Rugby league is expecting interest from town and cities across Yorkshire after announcing plans for a first-ever national museum to house its vast collection of memorabilia.
The charity Rugby League Cares, which funded the bronze statue at Wembley that celebrates the sport’s association with the national stadium, is behind the plans for the museum, which could open its doors as early as 2020.
Dr Kevin Moore, the director of the National Football Museum, has been appointed to head a working group that will look into all aspects of the proposed rugby league museum, including location and funding options.
As well as displaying heritage material, the museum is expected to be the home of the Rugby League Hall of Fame, which has not had a permanent display since being exhibited in the 1990s in the somewhat incongruous setting of the Bentley Arms, a carvery pub on the outskirts of Leeds.
Rugby League Cares General Manager Chris Rostron said: “Rugby League is the only major sport that does not have a dedicated national museum and this project will hopefully address that.
”We are delighted that Kevin has accepted our invitation to lead the feasibility study: his experience and expertise will be invaluable.
“One of the pillars of Rugby League Cares is our heritage because as a sport it’s something we are massively proud of.
“We have been working on this project since last summer, when thousands of people across the country helped rugby league celebrate its 120-year anniversary. The proposed National Rugby League Museum allows us to build on the interest in, and passion for our history that is shared by so many people.”
Rugby League was born in 1895 when 22 clubs broke away from the RFU over the issue of ‘broken-time’ payments to working class players in compensation for earnings lost by taking time off work to play on Saturdays.
The breakaway happened at a meeting at The George Hotel, Huddersfield, and the sport’s birthplace is expected to stake a strong claim for the museum. A collection of memorabilia owned by former Great Britain player and current Sky TV commentator Mike Stephenson was until recently exhibited at The George Hotel before it closed in 2013.
That collection has since been acquired by Rugby League Cares, which is currently curating the vast amount of archive material and memorabilia amassed since 1895.
Towns and cities like Wigan, St Helens, Hull, Leeds and Bradford, which all have rich associations with the sport, are also likely to be in the running as the museum’s location, the identity of which will be announced in the summer.
Rugby league has had support from the Heritage Lottery Fund on a number of initiatives in the last few years whilst Rugby League Cares has funded, or co-funded 15 projects linked to the sport’s history, including a touring heritage exhibition and the Wembley statue.
Dr Kevin Moore said: “It is clear that there is a game-wide passion for Rugby League’s heritage and a national museum will bring to life the characters and events that have helped shaped this great sport over the last 120 years and before.
“We are looking at developing a high quality museum that eclipses all other sports museums in the world, a facility that is immersive, interactive and educational and which contributes to the strategic objectives of the game.”
The working group is liaising with local authorities to find the best location for the National Rugby League Museum and has been charged with creating a revenue plan to meet the goal of opening in 2020.
Between now and 2018 the design and construction process will hopefully get underway as Rugby League Cares assembles and refines its collections for display, preservation and exhibition.