The long and rich history of Featherstone Rovers Rugby League Football Club

Tuesday, 14 November 2017

Peter Smith

Peter Smith’s achievements at Featherstone Rovers make him one of the most revered figures to have ever pulled on the blue & white jersey. His career spanned an astonishing seventeen years, involved overcoming crippling injuries and was sprinkled with top honours, both domestic and international. His name became a byword for all the very best things about rugby league.

Peter Smith
He made his debut as a rangy but durable looking second-row forward in January 1974 against Rochdale and immediately made an impact with his dedication and enormous appetite for work. He always took the ball in strongly, running straight and true. On defence, he was simply magnificent. Peter Smith was the best tackler this writer has ever seen. An ideal trainer, who rarely if ever gave away penalties he was quickly marked out as a model professional and a coach’s dream. Although he was a substitute in the 1974 Cup semi-final he did not make the fifteen at Wembley. He would have to wait a further nine seasons for his date at the twin towers. Before then he picked up a Championship medal with Rovers in 1977, finishing that year as the club’s leading try scorer with twenty. That same summer he was selected in the England World Cup party, playing in the 1977 World Cup Final against Australia.

At the height of his powers, aged 27, and fresh from his finest hour, our 1983 Cup win at Wembley, Peter suffered a serious back injury whilst training with the Great Britain squad. The injury and its consequences decimated the next three years and threatened to bring an outstanding career to a premature conclusion. He manged about a dozen games in those three years, as injuries, comebacks and further setbacks dogged his progress. Finally in 1986, which happened to be his testimonial year, he got back to full fitness, and gave Rovers three more tremendous seasons. At this stage, his incredible tackling and work-rate were supplemented by the nous and experience of having spent so many years at the top of the sport. Peter had a year in the second division when he set a new try scoring record for a forward at Featherstone with 21. His international honours stood at six Great Britain caps, scant reward for one of the best forwards of his generation. He was also capped by England and Yorkshire.

Soon after appearing in the 1989 Yorkshire Cup final (his third), and scoring a trademark try against Bradford, another injury forced him to call time on a fantastic Featherstone career which had spanned some 419 matches. His 110 tries were the most ever by a forward at Featherstone. How much higher could those figures have been but for that injury-plagued spell?

Surprisingly for such a dedicated one club player, a year after retiring Peter helped out at the newly formed Scarborough Pirates, and, ever the professional, gave the Pirates good service during 1991/92 aged 36.

Saturday, 11 November 2017

Charlie Stone

Although Featherstone Rovers have produced a host of great forwards throughout their history, it’s hard to think of a better combination of talents than our Championship winning pack of 1977. The front row of Thompson, Bridges and Farrar could strike fear into any opposition. The back row of Stone, Smith and Bell contained three players who offered the forward drive, exemplary tackling and ball handling skills which made them all capable of playing in the loose forward role. 

Charlie Stone
As the local area is such a hotbed of rugby league, it has been a rare occurrence for Featherstone Rovers to need to raid rugby union for players. Indeed, most of the players at Old Promfetians RUFC (what a name!) would have been pretty familiar with the thirteen–a-side code despite preferring to play Union. It was at this Pontefract based club where young Charlie Stone was playing when Rovers signed him up in October 1970. After three first team games, in which is looked a promising prospect, he promptly returned his signing–on fee to the club and went back to playing rugby union! The following season though he came back to Featherstone, under new coach Peter Fox, and this talented young back-row forward flourished from then on.

Charlie Stone was a big but mobile forward, with a good turn of pace. He could handle the ball well, and relished his eighty minute tackling stints. Little wonder then that he became an integral part of that much vaunted Rovers pack which took Featherstone to Wembley twice and to the top of the rugby league ladder in 1977. Throughout that period, Charlie Stone was a constant figure. In the 1973 final he played loose forward. In the 1974 final, he was substitute forward, coming on for Jimmy Thompson. In our Championship season of 1976/77 he operated mostly at loose forward and the year after, Charlie played more at second-row with Keith Bell at thirteen. 

No sooner had we won the league than that wonderful pack began to disintegrate. Thompson and Bridges went to Bradford and in the summer of 1978 Stone followed Vince Farrar to Hull. Also there was Stone’s brother-in-law John Newlove and later Keith Bridges. Hull FC enjoyed a lot of success using that strong Featherstone connection. Charlie added three more Wembley appearances to his record, by then playing mostly at prop. After losing the 1980 final, he won the Cup with Hull in 1982 but lost again in 1983 in a famous Featherstone victory! He also picked up a Championship medal with Hull that year. During the summer Charlie came back to Featherstone and played one final year under Allan Agar, rolling back the years with some vintage displays at prop forward. After a season at Bradford, again under Peter Fox, he retired in 1985. 
Five Challenge Cup finals, two Championships with different clubs, and numerous other finals in more than a decade of top flight of rugby league, Charlie Stone enjoyed an admirable career. He played a total of 263 games for Featherstone and scored 26 tries.

