Leeds Rhinos Bygones: Title hopes in tatters after Loiners humbled by minnows Blackpool

John Holmes.
John Holmes.
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ONE OF the most embarrassing results in Leeds’ history occurred 35 years ago today.

On March 23, 1980, the Loiners managed the notable feat of losing at home to Blackpool Borough, arguably among the poorest teams ever to have appeared in the top-flight.

It was a defeat which cost Leeds any hope of winning the First Division title, but is still remembered fondly in Blackpool, where professional rugby league is now a thing of the past.

Blackpool had been promoted at the end of the previous season, but were destined to finish bottom of the table, winning only five games all year – though Wigan were among their other victims.

They had sacked their coach the week before the game at Leeds and arrived only 15 minutes before kick-off, due to traffic delays, but pulled off one of the biggest upsets since the reintroduction of two divisions seven years earlier.

Leeds were unbeaten at Headingley that season and were the only Division One team to have scored more than 500 points, while Blackpool – having conceded 498 – had the poorest defence.

It should have been a walk-over, but in the end it proved to be a walk-out, many Leeds fans in the 4,600 crowd heading for the exits long before the hooter sounded on an infamous 18-15 defeat.

Leeds coach Syd Hynes named John Holmes and David Ward – whose place as starting hooker was taken by current Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington – on the bench.

Ward came on after 33 minutes and Holmes was introduced, at loose-forward, early in the second half, but even they could not turn things around.

Yorkshire Evening Post reporter Trevor Watson described Leeds’ display as “an amazing performance of how to make possession disappear”.

According to Watson, the home supporters “watched in disbelief as Leeds made every possible mistake, and a few that didn’t seem possible”.

Leeds actually led 10-7 at half-time, after tries by David Smith and Eddie Cunningham.

Smith touched down again in the second half and Kevin Dick kicked three goals, but Borough were worthy winners.

Stand-off Alan Fairhurst scored a try and four goals for the visitors, whose side included Phil Holmes, younger brother of John.

Full-back John Risman – brother of ex-Leeds Challenge Cup winner Bev – also crossed, along with scrum-half Mick Chester.

The visitors’ tally was completed by a drop goal.


Leeds 15

Blackpool Borough 18

Division one 
march 23, 1980

Leeds: Oulton, D Smith, Cunningham, Dyl, Atkinson, Hague, Dick, Dickinson, Hetherington, Pitchford, Eccles, Cookson, Heron. Subs: J Holmes, Ward.

Blackpool Borough: Risman, Saunders, Redford, Mayor, York, Fairhurst, Chester, Gamble, Parry, Molyneux, Lomax, P Holmes, Corcoran.

Referee: J McDonald.

Attendance: 4,600.