Peter O'Toole and rugby league


Peter O’Toole, who died yesterday aged 81, grew up in Hunslet playing rugby league. If his 1996 autobiography Loitering With Intent is to be believed, he gained local fame as as a speedy twelve years-old back playing for a side known as Raggy-Arsed Rovers against opponents such as Chip Shop Wanderers and the Silly Army. As he explained, their rugby balls were of a rather inconsistent quality; patchworks of leather pieces were inflated by a bicycle tyre inner-tube, newspapers or just rags. At the worst, an unlucky player would ‘volunteer’ a shoe. To say the least, as O’Toole recounted them, his childhood games were rugby league at its rawest:

Two or three matches between teams from various clusters of streets were played simultaneously. One sometimes found oneself straying into others’ matches. Goalposts were a premium. If the pair had already been snatched, often a player’s younger brother, ‘our kid’, would find himself elected as a post. Kit was irrelevant. A familiar figure with the ball, you supported him; an unfamiliar, you downed the bastard.

- adapted from Rugby League in Twentieth Century Britain (2006), p. 41.