks loomed. For clubs that relied on working class players, a breakaway union was one solution. The other was to [continue to] to pay their broken time – and the rest – and not get caught!
Boak and Forsyth: Huddersfield Accused
One club currently hoping not to be caught was Huddersfield, which was under suspicion for illegally enticing and paying George Boak and John 'Jock' Forsyth, two of the best players from Cumberland. Bill Boak, George's grandson recalls: 'George was a three-quarter, so as you would expect, he had a turn of speed, and he was quite a renowned local sprinter over 100 yards.'
Boak and Forsyth had arrived in Huddersfield on 8 August 1893, walked straight into accommodation and within two days had jobs at Read, Holliday and Sons chemical works. They also began to train with the Huddersfield club, of which Mr Holliday, owner of the chemical works, was President. It was Holliday who proposed them as members of the rugby club on 15 August. Had the formal approval of broken time at the Yorkshire AGM in June lulled Huddersfield into complacency?
The Reverend Marshall, who suspected subterfuge and understood the workings of the RFU, pleaded with his fellow Huddersfield committee men to formally secure the transfers of Boak and Forsyth from Cummersdale Hornets as soon as possible, and certainly before they played any matches. In Marshall's opinion, it was 'the step that would have guarded and protected the club'.
Sadly, Marshall had long since been alienated for his views about professionalism. As far back as 1889, a Special Meeting of the Huddersfield committee had asked him to stop prosecuting cases of alleged professionalism. Most on the committee neither liked nor trusted him, but the price for ridiculing and ignoring his advice about 'the hazardous nature of the course the Committee were adopting' on this occasion would be a heavy one.
On 2 September Boak and Forsyth made their Huddersfield debuts in the first match of the season against Salford. On the same day Huddersfield contacted Cummersdale Hornets, but the players had taken the field before permission for their transfer was received, an error that invited scrutiny from the RFU.
Three days later, 5 September, Huddersfield received a hostile reply from Mr Jordan, Honorary Secretary of Cummersdale Hornets:
'The circumstances under which Forsyth and Boak left Cummersdale are such that my committee have been obliged to refer the matter to the Cumberland Rugby Union, hence we are unable to grant the transfer request. In any case your application arrived too late seeing that the players referred to were actually taking part in a match on the very day of the application.'
On 9 September Cummersdale wrote to the Cumberland County RFU, stating that Forsyth and Boak and been 'induced to leave' their club.
Meanwhile, on 4 September, Marshall questioned an ex-Huddersfield committeeman called Hardy, whom he suspected of 'engineering' the migration of Forsyth and Boak through inducements. 'His reply confirmed me in my suspicions and I resigned immediately from the committee.' With Marshall now a free agent and unlikely to keep his own counsel, Huddersfield's prospects looked bleak.
One can imagine Marshall's emotional state at this time. The Boak/Forsyth issue was still to be adjudicated and had just precipitated his resignation from the Huddersfield club. Against his wishes, the Yorkshire RFU was about to propose in favour of broken pay at the RFU's AGM in London on 20 September. Marshall was always going to oppose broken time in London, but in speaking with particular passion against it and as a member of the county committee proposing it, he made arguably the most influential contribution to the debate. Would he have spoken quite so earnestly and effectively but for the Boak/Forsyth issue?
For Huddersfield, the RFU's AGM was a disaster. Defeat for the proposal on broken time pay, and the passing of even more punitive laws on amateurism were bad enough. Then, to their horror, the Cumberland County RFU notified the national body that they were bringing a charge of professionalism against Huddersfield. The first club in the dock under the new principle of guilty until proven innocent was Huddersfield.
Boak and Forsyth in the Dock
Huddersfield's problems briefly took a back seat. On 30 September at Carlisle Police Court, Cummersdale Print Works charged Boak and Forsyth with leaving their employment without giving due notice.
Forsyth, who was 26 years old, was a skilled machine printer earning £1 a week. Boak, aged 22, was a 'back tender' (machine assistant) earning just 10s per week. Their employer claimed that twenty pieces of cloth had been ruined trying to get Forsyth's machine to operate and that a production line of machines had ground to a halt for a week because 'no one was acquainted with the thread of his work'.
