Joe Flanagan began his long career in rugby league with the St. Anne’s School amateur team which consisted mainly of the school’s old boys. Joe was asked down to Lawkholme for trials and after impressing in a few pre-season games Joe made his full debut at the start of the 1939-40 season. Before the War coaches were unknown and the team captain, Norman Foster, organised the training at tactics. Essential war work prevented Joe from joining the services but this often meant working long hours and then getting straight down to training or playing at Keighley. During the War Keighley consisted of a good many guest players from other teams such as Warrington which had closed down. Jack Miller, Dave Cotton (father of Rugby Union’s Fran), Harry Jones, Fred Higginbottom and Mel DeLloyd all played for Keighley. It was difficult to know exactly what sort of team was turning out. Joe played in the Yorkshire Cup Final team who were runners-up to Bradford Northern in 1943-44 in a two-legged final.
In the 1947-48 season Joe was sold to Leeds for £1,000, a then Keighley record. During this one season spell at Headingley he was selected to play for Yorkshire. Unfortunately injury in the Yorkshire Cup Final against Wakefield Trinity, in which Joe scored a try, meant he couldn’t represent his county. Before the 1948-49 season a new team was starting up at Whitehaven and they approached Leeds for players getting Joe to join them for their inaugural season, in fact, by kicking a goal, Joe scored the club’s first points. Travelling to games far up in Cumberland, which often took up three days, proved an ordeal and so Joe returned to his home town club in 1949 playing four more seasons at Lawkholme and making a big impact on the team before moving to Bramley in 1951-52. Joe’s record for his second spell at Keighley was: played 46, goals 4, tries 6 making 22 points.
After his playing days were over Joe turned his tremendous experience over to refereeing at first in the local amateur leagues but then moving on to the professional game the highlight of which was a match between Wakefield Trinity and the New Zealand tourists.
Joe continued his long association with rugby league by coaching the Keighley ‘A’ team.