'Leeds Tykes are not looking over their shoulders any more' - Jake Brady looking to re-engage fanbase as Yorkshire club's fall finally bottoms out
“The likes of ‘Ronnie’ Regan running round,” he smiles, wistfully. “I remember the Powergen Cup run, the Heineken Cup games.”
As a semi-professional player, he joined them in 2019 from Darlington Mowden Park after learning the game at his local club Pontefract, in the Doncaster Knights academy and in eight years at Harrogate.
“When you spend those years idolising the players and looking at the badge, and then you get chance to pull on that shirt and play for them, that is really special.”
Now, in his mid-30s, Brady is attempting to infuse his passion for Leeds Tykes into others in his role as general manager.
In his five years at the club he has known nothing but fighting fires; his highlight of playing for Leeds symptomatic of the travails they have endured, merely avoiding relegation in the spring of 2022.
“Staving off a negative rather than a huge positive, but it was still great to achieve what we set out to do,” he reflects.
Reality caught up with them a year later and Brady suffered his second relegation with the club, their third in a decade of decline and near financial oblivion that now finds a once proud name of northern rugby union playing in the amateur fourth tier, National League North, a long way from those halcyon days of the mid-2000s when he first fell in love with the Tykes.
Through the over-reaching of the Neil Back era when they aimed for the top six to Sir Ian McGeechan’s mis-guided ambition to make them Yorkshire Carnegie and a magnet for all the county’s best players, through administration and job losses to eventually moving out of an empty Headingley, it has been a catastrophic fall from relevance. But Leeds Tykes are still alive.
Phil Davies revived the name and kept them ticking when he returned just before the Covid pandemic.
In the midst of locked-out rugby, the club’s legendary coach and a significant figure in the global game saw something in Brady to ask him to play a role in the club’s future.
“It was a great honour when Phil asked me to step up, he obviously saw something in me that this is the kind of person we’d want driving the club forward,” says Brady.
“I had no intention of doing something like this, but who wouldn’t want to learn off Phil Davies? Going to work every day and learning off a bloke like that.
“When he changed the name back to Tykes it felt really special, getting to see that badge again and putting it on the chest.
“To have even more influence on where we’re going and what we’re trying to do, I feel really lucky to be doing what I’m doing.
“I still play when needed, which is a lot, so to still be involved on a matchday and influence the team that way, but also off the pitch and steer the club where we want it to go and get the fans back re-engaged, is important to me.”
Tykes have been playing at West Park Leeds RUFC’s ground of the Sycamores for a few years now. They have a new coaching set-up in place, Pete Seabourne as over-seeing director of rugby with two attack coaches in Brady’s former coaching mentor from Harrogate, Mike Aspinall, and ex-back Pete Lucock, with long-standing player Rob Rawlinson and James Phillips handling the defence.
Most players have full-time jobs and train two nights a week.
“There’s no hangover from the Carnegie days. The players are all local kids trying to perform to the best of their ability,” says Brady.
“For the leadership, the board of directors etc, it’s been tough, the whole breakdown of the club, going into administration. But fair play to them they haven’t thrown in the towel, they stuck with it and thought: ‘look, for all the heritage and history that Leeds Tykes has got we can’t give up on it and let it fade away and become nothing’.
“And I’m the same. The feeling is we’re all custodians of Leeds Tykes and we’ve got a responsibility to the name and the badge, the history, the blood, sweat and tears that has gone before to put our best foot forward and try and recreate some of that.”
There is no rhetoric of the past, just small steps, continuing this Saturday when they welcome Otley to the Sycamores, two grand old names just over the hill from each other.
“As an older player who remembers those rivalries, it’s exciting,” says Brady, who with nine Yorkshire teams in the fourth tier is confident of an increase on last year’s average attendance of 300.
“We have our loyal supporters who have been there from the beginning, but there’ll also be people out there who remember the name and we need to tap into that. We need to give them that little extra push to come back and see us, that maybe Leeds Tykes are not looking over their shoulders any more.”