Neither man appeared in court. Both were found guilty and ordered to pay costs of 10s, with fines of £3 against Forsyth and £1 against Boak.
Bill Boak has some sympathy with his grandfather:
'He was earning the princely sum of 10 shillings per week at Cummersdale, so really he had a tremendous incentive to move to Huddersfield or anywhere else that would pay him more money ... he would certainly be much better off in Yorkshire and I don't really blame him for what he did. After all, he'd had to leave his family behind and the incentive must have been there.'
Huddersfield in the Dock
Attention now switched to the RFU enquiry, on which the Bradford Observer commented:
'The case of the two Cumberland men has been under consideration ever since they migrated, and was bound to form the subject of examination sooner or later. The gravity of the matter only becomes apparent when one supposes the event of Huddersfield being convicted of professionalism … The enquiry into the Huddersfield transfers should take place at Carlisle tomorrow, but the accused club, with rather doubtful policy, objects to the venue.
It seems to us that as "Huddersfield court the fullest enquiry" they should throw no obstacles in the way of the same taking place without delay … Anyhow, Forsyth and Boak appear to have been played by Huddersfield in ignorance of their manner of leave-taking at Carlisle, because no club would voluntary take a risk of that kind upon itself …
Huddersfield are no worse than their neighbours, but this enquiry looks rather more serious than the usual thing, and that for several reasons. The Rugby Union is on the 'qui vive' now that it has received the mandate from the country at large to hunt up cases of professionalism, real or imaginary. Another thing which causes matters to look rather ominous is that somebody appears to know something special about the Huddersfield case.'
Forsyth and Boak had indeed been regulars in the Huddersfield team to that point in the season. The 'somebody' who had inside information about their case was, of course, Frank Marshall, who was asked to appear before the enquiry as an 'independent' witness.
The enquiry, on 13 October 1893, was switched from Carlisle to Preston at Huddersfield's request. The Yorkshire and Cumberland county authorities were refused representation on the investigating RFU sub-committee, which sat in private from 4pm to 11pm and heard evidence from many witnesses. The Huddersfield case was presented by the club's joint honorary secretaries Mr H Beardsell and Mr W Hirst.
Their explanation for Huddersfield's delay in applying to Cummersdale for the transfers was that 'the football season had not then commenced', and 'Cummersdale Hornets was not at that time a member of the English Rugby Union'. It didn't succeed, but was merely a prelude to the main event; how did Boak and Forsyth come to sign for Huddersfield at all, and, specifically, were they offered inducements?
Beardsell, Hirst and their witnesses then embarked on a convoluted tale which began with a youth called Armstrong who hailed from Langholme, four miles from Carlisle.
Armstrong, who was employed in a hardware shop in Huddersfield, claimed to have known Jock Forsyth for five or six years and had seen him play football. Around Easter 1893, whilst waiting for a train at Carlisle, Armstrong had allegedly bumped into Forsyth, who had told him he was 'tired of being in such a quiet, out-of-the-way place as Cummersdale'. He had asked Armstrong to let him know if he heard of any employment which might suit him, and that 'he had a friend who would also like to leave'. The implication was that the initial approach had come from the players via Armstrong.
A second chance meeting had occurred in Manchester, between William Forsyth, Jock Forsyth's uncle, and Huddersfield RFC's ex-committeeman, Hardy. They had discussed rugby football and Hardy was invited to visit Forsyth in Cummersdale that summer. He travelled up there in July but was recalled to Huddersfield early and so planned to return to Cumberland in August. By then, Armstrong had written to Jock Forsyth to tell him that a Huddersfield chemical works, Read, Holliday and Sons, was taking on extra hands. Armstrong had, meanwhile, met Hardy in Huddersfield and, learning that he was travelling to Carlisle to visit William Forsyth by excursion train on Saturday 5 August, bought two return tickets for Jock Forsyth and George Boak.
