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

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v Barrow 1967

Pride of place in any fan’s collection purely for sentimental reasons would have to go to the Wembley programmes from our Challenge Cup final successes, reminders of some of our happiest days. In reality, for a collector these programmes are always easy to come by because so many were printed, and therefore cheap to buy. Here we look at the 1967 final when we played today’s opponents Barrow.

The cover design is identical to other finals from 1964 to 1968 and for a shilling (5p) you get a twenty page souvenir produced by the Rugby Football League, although six pages are given to advertising, so in the modern sense, the reading material is a bit thin. The front page of the Cup final issue from that era always had a picture of the Queen on the inside cover. Just for good measure in 1967 we’ve got a portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh too. Of course, her Majesty actually turned out for this final, one of only two finals she’s ever been to. Once she found out Rovers had beaten Leeds in the semi, I’m sure she couldn’t resist the opportunity to meet Mal Dixon and the rest of the lads.

Inside are the Rovers pen pictures, and another peculiarity of the age was the way that players were given their formal full names in their profiles. Hence, Rovers team included Kenneth Greatorex, Michael Smith, Leslie Tonks and Arnold Morgan. However, Jim Thompson and Tom Smales didn’t get the same treatment.
The Featherstone Rovers profile includes the usual praise of our club being a team of local lads full of pride and passion who are always prepared to give youth their chance. One point that irks is the constant references to Rovers as the ‘Colliers’. Now there can be no doubting the long-standing and strong connection between the club and the coal-mining industry, but I’ve never heard any fan of ours ever actually refer to the club as the ‘Colliers’; I always saw it as a nickname imposed from outside.

There’s no ‘shipbuilder’ references in the Barrow article, but their star players are on their Sunday best too; Edward Tees, William Burgess and Gerald Smith.

Towards the back pages a small ad pointed out that the Cup final was Southerners’ only annual opportunity to watch RL, but that in 1967 they could get a second helping as Great Britain were to take on Australia at the White City Stadium in November. You could get tickets for 10 shillings (50p). In the event the international drew a respectable crowd of 17,445, but it was to be some time before London became anything other than solely the Cup final venue for RL fans.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Peter Fox: The Players’ coach by Graham Williams and Peter Lush

This book was published in 2008, and it is perhaps surprising that it took so long for the Peter Fox story to find its way into print. Peter was of course one of our finest ever coaches and he had a huge impact on the club in two separate spells. When he was in charge from 1971 to 1974 he took Rovers to Wembley twice and to consistently high league positions. He came back in 1987 and stayed four more years, winning promotion and establishing Rovers once again among the elite of the game. His total of 304 games in charge remains a record. This very readable book covers those two spells and the rest of his colourful career as well.

The book is set out in chronological fashion and so part one covers Peter’s childhood in Sharlston and his playing days as a loose-forward at Featherstone, then Batley, among other clubs. The authors managed to dig out a number of rare old photos of Peter in his playing days.

Part two covers Fox’s coaching career and it was in this sphere that he triumphed. He took his first coaching steps with the Black Horse amateur team in the Wakefield District Sunday League, but his first professional appointment was when he beat Tommy Smales and Harry Poole to the Rovers coaching job in January 1971 and the rest, as they say, was history. After such success, it was a shock when he was allowed to leave in the summer of 1974. All aspects of the club including recruitment and team selection at that stage was done by committee. Peter wanted more of a say, and a power struggle saw him lose out and he quit. Looking back, although Rovers went on to win a Championship in 1977 and reached a couple more Cup semi-finals in 1976 and 1978, I firmly believe it was a huge mistake to let Fox leave, a move which was also against the wishes of Chairman John Jepson. Who knows how far the club could have gone had Peter stayed.

As it was, he built a championship winning side at Bradford, made with Featherstone players like Jimmy Thompson and Keith Bridges. He ran Australia close in an Ashes series, but failed to get the 1979 tour job. He also had a high profile spell at Leeds before coming back to Rovers in 1987. The one black mark on his contribution to Featherstone was the manner of his departure to Bradford in 1991, but there can be no doubt that he was a major influence on our club and on the whole sport with his forward thinking tactics and his legendary man management skills. Thankfully this book does justice to his achievements.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v Widnes 1986

Today’s featured programme from the 1985/86 season is one of my favourite covers, the combination of the right colours (French navy blue and white) and eye-catching lettering make it a classy-looking design. It also has an artist’s impression of what would become the Rovers’ main stand, still a few months away from completion.

It’s obvious that the producers have put a lot of thought and attention into this self-titled “official match brochure” priced at 40p and containing 32 pages. It is part of the golden age of Featherstone programme printing, having improved in quality and content over a number of years during the early 1980s. Indeed, in the annual competition to judge the best club production in the league, organised by “Programme World”, the Rovers issue of 1985/86 narrowly pipped Wigan for the top prize. This reflected great credit on editor Terry Mullaney and his production team, and was reward for a number of years hard work.

