West Park Old Boys Rugby Union Club was founded in 1959 by masters and parents of West Park School, the then Headmaster, Mr TL Mathews, was to become the club's first President.
In the early years the school facilities were used, but a move to Tinshill Recreation ground with headquarters at the Welcome Public House - well, this is rugby we are talking about! - was effected in 1966. In 1969 the club achieved its first honour, winning the Yorkshire Shield.
Inspired by this success the club sought to acquire a ground of its own and, in 1970, arrived at the Sycamores Bramhope. The members voted to change the name to encompass the new location and West Park Bramhope was created.
During the 70s and 80s many successes were enjoyed and, with the advent of leagues in the 90s, the championship of Yorkshire Division 1 was also achieved.
In Spring 2004 the club became registered as a Community Amateur Sports Club (CASC). In the summer of 2005 the membership voted to change the club name to West Park Leeds RUFC, as part of the development strategy and a merger with Leeds RUFC - read on!
Whilst all this was going on, across the city, back in 1992, the Headingley and Roundhay clubs had merged to form Leeds RUFC from where, later, the Leeds Tykes would emerge. Their ground at Chandos Park was in a prime location and, in 1997, a planning application was submitted to the council for residential development.
Discussions ensued with West Park Bramhope about a possible merger and upgrading of the Sycamores site. The planning application for Chandos Park was eventually approved in 2007 which released £6m to transform the Sycamores site. In the interim period Leeds had merged with West Park Bramhope to form West Park Leeds.
In September 2006 the prestigious Community Rugby Seal of Approval was achieved and, in March 2007, in accordance with the recommendation of the governing body, the club became registered as an Industrial & Provident Society, acquiring limited company status.
In the Spring of 2007 building work began on the development of vastly improved facilities, including a new club house, terracing, extensive floodlighting and a state of the art all weather pitch at the Sycamores. The new clubhouse was handed over in July 2008 creating a set up and facilities that are second to none anywhere in the Country.
In this impressive building there are now ten changing rooms, a gym, officials, physio and doctors rooms downstairs. The social areas upstairs include a lounge bar, kitchen and dining area, audio-visual areas, committee rooms, offices and a shop. 240 covers can be accommodated in the function room.
The 1st XV pitch was completely rebuilt in 2007 and an automatic irrigation system was installed. Three new adult and two junior pitches, plus a grass training pitch have been created.
The old training area has been converted to a full size 3G all-weather pitch, ensuring quality training can take place whatever the conditions. This, the training pitch and the 1st XV pitch are all floodlit to a high specification. The 42-acre site has doubled in size from the original.
The pitch surface and drainage work was carried out by J Pugh-Lewis, on a two-year contract, which began in early 2007. This was to include upgrading the club's existing pitches and constructing three new ones. "The club, understandably, didn't want to take all the existing pitches out of commission at the same time," recalls James Pugh-Lewis. "During the summer, as well as putting in pipe drains on the training pitch, we installed pipe drains and sand slits on the 2nd team pitch so that it would be ready for the new season and available for more matches. This freed up the 1st team pitch and allowed a complete reconstruction the following spring."
The contractor sprayed off the grass, laser graded, installed pipe drains and sand slits and performed extensive soil amelioration before re-seeding. Mike Bidgood, whose official title at the club is Development Treasurer but, in reality, is performing the role of Project Manager, remembers the weather conditions at the time. "The first team pitch had just been seeded and then it rained for two months, giving us almost perfect growing conditions," he recalls. Pugh-Lewis also installed sand slits on the training pitch, and white post and rail perimeter fencing around the first team pitch. By the beginning of the 2007/08 season the club had two upgraded and reconstructed pitches in play plus a well drained training pitch.
Later in 2007, work began to provide three new pitches on a site adjacent to the existing club grounds, from a farm field, together with a large balancing pond by Hunts Contractors (following their work on the 3G pitch) and this phase incorporated the main carrier drains for all surface water on the whole site.
Following earthmoving work to create three separate plateaux, the pitches were laser graded and the pipe drain systems installed. Returning in spring 2008, Pugh-Lewis cultivated the whole area and ameliorated the pitches with sand. Sand slits were then injected directly into the seedbed immediately prior to seeding in July.
By the middle of the month, Mike Bidgood was supervising the installation of an irrigation system to feed the first XV pitch. Floodlighting had been installed on the first team pitch, the training pitch and the all weather pitch. The comprehensive drainage system (serving the pitches, car parks and buildings), including the 800 cubic metre balancing pond, was in place, and the only part of the plan to be completed was the demolition of the old clubhouse to be replaced with another car park.
"The Sycamores now caters for the three amateur adult teams, as well as the minis and the juniors, which make up about 350 players," Mike explains. "We also rent out facilities in the winter to the Leeds Metropolitan University and the Leeds Carnegie Academy whilst, in the summer, the Leeds Akkies RLFC field two men's and one women's team. We have year round rugby, and I doubt if any amateur club in England has better facilities. England World cup winner Neil Back, Head Coach of Leeds Carnegie, commented that, "the facilities must surely rank amongst the finest in the country".
Mike has also taken on the role of managing and maintaining the pitches. He cuts them on a regular basis, applies fertiliser when applicable and keeps the artificial rugby pitch clean by regular brushing. A local contractor is employed to mark out the pitches.
Mike spends between 6-10 hours a week working on the ground, with most of his time taken up cutting the pitches using a Trimax Procut Rotary mower towed by a new Kioti 44hp tractor, cutting at a eight of 50mm.
He also aerates the pitch several times a year using a vertidrain to help relieve compaction.
End of season renovations will be dictated by the amount of wear and the condition of the pitches, with the work centred around overseeding worn areas and topdressing to restore levels. Mike ensures the pitch usage is rotated to reduce wear and compaction.
He does not currently see the need for employing a full time groundsman yet, as he still enjoys getting his hands dirty and doing the work himself.
Rugby Union has moved a long way since the game allowed professionalism in 1995. The club's CASC status means that, amongst other factors, players will not be paid. But, it does not stop any player from achieving their ambitions of playing for their country. Danny Care, one of the most recent England debutants, started his mini rugby life at the Sycamores.
In keeping with their commitment to mini and junior rugby, many players who started at the club at very young ages have made the transition to senior rugby, appearing in the 1st XV or going on to achieve success in the professional game. This flow of talented young players has enabled the club to amass enviable strength in depth.
There are now over 1000 members and continued success is assured. One member is James Lowes, Director of Rugby at Warrington Wolves, who lives next to the ground. "I bought a house in Bramhope, overlooking the ground, a few years ago and joined the club as a playing member. I was warmly welcomed and now all my family enjoy the top class facilities and atmosphere. It is terrific."
With such a large and unique project, it is a credit to the club that all was completed within budget, and opens a new chapter in the club's history.
From the pioneers of the early days who formed the club and created the grounds and clubhouse, to the hard working members and players of today, West Park Leeds RUFC can rightly take pride in all its achievements.