Derek Wilfrid Hadley
(1973 to 1986) & (1988 to 1995)
Date of birth: 6 June, 1954.
Place of birth: Barrow-in-Furness (Lancashire).
Signed from: Walney Central ARLFC (on 13 August, 1973).
Debut: 7 September, 1973 v New Hunslet (at home).
Last appearance: 30 April, 1986 v Sheffield Eagles (at home).
Went to: Retired from professional Rugby League and was signed off the playing register on 25 March, 1987.
Signed from: Ulverston ARLFC (on 26 August, 1988).
Debut: 4 September, 1988 v Mansfield Marksman (at home).
Last appearance: 15 January, 1995 v Bramley (at home).
Went to: Retired from professional Rugby League for a second time.
Known professional career:
Barrow (1973 to 1986).
Barrow (1988 to 1995).
Stand Off (2).
Second Row (70).
Loose Forward (176).
Unused Substitute (6).
Career length (first period): 12 years 239 days.
Career length (second period): 6 years 135 days.
Last known status: Living at Ulverston (Cumbria).
In addition to the above Derek was an unused substitute on 6 occasions.
Derek Hadley is one of the Barrow club’s greatest ever players and arguably their greatest ever servant. Derek joined the club in 1973 and was granted a testimonial season (1983/84) along with Eddie Szymala. Remarkably, a second testimonial was granted to Derek in 1993. The former England Under 19 amateur international was an extremely talented player in the professional ranks, at one time many claimed him to be at least on a par with the great Steve Norton. Others claimed at the time that he was the best back row forward in the British game. He was certainly up there with the best of them, that’s for sure.
An extremely talented ball handler, Derek was also very durable, rarely suffering serious injury in his twenty years in the professional ranks. Unluckily, one of the few injuries he suffered in two decades kept him out of the 1983 Lancashire Cup final when Barrow beat Widnes! Derek did play in the 1981 John Player Trophy final though when Barrow lost to Warrington at Central Park, Wigan. He also won Second Division Championship medals in both 1975/76 and 1983/84. Despite being highly rated by many good judges (including the Australians who had a very high regard for him) Derek never gained international honours as a professional, though he did represent the Cumbria county side on three occasions.
The following article, looking back at Derek Hadley’s career appeared in the North West Evening Mail on 19 December, 2002:
"Anyone looking for the definition of `dedication' could do worse than to study the playing career of Barrow RFC legend Derek Hadley. For 22 years Hadley wowed the crowds at Craven Park with a passion and commitment to the side that will likely never be seen again. A loose forward who left an indelible mark on Barrow, Hadley has continued playing at Ulverston since his retirement from the professional game in 1995. Even now, pushing 50 years of age, Hadley regularly pulls on the jersey of Ulverston A team and steps out on the field to continue a career in rugby that only began as the result of a teenage prank.
“I started playing rugby when I was about 16 or 17,” Hadley says. “I’d played a bit at school but I’d never really played the game seriously. It started when I was out mucking about on Walney with some of my mates. The coach of the Walney Central Under 19 side, George Dyer, came past on his bike and I shoved a stick between the spokes of his front wheel and he came flying off his bike. “He chased after me but he couldn't catch me because I was so fast but he knew who I was and he knew my address. After that he turned up at my house and he gave me an ultimatum through my dad. He said I could either turn up for rugby training or get a good hiding. So I obviously decided to start playing rugby.”
From such moments are great careers born, but there would be few people who could have imagined that almost 30 years on Hadley would still be playing at a high level in the amateur ranks. Though his career at Barrow started ignominiously with his sending off in his first game for the A-team, Hadley's star was soon in the ascendancy. Hadley found success at Barrow, winning two Division Two championships as well as playing in the 1981 John Player Trophy final, and he admits he had the time of his life. “It was fantastic there." he says. “A lot of people ask me if I enjoyed my time at Barrow, and I did thoroughly enjoy it. I say to them if I could go back and have the chance I’d do it all over again because I had such a good time there, I'd recommend it to anybody to turn professional and try their hand at a higher level. With the effort that I did give to the game of rugby I probably did fulfil all the potential that I had within me. I went higher than I would have done if I didn't really commit myself. There's a great sense of satisfaction that playing at a higher level and giving your best creates.”
With such a long professional career to look back on, Hadley has a lot of memories of his playing career, when many judged him to be one of the best loose forwards in the country. Hadley was rated second behind only the awesome Steve ‘Knocker’ Norton of Hull, which is probably the only reason he didn’t win any international honours. Hadley adds: “Looking back I think the biggest achievement would possibly be playing in the John Player finals and for Cumbria. They were good personal achievements but probably the fact that I played for ten years for the same club was my biggest achievement, and in the end for 22 years. The first 10 or 12 years were at a really high level, that was the biggest achievement, lasting out that long. It was mentioned at the time that I was just behind Steve Norton, and I suppose you could be unfortunate to be maybe in the wrong place at the wrong time. If it was a different time then, it may have happened (an international call-up) but it wasn’t to be. It was never a big disappointment to me really. I would have loved to have done it. It would have been a tremendous achievement for myself if I had done, but it just wasn't to be. It's absolutely brilliant people saying that, that means as much to me as actually playing because you get a bit of respect and people appreciate what you're doing and that means a lot.”