Inside, there is plenty to keep the reader occupied. Coach George Pieniazek appealed to the fans to keep the faith during our difficult run-in towards avoiding relegation. Apologies were offered for the delay of the construction of the new main stand, but we were promised it would be worth the wait. As it was our last home match of the season, the “John Jepson Trophy” for player of the year was set to be awarded on the pitch before the match (deservedly won that year by Paul Lyman). There  was a feature on Rovers latest signing, youngster Neil Kelly (future Widnes coach). Ray Handscombe was pleased with the progress of his Colts team, despite having lost their recent Cup Semi-final to Wigan. Reserve team coach Dave Busfield outlined a number of his players who were knocking on the door for first team selection, including Richard Marsh, Brian Kellett and Tim Slatter.

A quick look at the Widnes team pen pictures reminded me just how many brothers Widnes had in their team at that time, including the Hulmes, the O’Neills, the Ruanes and of course the Mylers.
Resident columnist Ian Clayton has an oddly prescient piece, lambasting recent newspaper reports of the creation of a Super League in rugby league (this was April 1986 remember). His mock-horror predictions of possible future changes to the game don’t look funny in retrospect, as some of those far-fetched plans actually came to fruition almost a decade later.

The game itself was a very good one with Rovers, having struggled for most of the season to string some good form together, putting up a brave show against a powerful Widnes side. Rovers gave a debut to Kelly off the bench, and Widnes included at centre former Featherstone favourite John Gilbert, replacing youngster Andy Currier (Rovers future record signing).

Monday, 25 June 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v Wakefield 1976

When a player completes ten years service with the same club he is granted a benefit season which is marked in various ways. Fund-raising events are held, and often a brochure is produced. As the type of club that has inspired a lot of loyalty down the years, Rovers have seen plenty of benefit years. In recent seasons Danny Evans and Stuart Dickens have put out nice souvenir publications. Previously, the club committee often chose a particular home match in a season as the benefit game for a player, and also dedicated the match programme to the purpose. In the 80s both Mick Gibbins and John Marsden had their benefit brochure printed as a home league programme, though Steve Quinn and Peter Smith both decided to produce a separate brochure in their testimonial seasons. One of the earliest examples of the benefit-brochure-as-a-match-programme was the home fixture versus Huddersfield in May 1963 which doubled up as Jackie Fennell’s testimonial souvenir.

Today’s featured programme is a neat little publication from Good Friday in April 1976 for the Wakefield match, celebrating ten years service to the Rovers’ first team of Vince Farrar. It cost 10p and the cover is one of those classic Rovers photos, Vince at full stretch diving through the Bradford defence for a try at Wembley. Great photo, great try. Inside, the format is very similar to a typical home programme of that season, so the reading content was thin. After the team lists and the adverts, there are just four pages to do justice to Vince’s career. Tributes came from Joe Humphreys of the Daily Mirror and Jack Bentley of the Daily Express. Humpreys  highlighted what a talented clubman Vince was, and a real coach-pleaser. Bentley compared Vince to Brian McTigue and pointed out that he should have been on the 1974 tour instead of playing club rugby for Cronulla. Both reporters remarked on how he had been a little unlucky to have missed out on full International honours. He had been selected as sub. against the 1971 New Zealand tourists, but didn’t get on, and wasn’t selected again. This was something he rectified later in his career, when he finally played for Great Britain v Australia in 1978 after having left Rovers for Hull FC.

Although he was being rewarded for ten years service, Vince was still only 29 and had a few good seasons left in him yet. Irvin Saxton’s page gave a rundown of Vince’s career, which at that stage spanned 253 games. I was surprised to find that Vince had played 86 games at prop, 85 at hooker, 56 at loose forward, 8 at second row and 18 off the bench. He had also gained five county caps for Yorkshire.

Friday, 22 June 2012

A New History of Featherstone Rugby by Ian Clayton & Ian Daley

Printed in 1994, some ten years after the original “100 Years of Featherstone Rugby” appeared, this revised volume featured much better production values than the first. Although a lot of the text remained the same, most of the photographs were new, and the intervening ten years of rugby are also dealt with, albeit rather briefly. The statistical section at the back of the book is updated and reorganised, with some, though far from all, of the errors of the 1984 book rectified.

    The front cover is a team photo of Rovers 1910 Junior Yorkshire Cup winning team from the days before Rovers were admitted to join the RFL. It is this period of the club’s history which is the major focus of the book. Clayton begins his narrative with the formation of the Rugby Football Union in 1871, and this new code of football arrived in the nascent mining village of Featherstone in 1884 when the Featherstone & Purston United Cricket Club decided to have a go at rugby. The first proper rugby club was formed in 1889 and had its base at the New Inn, and they called themselves Featherstone Trinity. Soon another side emerged called Featherstone Red Star. Trinity became Featherstone RUFC and then in 1898 the club members took a vote about switching over the Northern Union. This vote was carried by 44 to 20 and that summer Rugby League as it was later to become was born in Featherstone. Their first ever game under Northern Union rules ended with a 10-8 win over Wakefield.

Clayton’s book goes on to plot how that early club Featherstone NUFC packed up in 1902 allowing Featherstone Rovers to be formed by George Johnson, based at the Railway Hotel. Rovers weren’t the last side to be set up in the village, as they had to see off competition from Purston White Horse (based at The Junction Hotel) and another team called Featherstone (set up by the landlord of the Featherstone Hotel) before being firmly established as the town’s rugby league team.

