Herbert Fallas was born in Wakefield in November 1861. James Henry was his elder brother, whom he would later play alongside at Belle Vue.
On the 1881 census, Herbert was described as an accountant clerk and three years later he was referred to as an accountant in newspaper reports. Mike Rylance, in ‘Trinity: A History of the Wakefield Rugby League Football Club, 1872-2013’, explained, “Herbert Fallas was a new breed of footballer, who was able to take advantage of his fame, placing an advertisement in the local paper to announce that he had started business as an accountant in Barstow Square [in Wakefield city centre]”.
He had joined Wakefield Trinity in the early 1880s and upon his retirement from the club in 1890 he had played over 340 games. John Lindley, in ‘100 years of rugby, the history of Wakefield Trinity 1873 – 1973’, remarked he “certainly seems to have been one of the mainstays of the team for some years.”
One of his strengths was his kicking. Rylance quotes a local report, “It is a fact that …Fallas was the finest punter in his day”, crediting Teddy Bartram, the Jonny Wilkinson of his day, as his teacher. The Reverend Frank Marshall, in his seminal work ‘Rugby Football’, described Fallas as “a dodgy [as in evasive] three-quarter of good kicking powers.” In 1883 he was shown as being 9st 11lbs.
He played in four Yorkshire Cup finals, being on the winning side in 1883 and 1887 and suffering defeat in 1888 and 1890.
Fallas played fourteen times for Yorkshire between 1882 and 1884. He made his debut against Durham in November 1882 and only missed two of Yorkshire’s games over the next two seasons.
Fallas was the third player from the Wakefield District to be capped for England and the second from Wakefield Trinity to win international honours, playing for England in their one goal victory over Ireland in February 1884. The England side that day also featured Harry Wigglesworth of Thornes F.C. Both players won only one cap. Marshall, in ‘Rugby Football’ explained, “England played a very weak team and barely escaped defeat. The forwards played a sound, though not brilliant, game. Had the Irish backs been scorers instead of defensive players, the Irishmen would probably have won the match.” The Cork Constitution newspaper explained that the game “proved quite as exciting and was productive of as good play as has been witnessed on former occasions.” Wigglesworth and Fallas feature prominently in the various newspaper reports; for example, “Fallas having a good run” and “linked up well with his fellow townsman”. The Leeds Times explained Fallas and Wigglesworth both “did well.”
At the end of the 1889/90 season it was announced that he was retiring in order to concentrate on his role as town clerk for the newly incorporated town of Ossett. He had been club captain at the time of his retirement and had taken Trinity to the final of the Yorkshire Cup, which they lost to Huddersfield. His speech after the final was praised and was being remembered a year later, “I am extremely sorry that I am not lucky enough to be captain of the victorious team, but it is the lot of football that one must win and one must lose. If we cannot be the best team, we must be content with being second best. I have yet to learn that it is any disgrace to be beaten by a fifteen composed of such men as the Huddersfield team.” The Huddersfield Daily Chronicle explained, “Generosity like this to a victorious opponent is worthy of remembrance.”
However, this wasn’t the end of Fallas’ playing career. He later turned out for Ossett and was involved in a controversy after a game against Wakefield Trinity, where Irish forward Stewart Bruce was injured during the game and play was held up for ten minutes whilst three Irish doctors treated him for a compound fracture of the tibia. They improvised a splint with umbrellas and walking sticks and the door of the turnstiles was torn off its hinges to use as a stretcher.
Ossett objected to the result and Fallas appealed to The Yorkshire RFU committee who suspended him for making a “frivolous flimsy objection”, but later lifted the suspension, accepting that Fallas had launched the objection with the support of the Ossett committee and not off his own back.
Fallas later turned to refereeing – first under rugby union and later under the new Northern union laws. In the final of the Bradford Charity Cup of 1893, Low Moor St Mark’s left the field before the end of the game “because they were dissatisfied with one of Fallas’ decisions.” In October 1896, Bradford objected to Fallas, after he disallowed two tries in their match against Huddersfield, an official stating that a Wakefield referee should not have been appointed as there was an ongoing dispute between Wakefield and Bradford over the transfer of a Bradford player.
