The Shaw Cross Club for young people are set to make a historic milestone as they reach a half century of French Exchange trips next month.
The first exchange between Shaw Cross ARLFC and French Rugby League players from the small towns of Villeneuve Sur Lot and Tonniens, south of the Dordogne region, took place in 1970 and has continued ever since.
It is estimated that over 2,000 young people have taken part in the exchanges, which have seen many changes over the years.
The pioneering spirit of Shaw Cross was responsible for establishing the link across the English Channel with France in 1969 which led to the Yorkshire Association of Boys’ Clubs French RL Exchange being set up.
Shaw Cross chairman Alan Lancaster met Monsieur Gilbert Dautant, who organised his country’s amateur teams, and discussed the possibility of organising a regular exchange with the French and decided it should be based at Villeneuve Sur Lot, the birthplace of French rugby league.
In 1970, led by Alan Lancaster, Douglas Hird and ex-Bradford Northern player Trevor Foster, the first Yorkshire boys squad made the historic journey to the south west of France, which involved an arduous journey to Dover, ferry to Calais then a very long train ride through the heart of France.
When the tour team eventually arrived at a little railway station at Penn, they received a hero’s welcome with a brass band playing and the station decorated in union flags.
The first games saw Yorkshire Boys face Villeneuve, Tonniens and Casseneuil, with the tourists losing the first two matches before winning the third.
The following year, a party of French boys were invited to bring two squads to Yorkshire.
There was drama to the first return tour when an additional 20 boys arrived after their tour to Warrington fell through and the Shaw Cross school was turned into a makeshift boarding house.
The whole party of 60 was given a civic reception by the Mayor of Dewsbury (Alderman Mrs Madge Smith).
Matches were played against Shaw Cross, Dewsbury and Batley schoolboys and Ossett Trinity.
The tours have not come without drama and in 1979, French players were involved in a crash on the M1 near Wakefield but fortunately there were no serious injuries, while in 1988, on the 10th tour to France, a ferry strike meant the Shaw Cross party were stuck in Dover for 20 hours.
The early tours saw players travel 875 miles by coach or train but in 2008, the tour took to the skies, flying in to the small airport of Bergerac in less than two hours, reducing the travelling time by 22 hours.
This has led to an increase in cost for families. The original tour would cost the boys just £18 per person but last year that had risen to £270 each.
This year will see the French tourists face a local team at Under-14 and Under-16 level on Thursday April 18 before they meet Shaw Cross in two games on Easter Sunday (from 3.30pm).
The success of the French Tour has been due to the hard work and commitment of a small band of volunteers at the Shaw Cross club.
After the retirement of Douglas Hird and Alan Lancaster, the organisation of the French Exchange was taken over by the recently retired chairman Alan Smith, who volunteered at the club for over 24 years and committing 20 years to the tour.
Tracy Grimwood and daughter Katy continue to support a larger team of volunteers to lead the exchange led by chairman Aiden Chandler, Dan Busfield, secretary Joanne Wilson Nicola Bowie, Julie Cameron, Richard Stevenson and Lisa Chandler.