    Having covered the early days of the club in some detail, the rest of the club’s history is skipped over quickly, in the words of the author himself,  “in the belief that the later years are for future historians to look at”. Given that sixteen years have passed and a lot more rugby has been played since the publication of this book, perhaps the time has come for the definitive history of Featherstone Rovers to be written.

Wednesday, 20 June 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v Swinton 1928

So far in this series we’ve looked at Rovers programmes from different decades from the 1950s to the 1990s, all very interesting to read and part of Featherstone’s rich history, but none of them likely to make you rich if you happen to come across a copy somewhere. As you delve further back in time, programmes become much rarer and much more sought after. Anything printed pre World War Two inevitably fetches a very good price with some old rugby league programmes now changing hands for £1,000 or more, a figure unheard of until very recently in the collecting community. Featherstone Rovers programmes are particularly hard to find as our pre-war attendances were lower than other clubs and so the print run was also low. So, have a root around in your granddad’s attic and see if you can come up with a valuable souvenir or two.

As far as rare programmes go, today’s featured edition is a very good example, being both hard to get and also of very special significance to Featherstone Rovers. Though it would be hard to tell from a quick look at the cover, this is in fact a copy of the match programme for our 1928 Championship final against Swinton. It looks like a regular home programme of the Oldham club, because the final was played at Watersheddings and the host club, rather than the RFL, was responsible for printing. They made a good job of it though, putting together a sixteen page issue which was a decent read in an age when match programmes tended to be much thinner, perhaps just two folded sheets. The cover price of 2d may seem ridiculously cheap to us, but was probably double the normal price in 1928.

Inside, the lead article pays credit both to Swinton, who were on course for a historic “All Four Cups” season, and also to Featherstone for reaching the Championship final in just their seventh season as a senior club. Inevitably the focus on Rovers highlighted the financial hardships the club had to consistently overcome to put out a competitive team. It was noted that every single Rovers player had been signed by the club for the minimum signing-on fee of £10 at a time when other clubs could afford to pay £100 or more.

Just to show how little things change in the world of rugby league, there’s also an article questioning the playoff system, which was then a top four straight knockout; Rovers (3rd)  had beaten Leeds (2nd) in the semi-final. The suggestion was that the side finishing top at the end of the regular season should be champions. It’s a debate that still rumbles on 80 odd years later!

*Many thanks to Stephen Parker for the scan of this programme.

Saturday, 16 June 2012

Rugby League: Back o’ t’ Wall by Graham Chalkley

 Recently we looked at the autobiography of Don Fox, who was born and bred in Sharlston. Until you read this book it’s difficult to believe just how many other top rugby league stars came from the same place. The story of rugby league in Sharlston is an incredible one, and this well-researched book by former player Graham Chalkley does justice to its proud record of player production. Chalkley plots the history of the Sharlston Rovers club, starting from the earliest days of organised rugby in the 1880s and 1890s. In those days Sharlston had as rivals other local teams such as Streethouse, Outwood, Normanton and later of course near neighbours Featherstone Rovers. The accounts of some of those early matches make fascinating reading. It’s clear that there was no love lost between these fiercely competitive local rivals, and after one game Rovers president and founder Councillor George Johnson took a swipe at Sharlston’s rough play tactics in his post-match speech. When Sharlston threatened to cancel the following fixture with a large crowd already assembled, Mr. Johnson was obliged to apologise before the game could take place.

Featherstone Rovers left the junior leagues in 1921, but Sharlston have continued there to this day in a run broken only by a short time in the fifties when they had no open-age side. As a club, their major achievements were twice winning the Yorkshire Cup, as well as famous victories over professional teams in the Challenge Cup, against Workington (in 1946) and Dewsbury (in 2004). The book was published in 2006 which coincided with one of the club’s most successful periods in terms of silverware. As an interesting history of a successful amateur club, the book is very thorough.

However, what makes the Sharlston club special, and what makes this book a remarkable read is the astonishing number of top quality players have been produced by a village with a population of just under 2,500 people. Given its geographical location, the main beneficiaries of this production line have been Featherstone Rovers and Wakefield Trinity. Two of the original nine members of the Rugby League Hall of Fame, Jonty Parkin and Neil Fox, started at Sharlston. As did Lance Todd trophy winners Carl Dooler and Don Fox, as well as England internationals Herbert Goodfellow (Wakefield) and Joe Mullaney (Featherstone), not forgetting Great Britain and Featherstone coach Peter Fox. The long list goes on to include Rovers favourites such as Tommy Smales, Vaughan Thomas, Steve Hankin, and more recently Martin Pearson and Steve Dooler. There are so many Doolers and Lingards who played the games professionally it’s hard to keep count. All in all, this book is a cracking read for local rugby league fans.