On Sunday 6 August, Hardy watched Forsyth and Boak run at an athletics meeting in Kendal, and he was seen in their company several times over the next couple of days, before returning with them to Huddersfield on Tuesday 8 August.
The Huddersfield club freely admitted all of Hardy's and Armstrong's actions. Their defence was that Hardy had resigned from both their committee and as a member of the club several months earlier, that they had no knowledge of the players until after they arrived in the town, and that there was no evidence to prove otherwise.
This unlikely claim became even more incredible when the Reverend Marshall gave his evidence. Marshall was asked to explain why he had resigned from the Huddersfield committee, and the following is a précis of his letter to the Huddersfield committee detailing his reasons.
Marshall's suspicions were first aroused when he saw Forsyth and Boak at a cricket match at Fartown on Saturday 12 August, 'being taken round in company with prominent members of the football section and … openly introduced as new players who would strengthen the football team'. The 'prominent members' were the Huddersfield three-quarter back, Jack Dyson, a committee man, Leonard, and Hardy.
Later in August, at the club's St John's Gymnasium headquarters, Marshall 'learnt sufficient to cause me to suspect that matters were not altogether right as regards Forsyth and Boak'. This was confirmed by a conversation with Hardy on 4 September. 'I could not be a party to the methods adopted by the Committee. Their plan was to assume ignorance – to know nothing officially … The club may not be guilty (legally), but I am so convinced that the removal of the men from Cummersdale has been brought about by means that are contrary to the spirit of the laws of the Rugby Union … that I will have nothing to do with the club officially. I decline to make myself 'particeps criminis'.
Marshall also supplied evidence that Hardy had attended a committee meeting during the summer and had recently sat in committee seats in the stand during matches at Fartown.
In Huddersfield it was known that during September Marshall had also been to Carlisle and arranged for two Cummersdale men to visit Huddersfield to confirm Hardy's identity. Hardy had refused to see them. Intriguingly, these witnesses were then followed through Huddersfield, and later through Leeds by two men, one of whom was Jack Dyson. It is not known whether this piece of information was presented to the enquiry.
Unsurprisingly, Huddersfield was found guilty of breaking the rules on professionalism by enticing players through payments and offers of work. The enquiry cited that: Armstrong was barely acquainted with Forsyth and did not even know Boak; neither were Hardy and William Forsyth previously acquainted, making Hardy's invitation to holiday with Forsyth unlikely; Forsyth and Boak were unlikely to move just for a change of scenery; and Hardy seemed prone to an improbable number of chance meetings.
All of this, plus the advance train tickets and pre-arranged jobs at the company owned by the club President pointed to a plot hatched by the club, which Marshall's evidence only confirmed.
The findings of the sub-committee were reported to the RFU Committee on 26 October at a meeting at the Craven Hotel in the Strand, London. After a seven-hour discussion, Forsyth and Boak were suspended permanently.
Only the sentence for the club remained. Expulsion from the union was a real possibility. Many feared that Saturday 11 November 1893 would see the last match at Fartown.
On the evening of Tuesday 14 November, hundreds assembled by the electric telegraph office in St George's Square to await news from the RFU meeting in London. The telegram arrived at 10.30pm. Huddersfield had been suspended until the end of 1893, a total of eight matches. They had also to pay the costs of the enquiry, originally fixed at £50 but later reduced to £33. The sentence was harsh, but was also a long-term reprieve. Minutes show that the committee's initial intention had indeed been to expel Huddersfield from the RFU.
The Birth of Rugby League
The Rugby Union continued its campaign against professionalism with other clubs – Broughton Rangers, Rochdale, Swinton and Tyldesley were investigated and Leigh, Salford and Wigan, like Huddersfield, were banned. Tensions between the RFU's amateur elite and the working-class northern clubs reached breaking point.
