An iconic piece of Swinton Lions memorabilia 116 years old has come to light in a small cottage in Yorkshire.
The remarkable item is a Challenge Cup Winner’s Medal from the 1899/1900 season, when Swinton won the trophy for the first time, defeating neighbours Salford 16-8 in the final at Fallowfield.
That was only the fourth ever Challenge Cup Final, but not only that, the medal in question belonged to the Lions’ legendary captain, Jim Valentine.
Rugby League collector and enthusiast Tony Capstick came across the medal at auction several years ago, and had been sitting on it before eventually deciding to offer it to the Swinton club.
Valentine was a remarkable Victorian sportsman.
Originally from Brindle Heath, he made his Swinton debut at the age of 17 early in 1884, and by the time he had retired in 1901 his legendary status was defined.
At a time when northern working-class players struggled to be recognised by a southern elitist Rugby Union, Valentine was an England international.
His career straddled Swinton’s 1896 defection to the Northern Union (now Rugby League), and he played 63 times for Lancashire over both codes scoring 50 tries in the process. His record of exactly 300 club tries beats the next challenger by more than 100, and that was achieved in the days when tries were much harder to come by.
His haul of 48 tries in the 1888/89 season remains a club record to this day, whilst only Ken Gowers has made more club appearances.
Twice Valentine was granted testimonials, and he was due to join the Lions’ Board of Directors in 1904 when he was tragically struck down and killed by lightning while on holiday at Barmouth in north-west Wales.
Thousands turned out to line the funeral route when he was buried at St John’s Churchat Irlams o’th Height on what should have been his 38th birthday.
Swinton Lions Chief Executive and historian Steve Wild explained: “Even to this day there is not a Swinton fan alive who is not aware of the legend of Jim Valentine.
“Although he’s been dead for over a century, incredibly killed by lightning back in 1904, he is still the most famous Lion ever to wear the Lions’ jersey.
“We are absolutely thrilled to bits that Tony very kindly offered us the medal back.
I cannot conceive of a more important single item of memorabilia relating to the history of our great club than this medal, in terms of who it belonged to, and what it represents. And fittingly the medal has come to light just in time for our 150th anniversary celebrations in 2016.”