Monday, 11 June 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v Hull KR and York, 1997

In the course of a normal season, a club playing say fifteen home fixtures will produce fifteen match programmes and life for the programme collector is very easy. Occasionally along comes a postponed or re-arranged fixture to complicate matters. Perhaps the club will just re-hash the programme printed for the original date, perhaps not. Sometimes a game takes place at relatively short notice and there is no time to print a programme, so the supporters receive only a typed team-sheet. Towards the end of the 1997 season Rovers tried something different, and decided to print one programme that would cover two home fixtures. It was a novel idea, implemented I suspect as a cost-cutting measure, and was not something which caught on because the club never did it again. This publication, called “Going Forward”,  therefore has a certain rarity value.

The two games in question were against Hull K.R. and York and both games were part of the Divisional Premiership which ran after the end of that league season. In the group stages each club played eight matches, Rovers lost the first of these two fixtures to Hull K.R. 20-30 on the Wednesday night, but then thumped York 70-12 on the Sunday. We eventually qualified for the quarter-finals at the expense of Hull K.R, and faced Huddersfield. It was not a format that had captured the imagination of the fans, but Huddersfield took it seriously as, after beating us, they went on to win it, which in turn bizarrely earned them a Super League spot when Paris St. Germain went bankrupt. The crazy world of rugby league.

The programme itself is A5 size and cost £1.50. It has 32 pages with full colour pictures from both sets of opponents; Damien Ball of York and the evergreen Stanley Gene of Hull KR. Head coach Steve Sims has his say, there’s an interesting interview with Matt Lambert on his globetrotting rugby career, and another with winger Paul Gleadhill. For those of us who enjoy a good moan about the match officials there is a curious piece from Chris Westwood on the infamous Aussie referee of the early 1960s D’Arcy Lawler. An all round good read in fact.

During 2009 and 2010 a number of Co-operative Championship clubs discontinued producing match programmes in favour of a generic league-wide magazine called “Game On”. Introduced largely as a cost-cutting measure, it was an interesting solution to the problem of declining sales. But it never caught on, and to be honest, this lifelong traditional club programme fan was not sad at its demise.

Wednesday, 6 June 2012

Don Fox: Rugby League Legend by Ron Bailey

Whilst it is quite common to see recently retired players publishing their autobiographies, as far as rugby league is concerned this is a relatively new phenomenon. Until the late 1990s very few stars of our game had their memoirs printed. Hence the market now for retrospective studies of the game’s former greats. Ron Bailey followed up his trilogy of history books on Featherstone Rovers by choosing Don Fox to be the subject of his fourth book. Undoubtedly one of the greatest players our club has ever produced, Don Fox signed for Featherstone Rovers in 1953 and served the club with distinction before leaving for Wakefield in September 1965. He stopped playing in 1970, but it wasn’t until 2007 that his story was finally put down in print. Ron Bailey was in an ideal position to write this book, having been closely involved with the Rovers as club secretary whilst Fox was starring in the first team.

We are given a short introduction on life in Sharlston and its close association with rugby league. Don’s childhood neighbour was the great Joe Mullaney and there is a touching tribute to his halfback partner from Joe, a man who surely deserves a biography of his own. Don was the second of Tom Fox’s three rugby playing sons, and the story begins in earnest once he had signed for Featherstone.

Don Fox’s professional life is divided into five chapters, the longest  three of which cover his time with Featherstone. This of course was a golden period for Featherstone rugby, and Don’s career highlights included lifting the Yorkshire Cup, representing Great Britain and beating Australia. The text is filled out with a lot of photos, many of them team groups. Considering the length and profile of his career there are precious few good action shots of Don   Fox that survive to date. There is coverage of his time at Wakefield when he made the unusual transition from scrum half to prop forward. Inevitably the 1968 Cup final features, when Don won the Lance Todd trophy but was remembered for all the wrong reasons.  

Oddly, there are separate chapters on Don’s famous brothers Peter and Neil. This is fair enough in some respects as their careers often coincided (they once all played in the same game, Wakefield v Batley in 1965), but both Peter and Neil have their own books anyway, making these sections slightly redundant. After the infamous 68 final, the rest of Don’s career, his coaching experience and the rest of his life are very quickly summarised in just three pages. I felt like that I would’ve liked to have found out more about that period of his life.

On the whole, as a dip into Rovers’ rich past and looking at the life of one of our favourite sons, this book offers a lot of pleasurable memories.

Monday, 4 June 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v Warrington, 1974

The sport of Rugby League is full of competitions and cups which never really took off. This programme is from the short-lived Captain Morgan Trophy, which was a funny old competition introduced into an already crowded fixture list. As you can see from the front cover of the match programme it had an impressive looking trophy. Played in a straight knockout format, Featherstone and Warrington made it through to the first (and last as it turned out) final. It took place on a Saturday afternoon in January at Salford, and the programme would have cost you 10p for a twenty page issue. After the line ups, pen pictures including players’ occupations, and other statistics, there was not much left to read. There was a full page portrait of a young looking Queen Elizabeth II if that’s your type of thing. There’s also a spectacular action shot of an airborne Paul Coventry diving in for a try in Rovers’ semi-final versus Workington. Checking out the team photo, no less five of the Rovers team sport impressive moustaches (Hartley, Smith, Box, Ken Kellett and Nash) whereas Barry Hollis goes for the full beard and Cyril Kellett still has those trademark sideburns. Hirsute days indeed.