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Keith Bell

When Featherstone Rovers signed up local youngster Keith Bell in 1971, there was no doubt that they had secured a future star of impeccable pedigree. Keith was the youngest son of 1930s centre Jimmy Bell, who was Rovers groundsman and kit manager in the 1960s. Keith therefore followed in the footsteps of his father and his three older brothers Roy, Peter and John into Featherstone’s team when he made his try-scoring debut in November 1971. What could not have been predicted was how his exploits over the next nineteen years would eclipse those of all the rest of his family and many more besides.
Keith Bell
Initially a hooker, Bell stated out as the understudy to Keith Bridges in the early days of his career, but, under the guidance of coach Peter Fox, he gradually established himself in a formidable pack as a ball-handling loose forward. So successful was he in his new role that he kept his place at number thirteen as Rovers went all the way to Wembley for the 1974 Challenge Cup final. Despite Rovers’ poor display there, it was the first early honour for young Keith. His sublime handling skills and keen rugby brain were ideally suited to the role at the base of the scrum, and within three seasons Keith had picked up a Championship medal, integral part of arguably Rovers best ever pack of forwards: Thompson, Bridges, Farrar, Smith, Stone and Bell. He won county caps for Yorkshire and also appeared for Great Britain under 24s. When four of that famous Champion pack was sold, it was just Bell and Peter Smith who remained at Post Office Road and helped to rebuild the club’s fortunes.

Despite the value of a drop goal being reduced to one point in 1973 Keith was well aware of how vital those one-pointers could be, kicking a total of 67 in his career (this is still a club record). He proved his true worth to the club in the period between 1983 and 1985 when, although a senior member of the team, he didn’t play much first team rugby, and indeed he missed out on our famous 1983 Wembley triumph, being a travelling reserve. But Keith buckled down, and captained the A team with the same shrewdness and tenacity he had always shown for the first team. And when Peter Fox came back to the club in 1987, Keith enjoyed his swansong, filling in at hooker during our 1988 Promotion season. Keith was one of only two players, along with Peter Smith, whose career spanned the two coaching stints at the club by Peter Fox.

Keith Bell was awarded a benefit season in 1984/5 which coincided unfortunately with the miners’ strike. His final tally of 417 games has been bettered by only four other players in the history of the club. After finishing at Rovers in 1990 he played a couple of years at Hunslet before hanging up his boots at the age of 39. Since then he has been involved with coaching and management at Featherstone Lions.

Few players in Featherstone Rovers’ history can claim to have offered more service to the club than Keith, a legendary servant of the club.

Monday, 30 October 2017

Don Fox

Few players have the ability to reach the highest standards in rugby league in three quite different positions, but Don Fox was one such player. Well known as one of the best scrum-halves of his generation, Fox switched later in his career to the back of the pack with great success, and finished as a very effective front-rower.

Don Fox
Of course, it was in the number seven shirt that Don Fox was best remembered by Featherstone fans. His famous partnership with Joe Mullaney was a time of unparalleled success for the club. At various times, Fox had to see off challenges for his position from the likes of Roy Bell, Tommy Smales and Alan Marchant, all very good players. But from 1953 to his benefit year in 1963 Don reigned supreme at scrum-half.The following season however, Fox’s career entered a new phase. With another bright young half-back called Carl Dooler battling for a first team spot, Rovers’ new coach Johnny Malpass came up with the perfect solution. Dooler started at seven, and Don’s talents were to be employed among the forwards. So, for the first time in his career, on the 17th of September 1963 Fox switched to the pack and turned out at loose forward. Rovers enjoyed a good win against Leeds in the Yorkshire Cup that afternoon, and the new line up was cemented. With much of the organisation of the side now falling on Dooler’s shoulders, Fox revelled in his new role.

Up to this point, Fox’s outstanding talent had not been fairly reflected in the representative honours he had won. He had been capped three times by Yorkshire, and played twice for Great Britain in unofficial tests against France, and toured with Great Britain in 1962 without playing a test. Otherwise he had been largely overlooked throughout his career as a scrum-half.

Ironically, within two months of his switch to loose forward his representative luck changed. In November 1963 Fox finally made his official Great Britain debut against Australia, in the third Test of a series that Britain had already lost. Don was chosen at thirteen, with the scrum-half slot going to Tommy Smales, who had done well for himself after having been unable to shift Don from the Rovers first team years earlier. Smales and Fox inspired Britain to victory in a brutal game that day, but it was to be Don's one and only test cap. 

