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

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Terry Hudson

Terry Hudson’s time at Featherstone was divided into two separate parts. It began with a battle for the scrum-half berth with a young Steve Nash and finished with a similar tussle with a young Deryck Fox, two highly-decorated, worthy rivals and team-mates. Tex made his Rovers debut in April 1969, immediately endearing himself to fans by scoring a match-winning try against Castleford. Such was the quality and consistency of Nash’s play that it was to be August 1970 before Hudson got an extended run in the team following a knee ligament injury to Nash. Once fit again, Nash slotted back into the first team, now coached by Peter Fox.

As a keen young half-back, once he had been given the taste of the action, Terry Hudson was hungry for more. The only solution was a transfer and Rovers received a sizeable £7,500 from Hull KR for his services in 1971. Hudson followed in a long line of very good scrum-halves forced by the sheer volume of available talent to leave the club to find first team football. After four years at Craven Park, he moved on to Wakefield, but after Rovers’ relegation in 1979, Paul Daley called Tex back home in September 1979. He helped Rovers to the Second Division title and back into the top flight.
Always keen and committed on defence, he had an eye for the long cut-out pass, and was a hard worker on the field, marshalling the troops. He was appointed club captain in 1982. At this point Rovers splashed out good money on Batley scrum-half Neil Pickerill and Hudson was switched to loose forward where he continued to oversee operations. Pickerill never settled and as Rovers famous Cup-winning run started in February 1983 Hudson was back at number seven and revelling in Rovers’ Cup success. Man of the match in the semi-final, Hudson played a pivotal role in the final. His planned move sent Hobbs over for the only first-half try, and a typical all-action display (with a ten minute sin-bin visit included) really disrupted the Hull team.  Job done, a few pleasantries exchanged with Joe Gormley, and then Tex Hudson had his hands on the Challenge Cup at Wembley!
The arrival of Deryck Fox saw Terry switch back to loose forward the following season and after 218 first team games he left Rovers for a second time in November 1984 to play out his days at Hunslet. It was not the end of his involvement at Rovers for during the reign of Australian coach Steve martin, Terry Hudson was his able and well-respected assistant.

Dale Fennell

Like many other players before and after him, Dale Fennell joined Featherstone Rovers with  an extra burden of responsibility on his shoulders. As the son of legendary full-back Jackie, his famous surname guaranteed that unfair comparisons would be made with his father. Nevertheless, Dale was quite a different player, and went on to make the most of his chances in a career that spanned five seasons and just under 100 games for the Rovers. Oh, and he won the Rugby League Championship too.
    Fennell made his debut as a teenager in August 1975 at St. Helens following an injury to Butler on the opening day of the season. When Peter Banner was signed as cover, Fennell went back to the reserves to bide his time. Within a year, Banner had left for Leeds and with Butler still injury plagued, Fennell grabbed his chance and stepped up. He played in the 1976 Yorkshire Cup final when Rovers lost a tight but entertaining game to Leeds 16-12. Fennell was up against his erstwhile team-mate Peter Banner on that day and came off second best, but as the season continued Rovers’ confidence grew and Fennell played a full part in that. A vital win over St. Helens in March gave league leaders Rovers the belief that they could hold on and win the title. Fennell was named man of the match as he scored one try and set up two others. In their final home game of the season, as Rovers paraded the Championship around Post Office Road, Dale started on the bench, but came on in the second half. The famous after-match photo shows Fennell wearing the base of the Championship trophy as a hat, as the team celebrated their amazing achievement. The following season he won representative honours when he was selected alongside team-mates Peter Smith and Steve Evans to play for Great Britain Under 24s against the 1978 Australian tourists.
    As that Championship team broke up with the likes of Thompson, Bridges, Newlove and Stone sold to other clubs, Fennell was left alongside players such as Smith, Box, Bell and Coventry to try and maintain the form shown in previous years. It wasn’t possible, but it was still a surprise to see Rovers relegated in 1979 just two seasons after being crowned Champions. Fennell started the season in the second division, but the signing of Terry Hudson indicated that he no longer figured in the club’s plans. He was snapped up by Wakefield where he spent two seasons before moving on to Bradford Northern. In 1986 Fennell moved back to Featherstone for a short spell to help out with the reserve team before retiring.

Phil Butler

Featherstone Rovers sold star scrum-half Steve Nash to glamour club Salford (those were the days!) in 1975 and needed a new number seven. They of course explored their junior options, but in the end felt the need to break their own transfer fee record in an attempt to find an adequate replacement. A nuggety style halfback and local lad, Phil Butler had made his debut for Rovers in October 1974, during a prolonged period of injury for Steve Nash. His pugnacious spirit and never-say-die attitude won Butler the respect of fans by now accustomed to the very best standards of half-back play. Phil played a total of 20 games in his first season. Once Nash had left, Butler was able to step up, but in the very first game of the new season a cruel shoulder injury put him out of action and put Rovers in a quandary. The shoulder was to plague Butler throughout his career, but in September 1975 Featherstone needed a solution to their problem.

The money received from Salford left Rovers relatively cashed up, an almost unique situation in the club’s history. Some of the money was therefore spent on Welsh international scrum-half Peter Banner, Salford’s erstwhile number seven before Nash’s arrival. Banner had played for Wales in the same 1975 World Cup tournament where Nash had played for England, and was undoubtedly talented. Eyebrows were raised at Rovers’ need, indeed one journalist described the idea of Featherstone Rovers buying in a scrum-half as ‘like carrying coals to Newcastle’. Club historian Irvin Saxton remarked that in the club’s entire history only Joe Kirkham (from Dewsbury in 1921) and Cyril Gilbertson (also from Dewsbury in 1948) had been brought in by the club from outside to play at seven. Banner never really settled at Post Office Road managing just 20 appearances in 1975/76 before transferring to Leeds. The main reason he never settled was Phil Butler regaining his fitness.

After tussling with Banner, it was youngster Dale Fennell who Butler faced as a rival for his place. Over the next three seasons they shared the honours, Butler’s chances being consistently hit by a series of injuries. After almost two full years out, he came back in 1981/82 to regain his first team spot from Terry Hudson, a real comeback tale. Inevitably though, injury struck again and he was forced to quit in 1982. In total he made 71 starts at scrum-half and played 78 games in total.

Undoubtedly Phil Butler’s finest hour was our Challenge Cup quarter-final against Leeds in 1976. Playing behind an awesome pack, Butler cut Leeds to shreds with a superb display. Rovers won a memorable encounter 33-7. The semi-final was well on the way to being another historic occasion for Rovers, 9-0 up at half-time against Widnes and Butler in fine fettle. A recurrence of that wretched shoulder injury forced him off, and a second-half collapse saw Rovers beaten 14-9 and denied Wembley in cruel fashion.