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In December last year, helped by a donation of equipment from a rugby charity, the Welsh Charitables RFC, RL Cares began the long process of converting thousands of RL games and television programmes from VHS and Betamax video cassettes to digital format to preserve for future generations.
The original aim of the project was to create a database of historic games that the public could access via the RL Cares archive stored at Heritage Quay within the University of Huddersfield.
But when restrictions on movement created by the coronavirus pandemic forced millions of people to become housebound, RL Cares saw an opportunity to keep fans entertained by screening digitised classic matches throughout the day.
In the first month of the lockdown, videos posted on the RL Cares Facebook page have now been viewed more than half a million times.
RL Cares Communications Manager John Ledger is leading the digitisation project and has so far converted over 1,000 hours of video into the expanding database.
“We have a captive audience of fans who are both hungry to see Rugby League being played and have a massive appetite for the sport’s history and heritage,” said John.
“The number of views is just incredible, we never dreamed they would be so popular. We are proud to be able to do our bit to keep people engaged and safe at home at what is a difficult time for everyone.
“What is more pleasing than the viewing figures is the way in which classic games are reuniting old friends, team-mates and rivals. Comments on the videos have come from across the world, many made by players who were involved in the games.
“We would like to thank the Welsh Charitables for their generous donation of equipment: without their support the lockdown would be so much harder for a great many people.
“We still have hundreds of videos to digitise: it’s a long and occasionally technically challenging process but from the response we have seen during lockdown, it’s all very much worth it.”
The Welsh Charitables purchased £3,000 worth of Apple computers and the video conversion software that is allowing RL Cares to bring the sport’s history to life, a history that has been enriched significantly by players who ‘went North’ from the Principality.
David Power, the Honorary Secretary of the Welsh Charitables, said the organisation was delighted to be able to support RL Cares.
“The people of Wales have always been proud of the achievements of Welsh players in Rugby League, with the exception of some small-minded individuals within rugby union,” said David.
“Some players went to league, some didn’t; some made it and some didn’t, and you should give them all credit for having a go. We are all the same rugby family.
“The Welsh Charitables is all about building bridges through the medium of rugby so to be able to support RL Cares in this way is a great thing.”
Originally established in the 1960s, the Welsh Charitables RFC was reformed by David in 2000 and has embraced many Rugby League legends from the valleys, including Billy Boston, David Watkins, Jonathan Davies and Jim Mills.
To mark the generosity of the Welsh Charitables RFC, RL Cares will be premiering a series of digitised videos with a strong Welsh flavour throughout this coming weekend (May 9 and 10), including the second Test of the 1978 Kangaroo tour when a Great Britain front row featuring Jim Mills and Tony Fisher stood tall against Australia at Odsal.
For more information on the work of the Welsh Charitables, please visit www.welshcharitablesrfc.com
If you have any VHS tapes featuring historically significant footage and would like to donate the tape to Rugby League Cares so they can be added to the growing database, please email email@example.com