After two more good years at loose forward for Featherstone, vying for a place with the fit again Terry Clawson and other promising newcomer Arnie Morgan, Don called time on his Rovers career.When he signed for Wakefield in 1965, Don was Featherstone’s leading try, goal and points scorer. He played just 48 of his 368 games at loose forward, but certainly made an impact in that role. Over fifty years later his Rovers try scoring record of 162 still stands today. In 1968 Don Fox won the Lance Todd trophy in the infamous ‘Watersplash’ Challenge Cup final of 1968.  By then he was no longer a brilliant scrum half, nor a wily loose forward, but had converted himself into a top class prop.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Colin Clifft

Colin Clifft
Born in Leeds, Colin Clifft started his rugby league career at Wakefield Trinity, where he stood out as a tallish, rangy, and difficult to tackle forward with good handling skills. When he was aged just 22 he won international honours when he was selected for England against France in 1956. This was just reward for the early promise his career had shown and he marked the occasion by grabbing a try. Colin then moved to Halifax where he played for a further three years. Despite being a consistent performer, that early England cap to be Colin’s last international honour, although he did play for Yorkshire whilst he was at Halifax.

In the summer of 1959 Rovers decided to do something about the embarrassment of riches the club had at scrum-half at that time. Don Fox got the nod as first choice number seven, and the talented Alan Marchant had to leave. Marchant was swopped for Halifax’s loose forward, Colin Clifft. On the face of it, Clifft, now aged 25, was an unlikely signing when he arrived at Post office Road. Rovers looked well blessed in the back row, especially at loose forward where both Cliff Lambert and young Terry Clawson employed their wide range of skills. However, canny coach Harold Moxon soon decided that, of the three players, it would be Clifft who would operate at loose forward and thus Lambert and Clawson both played second-row. There could be no greater testimony to Colin’s skills than that.

It quickly became apparent that Clifft was a tactically astute player and he revelled in the distribution role. He quickly settled into a very good team, although his first year ended prematurely with a shoulder injury just before an unsuccessful Challenge Cup semi-final. The following season was an excellent year as the potent triumvirate of Clawson, Lambert and Clifft caused all kinds of problems for opposition defences, offering, as they did, a variety of attacking options. In 1961/2 Rovers came to within a whisker of both the Challenge Cup final and Championship final, thwarted at the semi-final stage in both competitions by a powerful Wakefield team.

Clifft was our loose forward in the 1963 Yorkshire Cup final against his former club Halifax. However, Rovers turned in an awful show, and ex-Rover Alan Marchant lifted the trophy. Colin suffered a serious back injury in that game which finished his season. He then spent a year battling back to fitness, including a spell in the A team. Colin Clifft played his last first team match in October 1964 and in total played 118 games for Featherstone Rovers and scored 17 tries.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Terry Clawson

Terry Clawson
It was always going to take a very special kind of player to dislodge the legendary Cliff Lambert from the number thirteen jersey at Featherstone. However, local youngster Terry Clawson did just that. He started his Rovers career in 1957 and, although a very different type of player to Lambert, Terry established a reputation as an all-action, no-nonsense loose forward. Never afraid to take the ball to the line, Terry also displayed the hallmark skill of a good back-rower, the ability to handle the ball well. He also had a strong kicking game.

Clawson was a fixture in the Rovers team for five years, showing great consistency and fitness, and he turned into a regular points machine. In those five seasons his points returns showed 136, 256 (a new club record), 185, 263 (breaking his own record), and 188. Soon enough, his tough tackling and prodigious goal-kicking caught the attention of the international selectors. He made his Great Britain debut aged 21 against France in 1962, but within twelve months suffered a serious threat to his life when he contracted tuberculosis. He was sent to a sanitorium for a number of months to recuperate. When he came out he had lost a lot of weight and was in no shape for professional rugby.

However, after a full season out of the game, he bounced back and regained his place in the Rovers first team. He found form but failed to settle and within a few months had been sold to Bradford Northern. He stayed at Odsal for three years before moving on again. Thus began a nomadic journey through a wide variety of clubs which included Hull KR, Oldham, York and Wakefield before finishing at Hull FC in 1980. He even managed a spell as player-coach in South Newcastle, New South Wales. He won a total of 14 GB caps and kicked two goals in a famous British triumph in the 1972 World Cup final. He was also a Great Britain tourist in 1974.

Towards the end of his career Terry came back to Featherstone and had a spell as Rovers’ player-coach in 1978. When he selected both himself and his son Neil for a match at Workington in November 1978 they created possibly a unique moment in rugby league history of a father and son playing on the same side together. However, Rovers lost and it was Clawson’s last match in charge. During his swansong, he added to his impressive points and goals tallies. His record of 483 goals for Rovers in 215 games puts him seventh on Rovers all-time goal kicking list. His famous sense of humour and streetwise philosophy shone through his very entertaining autobiography, “All the Wrong Moves”.