JAMES HENRY KNAPMAN (Big Bando)
(Jim is pictured third left in the back row)
Jim Knapman was born in Fore Street, Kingsteignton on April 14th 1911. His father James was at that time working as a claycutter, whilst his mother Emily was a housewife.
His house was just a stone’s throw away from the Dewdrop Inn, the headquarters of the Kingsteignton Rugby Club which at that time played its fixtures on nearby Vicarage Lawn.
No doubt Jim walked up the hill to watch the Cherry & Whites and may well have been inspired by witnessing them lift the Devon Junior Cup in 1923.
At the age of 15 Jim had joined the club where he played on the
wing. He soon gained a reputation for as a speedy winger with an an elusive body-swerve which could leave opponents tackling thin air! Tall for his age he soon made a place in the first team his own.
At the age of twenty he helped Kingsteignton lift the Devon Junior Cup again at the County Ground Exeter with a 12 points to 5 victory over Exmouth. He was also the club’s leading points scorer that season with several points coming from his accurate place kicking.
His burgeoning talent had been spotted by the neighbouring Newton Abbot “All Whites” Club, which played at senior level, and signed him for the 1931-32 season.
Newton All Whites were not the only club to get to learn about the speedy Kingsteignton winger. In Lancashire, Rochdale Hornets of the professional Northern Union, had got wind of his prodigious talent. South Devon had been a fruitful hunting ground for the Hornets in the early 1900s and its successful pre WW1 team had several West Countrymen in its ranks, notably Hermon Paddon, formerly of Kingsteignton who was, in 1931, back in Devon living in Newton Abbot.
The Hornets pounced swiftly for Jim and invited him up to Lancashire for a trial on 26th September 1931. The news came as a complete surprise to the All Whites which had included him in its team sheet for its match on that day. The secrecy of the journey to Lancashire can be easily explained as the situation which then existed between the codes meant that any amateur player talking to a professional club could find himself banned.
Jim duly impressed the Rochdale selectors and signed for the Hornets in what proved to be a successful career.
He still kept in contact with his Kingsteignton roots and when visiting relations in Kingsteignton he would be seen in Yarde’s Pathfields keeping his fitness levels up with sprinting and kicking sessions.
The Hornets never repeated the heady days of when Paddon scored two goals for them in the 1922 Rugby League Cup Final. In 1934-35 Jim switched from playing on the wing to second-row forward but still made the occasional appearnce in the backs. Wigan made an offer to buy his registration in 1936 but the offer was declined by the Hornets management.
His skill as a player was recognised with being selected to play for the Northern Union against a Wales Rugby League team in 1937 and later in the same season as a member of the English Rugby League team to tour France. Neither of these selections however counted as a full international.
Jim's last game for the Hornets was in the 1945-46 season by which time he had played 206 games and scored 23 tries. Several years later he retired to the Isle of Man and died in Douglas in 1988.