A fond farewell to Harry Jepson, last link to rugby league’s past

Rugby league legend Harry Jepson's memorial service at Headingley Carnegie Stadium.  Picture Tony Johnson.

Rugby league legend Harry Jepson's memorial service at Headingley Carnegie Stadium. Picture Tony Johnson.

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AN ERA ended when rugby league legend Harry Jepson left Headingley Stadium for the final time yesterday.

About 1,000 past and present players and coaches, administrators and fans gave a standing ovation when the hearse bearing Jepson’s coffin left for the crematorium following a two-hour celebration of his “wonderful life”.

Jepson, who was 96 when he died last month, was the last link to rugby league’s past. He was born 25 years after the sport was founded and knew some of those involved in the breakaway from the Rugby Football Union on August 29, 1895.

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Born in Hunslet, Jepson had a long association with his local club before joining Leeds in 1970. He rose to become football chairman and later club president and was also a founder member of the Rugby Football League’s board of directors.

The sport’s leading historian, Professor Tony Collins, recounted how Jepson had been among hundreds of schoolboys who travelled to Wembley to see Hunslet beat Widnes in the 1934 Challenge Cup final. The following day he and thousands of others gathered to welcome the team home when they arrived in Leeds. The young Jepson then walked with the players back to Hunslet, as they called in at every pub en-route to show off the trophy.

“Harry was the last of a remarkable generation of Hunslet-born men,” Collins said.

“He played rugby in the same streets as the Oscar-nominated actor Peter O’Toole and the writers Willis Hall and Keith Waterhouse. He was a giant of a man, he had a heart as big and as warm as the sun that shines over us. When people ask why we call it the greatest game of all, we will tell them about Harry Jepson.”

Other tributes were paid by his friends Phil Caplan and Ronnie Teeman, ex-Leeds footballers Alan Smith and Tony Currie, ex-Leeds chief executive Alf Davies and RFL chief executive Nigel Wood.

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