Joe Warham

RUGBY league player, coach and administrator Joe Warham, who has died aged 93, was one of the masterminds behind Leeds’ first two Championship triumphs.

Joe Warham

Founder members of the Northern Union in 1895, the Loiners – as they were then known had to wait until 1961 before the Championship trophy was finally displayed at Headingley Stadium.

Having suffered a number of defeats in the title decider, most notably when they were beaten by city rivals Hunslet in 1938, some Leeds fans had given up hope of ever seeing their team crowned the best in the country.

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However, within three years of Warham joining the club, Welsh great Lewis Jones led Leeds to a famous 25-10 victory over Warrington at Odsal to take hold of rugby league’s Holy Grail for the first time.

In an interview two years ago with Leeds Rhinos heritage officer Phil Caplan, to mark the 50th anniversary of the maiden Championship win, Warham recalled how he had to change the culture at the club to build a team capable of winning the title.

He said: “Apparently, in the cup run in ‘57, after every winning round they were entertained by a local businessman at parties, the high life, which staggered me when I came.

“I said to Keith [McLellan, Leeds’ captain] that, in my opinion, they weren’t fit and that we would have to have them in for extra training on Wednesdays.

“He said they wouldn’t come and that I was making a rod for my own back, that was the type of atmosphere I was dealing with.”

Leeds stalwart Dai Prosser was brought in to help with coaching and, under Warham’s guidance, a number of top-quality, experienced players were recruited.

Warham recalled being given an indication of what it meant to the club’s supporters, hours after the long-awaited win over Warrington, ironically his hometown club.

He said: “I came out of the dressing room and there was an old spectator with his arms hanging over the crowd barrier, who I recognised from seeing often.

“I said to him, ‘It’s all over now, what are you hanging on for?’ There were tears in his eyes and all he could say was, ‘We’ve done it, we’ve done it. I’ve seen them win the Championship’. It still makes me get sentimental now, that I’ll never forget.”

After 1961 Warham took a managerial role, but was back in the coaching hot seat, following Roy Francis’ departure, when Leeds regained the Championship title against Castleford in 1969.

During that time he was also in charge of recruitment and his keen eye for playing talent brought to Headingley many of the young players who were to become Leeds legends in the late 1960s and 70s.

Warham was made general manager in 1980, the title of chief executive not existing at that time and spent 10 years in the role before his retirement.

Under Warham’s management a number of improvements were made to the stadium, including the installation of a revolutionary electronic scoreboard on the cricket side of the ground.

He remained involved with the club after leaving the board, as president of the Taverners’ Club and the Leeds ex-players’ association.

He attended this year’s World Club Challenge match against Melbourne Storm in February, but was too frail to accept an invitation to be guest of honour at the home game against Hull KR three weeks ago, which marked the 70th anniversary of his marriage to wife Eileen.

Born in Warrington in 1920, Warham supported the Wire as a child, played as a winger for Oldham and Swinton and had a spell as coach at Rochdale before joining Leeds, where he served in almost every non-playing capacity.

Away from rugby he was a teacher at Roundhay School.