In the potted club history of Rovers there are a number of inaccuracies (Rovers listed as having been formed in 1898 rather than 1902), reflecting the fact that in those days the early history of many RL clubs was hazy. It wasn’t until the 1980s that a new generation of historians did better research into the roots of the game. On the RFL’s information page, among news about referee’s courses and coaching clinics was an offer for 1974 Challenge Cup final tickets (standing room only) at the princely sum of £1.00. Of course, knowing that the same two teams who were playing the Captain Morgan Trophy Final were going to appear a few months later at Wembley would have won you a bob or two at the local bookies.

For the record, the Trophy final was a dour game, Warrington winning 4-0 with two penalty goals from Derek Whitehead. The tournament was then dropped from the fixture list. Perhaps that imposing trophy is still on the sideboard at Warrington over 40 years later.

Sunday, 3 June 2012

There and Back by Iestyn Harris

By the time he arrived at Featherstone, Iestyn Harris had already achieved world stardom in both Rugby League and Rugby Union, and had already written his autobiography. Most players wait until they retire before putting together their memoirs, but Harris had packed enough into his playing career by the time he was 29 to justify this book. Therefore, his successful spell as Featherstone Rovers’ stand-off last season doesn’t mention, so that will have to wait for an updated edition. This volume is largely concerned with his youthful days at Warrington, and then his big money transfer to Leeds. Then of course he switched to Union, and about a third of the book covers his days playing kick and clap for Cardiff and Wales. The book wraps up with his return to Bradford, from where he signed for Rovers.

So, as a read, is it any good? Yeah, it’s not bad actually. The first thing I was surprised to read about was the strength and depth of his Welsh roots. Having been born and bred in Oldham, albeit with a convincing sounding Welsh name, I’d assumed his qualification for the national side to be based around some long forgotten ancestral connection, but Norman Harris, Iestyn’s granddad had played for Ebbw Vale and Newbridge before going North and signing for Oldham, then Leigh and Rochdale. So although Saddleworth Rangers can take credit for Harris’s development as an RL star, he is undeniably of solid Welsh stock.

A feature of the book is Iestyn’s explanations and justifications of each of his transfers, all of which had a faint whiff of controversy about them, or in the case of his move to Bradford, an awful stink. He had to ‘stay away’ to get his move from Wire to Leeds courtesy of a huge transfer fee, and his cross-code move involved the usual cloak and dagger stuff. The tug of war between Leeds and Bradford over his return to League ended up in the courts, but Iestyn doesn’t go too deeply into that.

Every sports autobiography is always accompanied by the obligatory collection of photos, the professional shots and the family snaps. Iestyn’s wedding portraits are of a significantly higher quality given that his wedding was covered by ‘Hello’ magazine as a result of his celebrity status.

At 240 pages in my paperback edition it’s an easy enough read in a day, although as an incorrigible statistician I would have preferred the facts and figures of his career as an end-note. Perhaps in a future edition he’ll entertain us with the story of how he finished off his playing career in the best possible style at Post Office Road.

Friday, 1 June 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v France, 1982

This weekend we welcome Pia to our world famous stadium for the first time ever. It is only in the past few seasons that matches against French opposition have become more commonplace. This programme is from our first encounter with  a French team.
One of the interesting things about collecting rugby league memorabilia is that it’s not always the programme from the biggest fixture which turns into a valuable item. Cup final publications and reminders of big games do have sentimental value, but a match attended by 80,000 people at Wembley will have enough copies produced to never become rare.

On the other hand, there is today’s example. Not only was this printed for a relatively obscure fixture played before a low crowd, but also it’s a single sheet issue, notorious for getting thrown away and forgotten about instead of kept and cherished. Rovers are better than most clubs at doing their utmost to ensure that every home fixture is marked with an official match programme. Sometimes, in the case of fixtures rearranged at very short notice, it’s just not possible to get an issue together. This has only happened around 20 times in the last 50 years, so single sheet issues are rare and highly collectable.

So, on a wet and windy Friday evening in September the French national team were over in England for some warm up fixtures before their international matches against Great Britain, and Rovers were one of three clubs who provided them with opposition. The club took advantage of the opportunity to forward the proceeds from the game to the Mick Gibbins’ benefit fund. Despite its plain and simple cover, this team-sheet managed to make an unfortunate mistake with the apostrophe in Mick’s name.

Despite its friendly status, Rovers had a pretty strong team out, no fewer than nine of whom would go on to win the Cup at Wembley a few months later. The French too had a fair share of well known names, including winger Patrick Solal who later signed for Hull and redoubtable back-rower Jean-Jacques Cologni. Scrum-half was Ivan Greseque, father of recent Rovers’ player Maxime.

In the event, the game failed to rise above the difficult conditions and France won a dour encounter 13-5.

