Leeds rugby league stalwart Billy Watts has passed away at the age of 92.
Watts retired from the club at the end of the 2015 season after over 40 years service to the club. He died peacefully in his sleep in hospital.
Watts had been a fixture at Leeds RHinos since his first game as a 12-year-old supporter in Christmas 1938. His first game saw Leeds beat Salford 5-0 in a game that was remarkably played in the cricket outfield due to freezing conditions.
“It was Christmas 1938,” he said.
“The rugby pitch was frozen and they had to play on the cricket field which was protected by its longer grass. The crowd was about 12,500 and we beat Salford 5-0. It was the start of a love affair.
“In the cricket stand that day was Lance Todd. He was connected with Salford and a great believer that rugby league should be played in the summer.
“The point was being made for him that day, right enough. Talk about being years ahead of his time,” recalled Watts a couple of years ago.
Watts was a scrum-half with East Leeds in his younger years and his work with the club ranged from fundraising to helping out on the training ground, where he turned up for work every day at seven in the morning during the season to greet the players and help out.
He served in the Royal Navy in the Second World War. Watts took over as Leeds’s timekeeper in 1975 and did the job, home and away, for over 30 years until the RFL brought in independent timekeepers as part of the matchday officials team.
As well as his many roles at Headingley Carnegie, he was also a regular appointment by the Rugby Football League for time keeping at Test matches.
Such was Watts’ standing within the players that in 2004, he was chosen by the Rhinos players as one of only three people outside of the playing squad to receive Grand Final winners rings.
Each of the 17 players on duty at Old Trafford along with Head Coach Tony Smith received the unique winners ring with five other squad players, Francis Cummins, Matt Adamson, Andrew Dunemann, Chris Feather and Wayne McDonald, also receiving rings.
Watts was presented with his ring at celebration dinner back in 2004.
Tony Smith commented at the time, “Billy is always there for the players and coaches, come rain or shine, and whenever you walk into work he is there with a smile on his face, win, lose or draw. That is important in a club environment and Billy thoroughly deserves this.”
Watts is a former Clubman of the Year in 1999 and in 2003 was presented with an Outstanding Service Award by the Leeds ex-players association.
“Billy has been an important and very popular part of the football staff for nearly 30 years,” Leeds Rhinos Head Coach Brian McDermott said.
“Having served his country in the Royal Navy during in World War II, Billy had a great work ethic and a great sense of humour. He had an outstanding ability to keep smiling during tough times.
“He was certainly ‘one of us’ and we will miss him at our training base. I’ll personally miss his hand shakes and chats after a win or a loss.
“He always knew what to say and was able to give his perspective on any given situation having seen Leeds teams play for over seventy years. He will be sadly missed by everyone who knew him.”
“He has been at the heart of the club for so long and a key member or our back room staff. His enthusiasm, good nature and dedication has been inspirational and he will be sadly missed.”
There will be a minutes silence before kick off on Easter Monday at Headingley Carnegie to remember Billy Watts. The start and end of the silence will signalled by the sounding of the hooter in tribute to him.