Hadley played alongside some of the great names in recent Craven Park history (the likes of Dave Cairns, Ian Ball, Malcolm Flynn, Steve Tickle and Eddie Syzmala) and he found that the camaraderie with both his own team-mates and the opposition made the experience unique. In the 70s he played in the same side as Raiders Hall of Famer Phil Hogan, and powerhouse forward Syzmala, who signed on the same day as Hadley. Come the 1980s and Hadley was joined by the likes of Flynn and Great Britain scrum half Cairns in a side that picked up the 1983 Lancashire Cup with a famous victory over Widnes at Central Park, a game Hadley sadly missed through injury. Hadley adds: “The best part of the expe¬rience of playing for Barrow, looking back, was all the friends that I made, in Yorkshire, Cumbria and Lancashire, opposing players. The respect that you got from good players from Yorkshire and Lancashire and from the rest of the country, when I look back and reflect on it, that's probably my biggest memory of the spirit of being a professional. When I started out I played alongside Phil Hogan, he was a great player, as well as John Cunningham, who was a real tough, no-nonsense forward. When I started these lads were there and I looked up and respected them and they were really good players. Later on there was obviously Eddie, he was a good lad, a real character, it was a privilege to play with Eddie at times. There were so many tough players, you've got to look at Malcolm Flynn, he was another real tough Cumbrian forward, playing alongside Malcolm actually gave all the ball players more space to play with. Probably a bit further back you look at Denis Jackson, who was pound for pound a tough man. Skill-wise you're looking at Steve Tickle and Ian Ball in that era, they were good skilful players.”
And of the missed appearance in the Lancashire Cup final against Widnes, Hadley has no regrets. “I missed the final win against Widnes with injury and I suppose it was disappointing at the time, but I played my part and just missed the final. It’s one of those things that happens in rugby, when I look back I didn't actually get a lot of serious injuries that kept me out of the game, it was just unfortunate on that day. I was there on the day cheering them on, it was a great time for the club. It was a real achievement actually winning a cup.”
Since leaving Barrow in 1995, Hadley has played first team rugby for Ulverston in the North West Counties League, stepping down to the A-team this year as he admits his age begins to catch up with him. “I'm getting no younger but I’ve had a fantastic time at Ulverston, it's been a great seven years,” Hadley confesses. “We're playing in the North West Counties League, and when I started we were in Division Three and now we're in the Premier Division and it's a really good, top-class amateur league. I’ve really enjoyed the last couple of years but to be honest I think it's getting a bit tough for me now, I'm going a bit grey on top and getting a bit slower so I'm going to play in the local amateur league for Ulverston A this year. I’ll be 49 at the end of this year and I tend to take it a year at a time now but I won't be going on much longer, I don't really think I'll be playing past 50. I’ll hang up my boots shortly but I’ll still train, that's what I really love. I love the training, I love playing, I love the game really. But there comes a time when the knocks don't heal quick enough for the next week.”
Playing at a lower level has allowed Hadley to see another aspect of the game and he believes that the young talent coming through the amateur ranks bodes well for the future. “Now, I’m looking at young lads coming through, playing against 18 and 19 year olds who have just started out in their careers and what I see is really encouraging. I see these lads who are obviously very well coached and they really are committed as well. It hasn’t so much opened my eyes, because I knew it was going on in the amateur leagues, but I've seen that the amateur leagues round here are probably in good hands.”
Hadley himself does not want to go into coaching, believing it is a job for ‘younger men’ than himself, but he admits he has considered an option that would be considerably less popular with the fans than his days creating chances for his team-mates at Craven Park. “One thing I did look at is refereeing,” Hadley admits. “Whether I could take the hassle I don't know but I would quite fancy refereeing because you keep yourself fit but you don't get banged on the head every five minutes. I really respect the referees round here, the amount of stick that they take. If they please one side they don't please the other. They’re one of the real heroes of the game, especially in the local game, you've got to be thick skinned to referee round here.” Whatever the future holds for Hadley he will be long remembered as a Craven Park great and he too is able to carry with him many fond memories of the way the fans treated him. “It was great playing in front of the crowds at Craven Park, the atmosphere they would create during matches was fantastic (Barrow used to attract 4,000-plus for run-of-the-mill league games back then). A lot of it was due to the games being played on a Friday night, the players from the club would mix with the supporters in the club bar after the match.” Knowing the club and the town as only a 22 year veteran of the game could, Hadley has no doubts as to how he would like to be recalled by the Barrow faithful. “I think I'd like to be remembered from my days at Barrow as a good, committed professional,” he says. “There were a few teams who made enquiries about signing me but I was never tempted.” For dedication: read Derek Hadley.
Six years on from the above article and Derek has indeed finally hung up his boots as a player. However, he did become a referee when his playing days were over and he is still pursuing that aspect of the game in the local league in 2008/09.