In 1896 he played twice for an ‘Old Fossils’ team, comprising retired rugby players, against a Huddersfield Police team to raise funds for an ambulance for the Huddersfield district.
During the summer of 1894, Fallas was made bankrupt. He had left his post as town clerk to become an auctioneer and valuer in Hull. It was noted that he had been paid a salary of £150 per year as town clerk. His liabilities were £207 9s and his assets £11 2s 10d and he attributed his insolvency to “heavy expenses through sickness, to insufficiency of salary considering the position he had to maintain and bad trade.” [The 1891 census show the family employed a domestic servant.]
In 1894, Fallas was the subject of a story, when it was alleged that he visited Cheltenham to ‘kidnap’ [poach] a player for Wakefield Trinity. It was vehemently denied that Fallas was in the area. The Western Mail described it as a “cock and bull” story and hoax. His brother James “expressed his surprise on the report being shown to him and he said he could offer no explanation of the story, other than his brother having a double. He believed his brother was attending a county committee meeting when it was alleged he was present in the West of England, adding, “At any rate, no one had any authority from the club to act in the way alleged.” The Sheffield Daily Telegraph explained: “those who are aware of the relations subsisting between Mr Herbert Fallas and the committee of the Trinity club would never suspect for one moment that if it were he who was at Cheltenham at the time alleged, he was acting on behalf of the Trinity club. He severed his connection with the club some years ago and has not even attended matches for a considerable time.”
It is therefore a mystery who Fallas was representing when, in December 1894, he attended a meeting of the RFU in London. “a sparring match with well-padded gloves” as described by the former RFU President William Cail. The Yorkshire Evening Post was more descriptive, “Up to a certain point, there was an absence of reality about the proceedings. The parties in the ring simply gave a dull exhibition of harmless fencing, and it appeared as if the much talked of conflict would end in a fizzle. Yet beneath the assumed smoothness of the exterior of the meeting, it was evident that there lay a quantity of highly inflammable material, only wanting the slightest spark to produce instant combustion.”
That spark was professionalism. The paper continued, “Mr Herbert Fallas, the old Wakefield international three-quarter back, made the happiest hit of the evening by stating that Messrs Maud and Carpmael (of Barbarians fame) had been preaching from the text, “We thank thee, O Lord, that we are not as other men” and the general laughter and cheering that greeted the sally showed that it reflected the opinion which the large majority of those present entertained of the Maudo-Carpmaelian righteousness. Mr Fallas followed it up with another palpable home thrust, in the remark that, despite the spotless purity of Southern clubs, they always required a guarantee when they paid visits to the North, at which a voice chimed in – ‘And they won’t play if they don’t get it.’
As a practical contribution to the professional controversy, Mr Fallas made reference to the different social conditions of North and South football men, and raised the payment for broken time proposals, a line of argument which appeared to be studiously avoided by the other delegates throughout the evening.”
After the schism of 1895, Fallas gave an interview to the Bradford Observer, explaining, “Why, one club in Yorkshire alone has paid more for champagne dinners and shilling cigars for southern gentlemen having their holiday in the North in the shape of tours than would trebly pay all that is asked for in broken time”. Similarly, he argued that in ‘recent times’ the backbone of Yorkshire rugby had been the working class players and not the “collar and cuff “ brigade…whereas, in the Southern teams, the men, as a rule, have been born with silver spoons in their mouths and do not understand the meaning of broken time.”
There is still some mystery as to when and where Fallas died. On the 1901 census, his wife Alice is shown as widowed and living in Lancashire with their children Clifford Herbert, Kathleen and Cecil. Therefore his death occurred sometime between 1897 (allowing for the birth of Cecil) and March 1901 (the date of the census). By 1911, his son Clifford Herbert was living with his uncle James Henry, who was a newsagent and Tobacconist on Northgate in Wakefield, and his cousin Vernon.
About the Author – Richard Lowther is an amateur rugby historian and collector. He writes a monthly newsletter ‘Burglar Bill’ about the defunct Wakefield RFC of which he was a member. Copies can be obtained free by emailing email@example.com. He is a member of the Rugby Memorabilia Society and webmaster of Rolling-Maul.com and two Facebook groups, Rugby Memorabilia pre-1950 and Baines Rugby Card Collectors.