Wednesday, 30 May 2012

100 Greats: Featherstone Rovers, by Ron Bailey

Following on from his ‘Pictorial History’ and ‘50 Greatest Matches’ books, former Rovers secretary Ron Bailey completed his trilogy with a look at our greatest ever players. At the latest count a total of almost one thousand different players have pulled on the famous jersey of Featherstone Rovers, making it a difficult task then to go on and choose the top 100. This book makes a very good effort at doing so,  but of course part of the fun is the debate it generates among readers about which stars have been left out and which included. The list is in alphabetical order from Dick Allman to Brian Wrigglesworth, and each entry has a page of biography and minimal career statistics. The “Top Twenty” players are given two pages each, and these also listed on the front cover of the book. Many of those twenty obviously pick themselves, as they are the giants of the club’s history and members of the Hall of Fame.

There are a number of selections from beyond the living memory of any fan, although many other candidates worthy of inclusion from the 1920s through to the 1940s missed out on appearing in the book through lack of available material to be able to assess their talent and contribution. It’s always interesting to read about bygone eras, and all the entries on pre-war players all well researched. Some of the photographs from that era understandably suffer in quality, though there is less reason why some of the modern photos are also poor quality.

As with the ‘50 Greatest Matches’ book there is a tendency on the part of the author to lean towards his time as Rovers club secretary (from 1955 to 1967). A number of players from the 50s and 60s were a bit ‘lucky’ to get in ahead of others from the 80s and 90s who missed out. I use the word ‘lucky’ in a relative sense because of course, whoever is chosen, it remains a competitive line up. However, some surprising omissions for me were Terry Manning, Trevor Clark, Mel Mason and Steve Molloy. The book came out in 2002 and no doubt if it was updated there would be at least one or two names who would have forced their way onto the list since then.

One telling statistic that Bailey points out is that of the 100 players he eventually chose, 78 came through the junior ranks or directly from local amateur rugby and just 22 were signed from other clubs. Only one foreign born player made the list, but no prizes for guessing which swashbuckling New Zealand loose-forward that is!

Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v Halifax, 1991

Some people collect programmes from every match their club plays. Others collect only from the matches they’ve been to. Others save only the programmes from special occasions as a keepsake of a memorable event. For those in the latter category, it’s quite possible that this is one programme from November 1991 that fans would choose to hold on to.

It was Rovers’ third game in six days in the Regal Trophy, a competition that Featherstone had never excelled in, for some reason. The match the Sunday before at Bramley had been postponed because of fog (those were the days!) and played on the Tuesday night. A substandard show saw Rovers scrape a draw and then back up 48 hours later to win the home replay 44-8. That same weekend Halifax came to town for the 2nd round fixture, YTV brought their Scrumdown cameras too so we could watch the highlights on the box that night. They had a job on managing to fit all those highlights into a sixty minute show because, from a Rovers perspective, the match was an absolute dream. Commentators John Helm and David Watkins could hardly contain themselves. Here was Martin Pearson scything through for try after try, there was Paul Newlove at his indestructible best, with lightening finishing from Owen Simpson, and a whopping 64-18 success for Rovers with nine second half tries despite playing with just twelve men (Andy Fisher got a red card in the first half). Great stuff.

Typical of the programmes printed for Cup competitions around then, this issue didn’t have the usual cover of that season (a colour photo of Deryck Fox) but was given over to the tobacco sponsors, hence the boring blue cover. Inside though, programmes from season1991/92 were a cracking read with a stack of well written articles. There was an interview with Ian Smales for the home team, and Paul Harkin for the visitors. The player profile was of crowd-pleaser Gary Rose, replete with a scary looking photo of Gary’s tattooed biceps. There were plenty of action photos of the stars of the day, as well as reports on the reserve team fixtures. What caught my eye on the kiddies page was a photo of an angelic little lad who had been the ball boy at a recent game called James Houston. It’s one of the joys of reading through old programmes to come across gems like this.  Rovers’ current prop forward obviously started his association with the club early. Elsewhere, tucked into the match reports form local junior rugby matches were names like Jamie Rooney playing for the Travellers U13s, Danny Evans for the U17s and even Robert Burrow scoring a try for the U11s. Great stuff indeed.

Monday, 28 May 2012

Tries And Prejudice by Ikram Butt.

This is an unusual and unique book in many ways. When Peter Fox paid Leeds £30,000 for their A team winger, it was with a sense of frustration that Ikram Butt moved to Post Office Road, as he never got the chance to show his stuff at Headingley. Straight into the Rovers first team, he immediately felt at home alongside his mates Terry Manning and Paul Newlove and over the next five years put in some top quality performances, endearing himself to the Rovers faithful and earning himself representative honours as an England international.

The media made much of this at the time, and indeed the front cover describes him as “England’s first Muslim rugby international”, which of course he was. Although Ikram is a modest man, he was obviously proud of his achievement in playing for his country. He talks in the book about the importance of his Muslim faith, but reading the book also gives you a sense of the value that Ikram places on family too, his brothers and sisters, his parents and his own children figure throughout. It was his brother Tony (an ex-Rovers player himself) who helped Ikram through the stickiest patch in his life when he was ridiculously jailed for a motoring offence.

There’s plenty of stuff for Featherstone fans to enjoy in the book, as the affection that the fans had for Ikram was obviously reciprocated. He is also candid about his working relationship with Rovers coaches after his mentor Peter Fox left, Steve Martin and David Ward. Despite certain difficulties which Butt talks about honestly yet tactfully, he was a popular dressing room figure. On the field, his strength and power made him a difficult man to stop and all told he scored 66 tries in 168 games for us. Given that all his best rugby was played for Featherstone you might have thought he would be pictured in his Rovers kit on the front cover, but no.