The amateur ideal had proved impossible to police effectively or fairly. The gap between sporting ideal and economic reality had become a chasm. Opinion had polarised: amateur v professional; north v south; upper class gentleman v working class factory worker. Yet, even with the game about to split asunder, the RFU remained dogmatic and uncompromising. The sight of professionals winning at all costs on the field was to be avoided at all costs off it, by the ruthless persecution of suspected 'pros' and their clubs.
Seething at the injustice, the principal Yorkshire and Lancashire clubs met at Huddersfield's George Hotel towards the end of 1894. They declared that the views of the Rugby Union towards professionalism 'are not a reasonable and just interpretation and cannot be accepted by us'. This meeting, according to a local contemporary, 'practically settled the question'.
Even so, lengthy deliberations over the next few months suggest that, had the RFU acceded over broken time pay, the northern clubs would have continued their league competitions under the RFU banner. The RFU's refusal to compromise made a breakaway inevitable. On Thursday 29 August 1895 at the George Hotel, Huddersfield, representatives from twenty-one clubs reconsidered the issues for three hours before voting, by 20 votes to one, to resign from the RFU, to 'form a Northern Rugby Football Union and … push forward without delay … on … the payment for … "broken time" only'. Broken time pay was set at 6 shillings per day.
The 21 clubs at the meeting were: Batley, Bradford, Brighouse Rangers, Dewsbury, Halifax, Huddersfield, Hull, Hunslet, Leeds, Liversedge, Manningham and Wakefield Trinity (Yorkshire): Broughton Rangers, Leigh, Oldham, Rochdale Hornets, St Helens, Tyldesley, Warrington, Widnes and Wigan (Lancashire). Dewsbury, which voted against, remained within the RFU for a further six years, but Stockport and Runcorn brought the Northern Union's number to 22.
These clubs were quickly cut adrift by the RFU which ruled that no matches would be allowed between 'clubs belonging to our union' and 'any club … of the Northern Union'.
In 1898 the Northern Union allowed professionalism. Players could be paid on the condition that they had other employment outside the game.
The Northern Union grew quickly. In Yorkshire, RFU membership went down from 150 clubs in 1895 to 14 by 1907. Nationally, Rugby Union membership went down from 481 clubs in 1895 to 244 by 1903, nearly all of the lost clubs joining the Northern Union. Many northern clubs changed to the Northern Union, not to play a more exciting game or to pay broken time, but because they had hardly any local rugby union clubs left to play. The very small Northern Union clubs had to work hard just to raise the money for broken time payments. Some went bankrupt and most agreed not to pay their players anything. Today there are fewer than 50 professional and semi-professional rugby league clubs and hundreds of amateur rugby league clubs.
The Rugby Football Union did eventually allow players to be paid – in 1995, one hundred years after the game split in two and saw the birth of rugby league, which was the name adopted by the Northern RFU in 1922.
Though the notorious Boak and Forsyth case did not actually force the formation of the Northern Union it was the most high-profile and contemporary case when broken time pay was rejected by the RFU in 1893, the point of no return which culminated in the split in 1895.
Boak Family Memories
What of the chief protagonists?
The Huddersfield club produced for its members a 'Committee's Report of Cumberland v Huddersfield on a Charge of Professionalism'. It concluded:
'Unfortunately the result of the judgement affects your Club very materially, not only in its status, but also from a pecuniary point of view. The loss will be large, but no doubt your Club will be able to partly recoup itself after the period of suspension … It is a matter of extreme regret that the status of the Club … should at this period in its history, when gaining ground rapidly, have a stain upon its character by reason of this unfortunate suspension.'
The verdict hardened Huddersfield's view of the RFU and made their involvement in any breakaway union more certain. Geographically central to the founder clubs of the Northern Union, the Huddersfield venue for the birth of the Union also suggests that the club was particularly committed and their support guaranteed.
In 1896, within a year of the birth of the Northern Union, the Reverend Frank Marshall resigned his headmaster's position at Almondbury to become Rector of Mileham in Norfolk. He died on 19 April 1906, aged 58.
