Yorkshire Day heroes: RL hero Alf’s still a champ at age of 92

Former Rugby League Player Alf 'Ginger' Burnell, pictured at his home at Pool in Wharfedale. Picture by Simon Hulme
Former Rugby League Player Alf 'Ginger' Burnell, pictured at his home at Pool in Wharfedale. Picture by Simon Hulme
  • YEP readers were recently asked to nominate local people for recognition as heroes today, Yorkshire Day. Paul Robinson, Katie Baldwin and Hannah Start report on your top five picks.
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HIS sporting life did not bring him vast wealth or global fame.

But, nearly 60 years after he played his last game of rugby league for Hunslet, Alf ‘Ginger’ Burnell remains the epitome of a down-to-earth Yorkshire Day hero.

It’s nice to be nominated as a local hero especially as they used to say I was a nasty so and so on the rugby field but I’m a nice person off the field and I hope that I can carry on doing nice things for people.

Alf ‘Ginger’ Burnell

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Still revered by fans lucky enough to have seen him in his pomp as an elusive and brave scrum-half, Alf is now 92 and living in Pool in Wharfedale with his beloved wife Mary.

And, here at the Yorkshire Evening Post, we are proud to salute a man who is the polar opposite of many of the preening, pampered sports superstars of today.

Hunslet-born Alf was nominated for his Yorkshire Day honour by granddaughter Lucinda Blackburn, 31, from Otley, who said: “When he’s asked about the past, he gets a cheeky glint in his eyes and takes pleasure in reliving these fantastic memories with anyone who will take the time to listen to him!

“He’s so resilient and the most interesting man you could meet. I am so lucky to call him my grandad and truly he is my hero.”

Alf told the YEP: “It’s nice to be nominated as a local hero especially as they used to say I was a nasty so and so on the rugby field but I’m a nice person off the field and I hope that I can carry on doing nice things for people.”

Alf starred with Hunslet when the club was based at Parkside and – with a playing style that was described as “defiance itself” – gained honours with Yorkshire, England and Great Britain. Easily recognisable thanks to the then red hair that earned him his nickname, he also saw action during the Second World War.

After hanging up his boots in 1958, he ran three pubs in Leeds – the Red House, the Drysalters and the Spotted Cow. He is also a gifted artist, a pastime that gave rise to a story that perhaps captures what it means to be a real Yorkshire hero.

Somebody, it is said, once ran the rule over one of Alf’s pictures and, while praising the work, finished by saying: “You’re no Leonardo da Vinci, are you?”

“Happen not,” replied the artist. “But I was a sight better bloody scrum half than he was.” Alf ‘Ginger’ Burnell – they don’t make them like that anymore.

RTA Leeds

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