Lifetime Achievement Award 2016
Presented by: John Meehan – Liberty Mutual Branch Manager, Leeds
Gary Hetherington, Chief Executive, Leeds Rhino’s & Yorkshire Carnegie
Born and raised in Castleford, the son of a colliery manager. Gary developed a passion for Rugby League at the age of 8 as a fan of his beloved “Classy Cas” team. He trained as a teacher, but started his working life as a salesman, firstly in the grocery trade and latterly in double-glazing.
Gary played nearly 300 first team games as a professional RL player for Wakefield Trinity, York, Leeds and Huddersfield throughout the 1970s and early 1980s and he was instrumental in setting up the game’s first trade union for players. His coaching career included the position of Assistant Coach to the GB team for the Test Series against Australia in 1994 and a Lions Tour to New Zealand in 1996 and also Coach to the GB Under 24 team. His passion from his early 20s, was to coach and manage, and after being turned down for the coaching job at York at the age of 27, he and his wife, Kath decided to form their own club – the Sheffield Eagles.
Using £13,000 from his wife’s earnings as a double-glazing saleswoman, the Eagles were formed and accepted into the RFL in 1984. Gary was the Owner, General Manager, Player and Team Manager. The Eagles finished 17th in the Second Division with a turnover of just £86K in their first season, but after 5-years, the team was promoted to the elite division, finishing a best ever 5th in 1995. Significantly, the business had grown with a turnover of £1.4m.
The success of the Eagles, both on and off the field was one of sports fairy tales and in 1996 Gary and his wife sold their controlling interest and Gary joined Paul Caddick to take over the ailing Leeds CF&A Co Ltd, owners and operators of Headingley Stadium and Leeds Rugby League Club.
The Company had suffered significance losses in it’s previous 20-years, culminating in a debt of £5m and faced the prospect of losing Test and County Cricket with Yorkshire’s decision to relocate to Durkar.
The Rugby Union Club was acquired 8-years ago and Leeds Rugby became the World’s first dual code club. The team won promotion to the Premiership in 2001 and in 2005 won their first major trophy, the Powergen Cup at Twickenham. The business has reversed its trend of losses with annual profits making Leeds Rugby one of the best performing sports businesses in the UK. Leeds Rhinos were voted Super League Club of the Year in 2007.
Under Gary’s leadership, the Rhinos turned from perennial underachievers to World Champions in less than ten years and won their first Championship for 32 years in 2004. He has promoted a policy of nurturing local talent that has seen the Rhinos become the envy of world rugby league with a squad of young, talented British players, the majority of which are play for their home town club.
Off the field, attendances have averaged over 17,000 making the Rhinos the best supported and most televised rugby team in the country. Gary has also been the driving force behind Leeds Rugby’s groundbreaking partnership with Leeds Metropolitan University which has seen the renaming of Headingley Carnegie Stadium and the construction of the Carnegie Stand, the first major construction work on the rugby stadium in over 70 years. That partnership was strengthened even further when Leeds Met took control of the Tykes and renamed the club Leeds Carnegie for their return to the Premiership in 2007.