“Had the phrase only been coined at the turn of the [20th] century, Anthony Arthur Starks would have been termed a “Superstar” of the game,” wrote journalist Chris Parks, who covered Hull Kingston Rovers for the BBC for 20 years, "He was surely one of the greatest forwards of all time, and certainly one of Rovers' best ever players whatever era he played in."
Starks captained the first England rugby league side - and in doing so became England's first ever dual-code international. He grew up in Castleford, playing for the town's RFC side, and gaining Yorkshire representative honours and well as two England caps. He joined Hull KR in 1896 - after the great divide, and played with them in the the Northern Union, when they joined in 1899. His 23 call-ups for Yorkshire in the Northern Union, is a record that still stands.
It was a wet Tuesday afternoon in 1904 - April the 5th - that Starks seeming inadvertently wrote himself into the record books. The "skillful hardworking forward" strode his 5'11", 13 stone frame onto the pitch at Central Park, Wigan, leading out the first ever England rugby league international side. What had started as an idea of an annual New Year's Day game of Northern Union had been rescheduled - after the pitch in Oldham pitch was deemed unplayable in January due to severe frost. It was, instead, played on a day of considerable April showers.
As he took to the field, the prop - who also had a useful kicking game - became the one of World's first dual-code internationals - along with Welshman Jack Rhapps who he faced as part of the “Other Nationalities” team. He was England's first dual-code international.
England lost the game 3-9.
But purely stats and achievements don't give someone superstar quality.
In 1946 - some 37 years after he had retired - Starks received a testimonial. By this point he was said to be "in reduced circumstances" by friend and fan Ron Smalley, who knew Anthony in the 1940s, writing about him being a "great player for Rovers". By this time Starks had also had one of his legs amputated, which is believed to have been a consequence of World War One, but the full circumstances are not known.
A collection was taken inside and outside the ground and the Daily Mail, on Tuesday July 2nd 1946, shows Starks surrounded by fans and directors of the club, wearing a dark suit and waistcoat, light coloured tie and holding a walking stick in his left hand. He's receiving a cheque for £271 from the Hull KR chairman, Ernest Mowforth.
Considering the entrance fee at Craven Park that year was 1/6d that was quite a considerable sum. It would be worth about £8,000 today. Although Starks had scored two tries in the first official Hull derby - on 16th September 1899, which The Robins won 8-2 - so no wonder people gave generously.
But not just talented and respected - he was a gentleman too. After losing the only Challenge Cup Final in which he played - in 1905 (6-0 at Headingley against Warrington) he led his team to the trophy presentation area to shake hands with the entire opposition - and toasted the health of the winners, drinking from the Cup.
Yet he wasn't all white. The Sheffield and Rotherham Independent on April 4th 1892 reports that Anthony and his brother, Fred, along with eight others were "severally fined in sums of 9s. 6d. each and costs for gambling with coins on the 26th nit" - presumably in the street. Most players keep it inside the team bus now, don't they?
Starks made his final appearance for Hull KR in a first round Yorkshire Cup defeat, against Leeds, on 9th November 1907. Records from his first three seasons with the Robins are fairly sketchy, but from the start of the 1899 season, he ended up making 208 appearances for them, scoring 31 tries and kicking 72 goals.
I learned of Anthony from my mum's cousin, who's spent many years researching our family tree. He's discovered that Anthony was the brother of my three-times great grandmother - making him my three-times great uncle. And we're all keen to find out more about our family superstar.
Anthony Starks: 11 Aug 1873 - Jan 1952.