The founder of Fulham RLFC, Harold Genders, died on 9 February 2016 after a long illness. He played rugby league professionally for Rochdale Hornets, Widnes and Blackpool Borough before retiring in 1958 to concentrate on his career in the construction industry. He became a director of Warrington RLFC in the mid-1970s, when Sir Oswald Davies bought the club.
In the 1970s rugby league barely existed outside its traditional areas. There had been no new professional club outside the heartlands since the early 1950s. Harold attended the 1979 Challenge Cup Final, and was shocked to see that the London editions of the Sunday papers gave the match virtually no coverage. He wanted to ‘spread the gospel’ of the sport he loved, and in 1980 approached Ernie Clay, the then chairman of Fulham Football Club. He agreed with Fulham that they would apply for membership of the RFL. He stayed in the background at this stage, but when the application was accepted, he resigned his directorship at Warrington, and became Fulham’s Managing Director.
His role was primarily player recruitment, and he built a wonderful team for that memorable first season at Fulham, 1980-81, in the Second Division. His side included two former Great Britain players in David Eckersley and Tony Karalius, player-coach Reg Bowden and a huge pack. Harold had experienced playing scrum-half behind a small pack, and players such as Roy Lester, Tony Gourley, Ian van Bellen and Harry Beverley were literally giants. As well as the older players, he signed a young Welsh winger, Adrian Cambriani, to give the team pace.
Fulham made a huge impact on the sport, and won promotion in their first season. Thousands of Londoners experienced live rugby league for the first time, and many still follow the sport today.
Fulham knocked Leeds out of the John Player Trophy, and over 15,000 came to Craven Cottage to see Wakefield Trinity narrowly win a Challenge Cup tie. On Challenge Cup Final eve, Division 1 champions Bradford Northern were beaten in a challenge match at Craven Cottage.
The team were not quite good enough to stay in the First Division; four-up – four down was always a problem for promoted teams, and injuries undermined their campaign. Harold rebuilt the team for his third season, 1982–83, which comfortably won the Second Division.
He left Fulham in September 1983, believing that he was not been given the resources to build a squad that could stay in the First Division. In 1988, he became managing director at Swinton RLFC, again playing a major role in player recruitment which saw the team reach the Divisional Premiership final. He left Swinton in 1989, frustrated by financial problems at the club.
Harold’s legacy is the huge development of rugby league to be a truly national sport since 1980. New clubs started after Fulham were launched; not all survived but it was Harold’s vision in 1979 that rugby league could be established in the south that led to the game we know today.
Our condolences to his wife Shirley and his family.