From The Vaults

26 June 2023
The Ghost Player by Andrew Rishworth

'The Roses Match' by William Barnes Wollen hangs on the wall of the President's Suite in the West Stand of Twickenham Stadium. It depicts a late 19th Century match between Lancashire and Yorkshire and famously features a "ghost" player who was originally included and then painted out.

In this article, Andrew Rishworth shares an extract of his research on the subject.

We know the unfortunate make-weight was a Yorkshire player and given that the scene depicted is largely centred around a rush by the forwards then it is more likely that the player was also a forward. If that is the case then this narrows the options down to four players who were in the Yorkshire pack for this fixture but either don't appear elsewhere in the composition or have not been clearly identified. Of course this also assumes that Wollen didn't go off script and include a further player that didn't actually play in the fixture. A lot of assumptions but the four possible forward candidates are W Donaldson (Manningham), J Riley (Leeds), J Riley (Halifax), and W Walton (Castleford).

Without any apology for my Manningham bias I would like to think it is the ghost of Donaldson that has been left behind to forever haunt the conscience of Rowland Hill. The lingering spirit of Donaldson would provide a form of consolation to a victim of the fallout from the schism.

Following Manningham's decision to join the Northern Union in 1895, Donaldson played in six of the first eight fixtures of the 1895-96 season before succumbing to injury or illness. While out of the game he returned to his native Hawick in the Scottish borders to continue his convalescence. Once fully recovered and having found employment in the town he sought to resume his rugby career with his local club but was denied on account of his six appearances for Manningham. This left him with two options; either prematurely end his playing days or return south and seek a contract with a club in the Northern Union. The economic realities coupled with the intransigence of the RFU forced him out of the game.

The Roses Match

Donaldson was the other half of the Manningham and Yorkshire dynamic forward duo. Donaldson and Barraclough had made a formidable combination at club level that proved equally successful at county level where they were the mainstays for Yorkshire's 1884-85 season. Barraclough featured in all seven of Yorkshire's fixtures during the course of the season while Donaldson was one of only four players to miss just one of those fixtures. Described as a burly forward, it's hard to imagine him not being in the thick of the action alongside his club team mate both of whom were reported in the Athletic News of 26 November 1894 as 'being very prominent'.

Donaldson was not only distinguished by his forward play but also by his goal kicking abilities. During the course of the game he was successful with two of his three attempts at goal. One of those successful attempts came following the try that was scored from the build-up play that Wollen has chosen to depict.

In press reports, Donaldson's name features prominently:

'Donaldson's goal one of those points which few men can bring off'

'Donaldson, with a mighty place from near the touch-line, landed a splendid goal.

'Which was the better of the Manningham heavy weights, the burly Scotch man, Donaldson, or Barraclough.'

- Athletic News, 26 November 1894

'Donaldson took the kick, and with a magnificent effort placed another goal to the Tykes' credit.

'Donaldson took the place, and another touch down resulted.'

'Donaldson was again called into requisition. The Manningham representative by a splendid effort converted the place into goal'

'Donaldson dribbled to the home 25'

'Donaldson failed the place'

- Manchester Courier & Lancashire General Advertiser, 26 November 1894

'Donaldson and Barraclough were always to the fore in the loose rushes'

- Bradford Daily Telegraph, 26 November 1894

In the same press reports Riley of Leeds is mentioned twice while Riley of Halifax is mentioned just once in passing. However, Bill Walton then of Castleford but subsequently of Wakefield Trinity in the Northern Union, may be another strong candidate. Although only mentioned twice in the same press reports one of those mentions is a telling contribution:

'Walton, dropping on the ball, placed another try to Yorkshire's credit.'

- Manchester Courier & Lancashire General Advertiser, 26 November 1894

Donaldson missed the resulting kick at goal. Walton had also won an England cap earlier in the year against Scotland in Edinburgh on 17 March 1894.

It could be either of Donaldson or Walton or neither of them, but I'd like to think it's Donaldson the burly Scotsman from Manningham as that would go some way to correcting an injustice.

Notwithstanding the irony in the fact that Donaldson would have been sacrificed to allow greater prominence for the man that would ultimately cut short his footballing career and extinguish any faint hope of achieving international recognition.

I'll leave it to someone from Castleford to make the case for Billy Walton.

About the Author - Andrew Rishworth hails from the West Riding of Yorkshire. Accidents of history and geography nurtured a lifelong passion for Bradford City AFC, formerly Manningham FC.

In 1903 the members of Manningham FC, a rugby club, voted to switch from the handling game to the dribbling game. Andrew's research into the heritage grounds of Bradford City expanded to include those of the predecessor club. In the course of this research he stumbled across press reports describing the heroics of Alf Barraclough, the Manningham forward and captain, in 'The Roses Match'a painting by WB Wollen that hangs at Twickenham.

The painting now hangs in the President's Suite at Twickenham but how and why did the striking image of Alf Barraclough in full flight end up here? Andrew went in search of why Alf Barraclough ended up in 'The Roses Match'features in the painting and discovered a story with relevance beyond the city of Bradford.

Andrew is the author of All Aboard the Bradford Train published in 2018 and has written several articles for the Bradford City fanzine, The City Gent, on the subject of the club's heritage grounds.