Since finishing playing Ikram has got himself heavily involved with the development and promotion of Rugby league in local communities and schools, working especially in the Bradford area with ethnic minorities. It’s hard to imagine a better role model for British Asian youngsters in Yorkshire than Butt. He has also done work to expand rugby league to Pakistan, his parents’ home country.

“Tries and Prejudice” is an uplifting read about a very positive character who overcame problems to triumph in life. The narrative thread is interspersed with tributes and testimonials, including contributions from a number of people with Featherstone connections.

Saturday, 26 May 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v Sheffield 1988

Back in the 1980s Open Rugby magazine used to organise an annual programme competition to judge who had the best matchday publication. It had the effect of generally improving the standard of programmes which had been pretty low throughout the 70s, and the Featherstone Rovers issue always did very well in the ratings. Programmes started to have many more articles to read and the cover was changed annually. This particularly striking cover was chosen for the Rovers programme in 1987/88, a year we spent in the Second Division despite having a first team squad which included Chris Bibb, Graham Steadman, Deryck Fox, Karl Harrison and Peter Smith.

In recent seasons Sheffield have been familiar visitors to Post Office Road. Hard to believe then that this game was in fact Featherstone’s first ever opportunity to play against the then babes of rugby league, who had been formed just three years previously. Rovers were on a roll by the time this fixture was played (13th March 1988) having not lost since the previous October, and comfortably won 40-10 with a Paul Lyman hatrick.

The programme itself cost 60 pence and had 36 pages. Club chairman Richard Evans had a column, pointing out that although we were on course for promotion, the title was out of our hands and it was up to Wakefield and Oldham to slip up. In the event Wakefield did, but Oldham didn’t. Coach Peter Fox had surprisingly declined the opportunity to have a page in the programme addressing the fans. There were pen pictures of the Eagles, then coached by Gary Hetherington, and a quick look at their team line up reveals a number of names synonymous with the early years of the development of rugby league in Sheffield, not least their young stand-off and Rovers’ current first team boss Daryl Powell.

Elsewhere in the programme, Ian Clayton contributed three separate articles, one charting the history of RL in general, another on previous meetings between the clubs (a bit thin that page given the circumstances!) and an “alternative” humour column. John Hill was writing a series of interesting articles entitled “Who’s the Greatest?”. This week he looked at loose forwards and after much deliberation plumped for Johnny Raper as the answer to his question. Donald Hunt had a nostalgic piece looking at former players, this week featuring Dave Hartley. There was space for plenty of full page photos taken by Eric Lorriman, and this issue had a couple of nice action shots of second rowers Paul Hughes  and John Bastian.

Finally in the news round up we learned that Deryck Fox’s wife had a baby daughter and Steve Quinn had passed yet another goal kicking milestone.

Friday, 25 May 2012

All The Wrong Moves by Terry Clawson.

This is quite simply one of the most entertaining books on rugby league you could ever wish to read. If you’re going to sit down and write your life story, it helps to have an interesting tale to tell. That is certainly the case for Terry Clawson, who entertains the reader with a whole series of anecdotes from a career which eventually lasted some 23 seasons. The book starts with the dramatic moment when, as a  young first team regular at the Rovers, Terry was diagnosed with tuberculosis and was sent to a Sanatorium at Garforth, not knowing whether he would survive this terrible illness or not. Thankfully he quickly recovered and it wasn’t long before he left his hometown team and first love Featherstone and embarked on a journey through a number of clubs including Bradford, Hull KR , Leeds and Oldham. He played in Cup finals and Championship finals, won County and International honours, and wherever he went his deep-seated distrust of everyone and everything that came out of Castleford never left him.

He had far too many career highlights to recount here, but playing and scoring in the 1972 World Cup final would be up there among his greatest achievements. As was touring with Great Britain in 1974. The story of how he conned his way onto that tour after suffering a broken ankle is a gem. It is off the field however where Terry’s story comes to life, whether it is Mal Dixon’s mother’s hangover remedy, walking out of a horrendous car crash, betting on the horses, or the interminable post-match drinking sessions,  you end up learning much more about life as a rugby player in the old days than you bargained for.

Towards the end of his career, Clawson emigrated to Newcastle in Australia where his coaching career started. On returning to the UK he picked up his first coaching role in England, appropriately enough with Featherstone. With a cheeky touch of nepotism he selected himself and his son Neil in the same game thus creating a new record for himself. The coaching stint didn’t work out, and Terry is characteristically candid as to why that was. One thing he’s never short of is a strong opinion. In fact the whole book is a refreshing antidote to the usual ghost-written sports biography, which, after a recapitulation of games played, leaves the reader no closer to its subject. In this book however the ready wit and genuine love of rugby league that Terry Clawson has shines through.

Thursday, 24 May 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v Stanningley, 1964

 Until the number of competing sides was significantly increased in 1997, it was a comparative rarity to be drawn against amateur opposition in the Cup as very few clubs from outside the RFL were allowed to enter. One such fixture did turn up for Rovers and it was in 1964 where the luck of the draw paired us in the first round with Leeds district side Stanningley. Nearly fifty years later Stanningley currently find themselves in the National Conference Division One.

