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

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Carl Dooler

The tremendous conveyor belt of talent that had produced scrum-halves of the quality of Ray Evans, Tommy Smales and Don Fox in the fifties continued into the sixties. When Carl Dooler made his debut as a fresh-faced teenager in December 1960 he had ahead of him in the pecking order the international star Don Fox, a living legend at the club, who had over 200 first team games under his belt. Within three seasons Dooler had made the scrum-half jersey his own and Don Fox was operating at loose-forward.

A product of the prolific Sharlston nursery, Carl Dooler was limited in his first two years of senior rugby to filling in when Fox was injured. Despite this, he still did enough to impress the county selectors. In September 1962, with Fox sidelined, Dooler was picked as Yorkshire scrum-half against both Cumberland and Lancashire. This meant effectively that Rovers had the best two number sevens in Yorkshire on their books. When Fox was at full fitness he was still first choice though, and so Dooler played a few games at stand-off, although Ivor Lingard was competing for that position too. It was not until the arrival of Johnny Malpass as coach in 1963 that a solution to the problem of an abundance of half-backs was neatly resolved. Dooler was now the main man, Don slotted in at 13, and Carl enjoyed five unbroken seasons as the lynchpin of Rovers team. He suffered a setback in 1965 when the club sold both Don Fox and Terry Ramshaw which caused Carl to question the club’s ambition. An ensuing disagreement was settled and Carl was rewarded by being selected to tour Australia with Great Britain in the summer of 1966. Despite an exemplary tour, playing 15 matches, a test cap eluded him. He was a non-playing substitute for one test, but that was as close as he got.

The following domestic season Dooler played in two finals, and his fortunes in each couldn’t have been more contrasting. In the 1966 Yorkshire Cup final against Hull KR Dooler was unjustly sent-off for tripping and Rovers went down to a disappointing 25-12 defeat. Being found not guilty by the disciplinary panel was no consolation. However, a few months later at Wembley Dooler carried all before him with a lively display in the Challenge Cup final. Rovers won the Cup for the first time and Dooler landed the Lance Todd trophy.  By December though Carl was on the transfer list, unhappy with his terms. This gave a chance to another promising youngster called Steve Nash. Dooler meanwhile played his final game for Rovers in August 1968 and eventually got a transfer to Hull KR in January 1969, where his appearances were restricted by a back injury. He also played the odd game for both York and Batley before retiring in 1973. In all, he played 199 games for Featherstone and scored 62 tries.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Don Fox

Among the many distinguished players who have graced the number seven shirt, inevitably some names stand out above others. Don Fox achieved enough during his career at Featherstone to have a whole book about him, written by former club secretary Ron Bailey. As such, it would be difficult to do justice to his glittering career in one short article. By the time he left Post Office Road for Wakefield in 1965 Don was the club’s leading try, goal and points scorer. Over forty five years later, his try scoring record still stands today, and his points-scoring has been beaten only by Steve Quinn and Stuart Dickens.

Out of the wealth of scrum-half talent that Rovers produced at the beginning of the 1950s it was no surprise that Don Fox was to have the longest lasting impact on the club, given the amount of natural talent he was blessed with. He quickly struck up a famous partnership with Joe Mullaney, and the period in which they reigned supreme as Rovers’ half-backs was one of unparalleled and consistent success for the club. The great mystery was, of course, how that Harold-Moxon-coached team missed out on major honours, managing to lose an incredible five Challenge Cup semi-finals without ever reaching Wembley. Within three years of signing for Wakefield, Don achieved this dream, by which time he was no longer a scrum half, but had converted himself into a wily front-row forward, the most unlikely of positional switches, it has to be said.

Fox’s outstanding talent is not reflected in the representative honours he won. He was capped three times by Yorkshire, played twice for Great Britain in unofficial tests against France, but otherwise he was unluckily overlooked throughout the fifties, with club politics among the selection committee perhaps playing a part in his exclusion. Finally he was rewarded with a place on the 1962 Great Britain tour of Australia. Competing for the scrum-half berth with Alex Murphy, Fox was impressive enough in the warm-up games for the tour managers to consider putting Murphy to stand-off and starting with Don at seven. In the last match before the first Test, Fox injured his shoulder, missed the Test, and after another injury came home early, having played just five matches. It was to be another year before Don Fox made his belated Great Britain debut against the 1963 Australian tourists, in a dead rubber third Test of a series that Britain had already lost. Ironically Don was selected at loose-forward with the scrum-half slot going to another Featherstone lad, Tommy Smales, who had left Rovers some eight years earlier, having been unable to shift Don from the Rovers first team. Tommy and Don inspired Britain to victory that day, but it was to be Don's one and only test cap.