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

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Joe Kirkham

Perhaps more than for any other position in the team, Featherstone Rovers has enjoyed an outstanding reputation for scrum-half talent throughout the history of Rugby League. On the 6th of June 1921, George Johnson local off-licence owners and chairman of the junior rugby team Featherstone Rovers went off to a meeting of the Northern Union (as it was then still called) in Manchester, accompanied by the club secretary George Brearley and Ackton Hall Colliery manager JW McTrusty, to apply to join the big boys. Rovers' application was based on an outstanding record in junior rugby, winning numerous cups and leagues every year since the end of the war in 1918. The club feared they would stagnate unless they had the chance to test themselves against the best. Rovers were duly voted in unanimously and played their first ever senior game against Bradford on 27th of August 1921. Hopefully the 90th anniversary of those two famous dates will be marked by the club later this year.

As befits a club who would become famous throughout the league for its production of players, it was largely local lads who turned out for Rovers in their first year, but the couple of signings they chose to make were telling. Prop John Willie Higson, a local lad who had played for Rovers way back in 1906 came back in the twilight of his illustrious career to add much needed nous to the pack. The committee then decided the precious little money they had would be spent on a scrum half and splashed out on experienced campaigner Joe Kirkham from Dewsbury. That first match at Odsal saw Kirkham paired at half-back with Jimmy Williams. Kirkham grabbed a debut try, Rovers won 17-3 and life in the Northern Union was off to a great start.

Later in that inaugural season Rovers tried out local new boy Joe Morgan at scrum half, with Kirkham shipped out to the wing, where he finished the year top try scorer with 11 of Rovers’ 64 tries. Kirkham was moved back to scrum half in 1922 and ended up with a career total of 69 games, scoring a very respectable 30 tries. His final match in 1923 coincided with the arrival of another promising local half-back Jimmy Rudd, who went on to enjoy lasting fame with Dewsbury. Rudd though played much of his Featherstone rugby at stand-off and the club had to look again for new scrum-half talent. Sure enough they found it in the shape of next time’s “Number Seven Dream”, Charlie Annable.

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