An undated newspaper cutting suggests that Jock Forsyth and George Boak were indeed enticed to Huddersfield, stating that Forsyth would probably start on 30 shillings per week with Boak on 25 shillings, with future increases dependent on how they suited the team. These wages improve on their earnings in Cummersdale by 50% for Forsyth and by 150% for Boak, certainly enough to persuade them to move.
If the two players returned to Carlisle after they were banned from playing on 26 October, they would at least have had finance to tide them over a few weeks. They may even have continued to work at Read, Holliday and Sons for a time.
Nothing is known of Jock Forsyth after 1893, but, George Boak's descendants, interviewed in 2012, have revealed much about the rest of George's story.
Bill Boak, George's grandson, was asked what impact it would have had on the family when George moved to Huddersfield:
"I think it would obviously put a strain on the family. He left a wife in her early twenties with three children. He had two girls up to 1893 - one was born in 1893 - I guess he must have felt pretty lonely, especially after the unfavourable publicity of the move."
The 1901 census shows George Boak back in Carlisle, where Carlisle RUFC was the only Cumberland club still playing rugby union, the rest having switched to the Northern Union code. There is evidence that Boak played Northern Union because, ironically, he was one of the few players given permission to return from Northern Union to play rugby union. It seems logical, given their ban from rugby union, and their age, that Forsyth also played Northern Union at some point. Perhaps both players were able to earn remuneration from rugby after all.
Bill Boak commented: 'I don't know how he felt after things had settled down and he'd come back to Carlisle but I imagine that he'd be extremely disappointed to lose the prospect of a decent wage and perhaps a more congenial sort of job.'
George became a successful publican, first at the Royal Oak in Caldewgate, near the biscuit works in Carlisle. In 1905 he moved across the city with his wife and family to run the Spinners Arms, a building which is still standing in Milbourne Street.
Bill Boak, George's grandson recalls:
'He must have still been pretty athletic, because I remember Mum saying that he would think nothing, if somebody was getting rowdy or stroppy, of jumping over the bar and kicking them out ... he still had the athleticism. Although he only appeared to be quite a small man he still had the physique to turf somebody out.
I knew George's wife (my grandmother) Isabella, who was called Bella. I knew her well, very well. She still lived in the pub, the Spinners Arms, which ceased to be a pub in 1916 when the Control Board nationalised pubs in this area and in parts of Scotland. That was because drunkenness amongst the workers was affecting production in the munitions factory at Gretna, which was the largest in the country. The government turned the pubs into temperance houses.
Bella carried on living there and I think she tried to run it as a non-liquor pub for food and soft drinks and that sort of thing. After all, she had to make a bit of money somehow. When George died, she had had twelve children, ten of whom survived. She was a kind old soul. Everybody liked her.'
George Boak drowned in the River Eden in 1914. He was 43 years of age.
George Boak's Athletic Legacy
Bill Boak tells us that George's athleticism lives on through his descendants: 'George has over 100 descendants and I'm delighted to say that his sporting prowess –his sporting ability – has been passed down four generations.'
Sport was certainly a serious business in the family. Bill Boak's mother told him about George once admonishing his son, Sam, 'for going swimming in the morning of a day when he was going to run in a boys' race. The feeling at the time ... was that swimming and athletics – running – just didn't mix, that swimming was bad for running, and running was the family sport, not swimming.'
Echoing George's move to Huddersfield, in 1923 Sam was invited to play as centre forward for Castleford and Allerton United FC. The package to move from Carlisle included accommodation and a job at Allerton Bywater Colliery. Unlike George's move 30 years earlier, such enticements were, of course, entirely within the rules.
In the 1950s, George's grandson, Bill, represented England in several international cross-country events, and was good enough to record victories over both Jim Peters and Huddersfield's Derek Ibbotson in 1953. Ibbotson went on the win bronze in the 5000 metres at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics and to set the world record for the mile in 1957.
Almost a century after George's death, his athletic legacy continued; in 2012 George's great-great children, Robert and Gillian, were due to run in the New York Marathon which was cancelled in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. 'I don't know whether the athleticism will continue through future generations,' said Bill, 'but it would be nice to think so'.