Albert Baskerville was a young post office worker, living in Wellington with his mother and seven siblings in the early 1900s. His father had been killed in a work accident and Albert was the only income earner for the family. He also enjoyed playing rugby and even wrote a book about it.
But there was one thing Albert didn’t like about rugby: players weren’t allowed to receive payment for playing. Families like Albert’s struggled when he had to take time off work to play and lost wages. It was hard for them to pay club fees and doctor’s bills.
Albert read about a new sport called rugby league that was being played in England. The players were paid for the time they put in to the game. In 1906, he recruited New Zealand players to go on a rugby league tour of England. Many of the recruits were All Blacks. When the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU) heard what was happening, they wrote letters to the players. “If you go on that tour, you’ll be banned from playing rugby for life,” they said. “Never again will you play for the All Blacks.”
The NZRU banned Albert from going to watch rugby games … but nothing could stop him. Sometimes he climbed trees near the fields and watched from there. He also sneaked into games wearing disguises. One time he went dressed as an old lady!
By May 1907, Albert and four selectors (senior players) had picked a team of 28, including eight All Blacks. Albert made a brave decision and resigned from his job at the Wellington Post Office. His new job: player-secretary of the Professional All Blacks, the first international rugby league team in the world!
The players who joined Albert’s team were a courageous group of men. Each one had to pay £50 towards the costs of the tour – some of them used their life savings. Many of them resigned from their jobs, just like Albert had. All of them knew that their All Black careers were over. The only thing promised to them was a share in any profits.
The team voted Hercules “Bumper” Wright, captain, because he was strict, they respected him … and he had a cool name! Hercules used to check that his teammates were in their rooms and not out partying on the night before big games.
The tour lasted an incredible five months. The New Zealanders played 35 games and battled fatigue, injuries, sickness, harsh weather conditions, and the best rugby league players in Britain … all while learning a sport they’d never played before. It was an amazing achievement.
Over 300,000 people watched the games and the tour made a profit of £5600, which was divided equally among the players. Some of them used their money to buy homes back in New Zealand, while others started businesses. Some of the players accepted professional contracts and stayed in England after the tour.
Rugby league did what it promised – it gave these young men options, where before they had very few.
Read more about the history of this amazing team in Rugby League World