This Featherstone Rovers match programme, with the late great Don Fox in possession on the front cover, cost fourpence, for which the reader received a small ten page booklet. After the team lists, player statistics and a few adverts, there was space for only two articles, but they were both very well written by Ron Bailey and offered much food for thought. The opening piece of the programme welcomed the visitors, and outlined the history of the Stanningley club, as well as making reference to Rovers’ famous exploits in the Challenge Cup as a non-League side before 1921. The Stanningley club had been formed in 1955 but had already produced a number of players who had progressed to the professional ranks. Check out their website in 2012 to find out how that impressive list has grown since then.

The other article was a lengthy piece entitled “Analysing the present situation in Rugby League Football”, outlining many of the problems that bedevilled the game then, as they do now decades later. Falling attendances, spiralling costs, the lure of television, changing social habits. A prescient piece indeed. The two solutions offered were firstly a switch to summer rugby (yes, Featherstone Rovers were among the earliest advocates of the summer game), and secondly a return to one division, the split to two divisions having happened in 1962. The second wish was granted at the end of that year, but made no difference to the game’s problems and two divisions were eventually reintroduced in 1973. The first idea of course wasn’t adopted until 1996.

For the record Rovers won the game 60-4, the first time in their history they had passed 50 points in a game, and cover star Don Fox set a new club record of 12 goals in a match, a record that would stand for some 35 years.

Tuesday, 22 May 2012

Newlove: At the Centre of Rugby League by Paul Newlove.

 Arguably the greatest player the club has ever produced, Paul Newlove started his career at Post Office Road in 1988. After finishing in 2004, he put together his autobiography with St. Helens based journalist Andrew Quirke. There can be no doubt that Newwy has a very special story to tell, as his playing career spanned some sixteen seasons at the very top of the sport having burst onto the scene as a precocious 17 year old. Sure enough, in the time honoured tradition of sports biography, this book begins with his junior days, “early doors” as he drolly refers to it, and whistles through his time at Featherstone, Bradford, St. Helens and finally, surprisingly enough, at Castleford. I say ‘whistle’ as this is a very short book and the overall feeling after reading it is that it is just too lightweight for such a great player. With 134 large typed pages, plenty of which are full page photographs, the production values are quite high, but there’s just not enough text! The publishers, London League Publications have done the sport of rugby league a great service over the years with a number of excellent books.

As a Rovers fan, I was most interested in reading about Paul's time with us, but by page 22 he’s already signed for Bradford, so we don’t learn too much really. There is room for some welcome words in testimonial brochure style from Fred Lavine, John Hill and Deryck Fox. Elsewhere, we are given the idea that Paul is a bit ambivalent about Featherstone, and perhaps he was a bit put out at the reception he received when he came back to play here. More years have passed since the publication of this book, and hopefully now his feelings have softened.

Paul Newlove remains in the eyes of many fans an enigmatic figure, and having read his story, I did feel that I’d got to know him a little better, but not much. The book includes his preferences for drinking tea on the sofa watching Emmerdale as well as tributes from some of his contemporaries such as Chris Joynt and Carl Hall. His first coach, and later agent, Peter Fox has, true to form, plenty to say, but there is nothing from the likes of Matt Elliot, Shaun McRae or Ian Millward who also coached him and could have shed some light on what motivated Newlove as a player. Paul himself is quite modest about his talent, and it’s a pity that more of his obviously very dry sense of humour doesn’t shine through in the book.

Monday, 21 May 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v Whitehaven, 1971

When Whitehaven came to play Rovers in April 1971 it was the first time the two clubs had met in league fixtures for 12 years. The match programme of the game was a pocket sized edition costing two and a half pence in “new” money, recently changed from 6d in old money. Youngsters, you'll have to ask your grandparents about decimalisation!

With just 12 pages, it represented one of the thinnest reads Rovers had put out, a trend reflected in the programmes of many other clubs in the early 1970s. The truth was this was not the best time for match publications, most clubs putting little effort into production and content. In this particular issue, after listing the teams, the season’s statistics, the fixtures and a number of adverts, there were just two and a half pages of text. Irvin Saxton was the only columnist in the programme. This noted historian had had a statistics page in the Rovers programme for a number of seasons, and in this issue he highlighted how evenly the try scoring of season 1970/71 had been shared between a number of players. John Newlove and Vince Farrar were top of the charts with 12 each and only Dave Hartley (11) had also reached double figures. In the event, Hartley grabbed four tries against Haven to end the season at the top of the charts with 15.

Despite having only 12 pages, there were still four pages of adverts for, among other things, Players Number 6 cigarettes, South Yorkshire Motors Ltd, and you could get a year’s subscription to the Rugby Leaguer newspaper for £1/15 shillings (around £1.75). The inside cover was dedicated to lamenting Rovers league form in 1971 which was not as good as it had been in previous years. Recently appointed new first team coach Peter Fox had only just managed to break a bad run of results which saw the team languishing in 20th position in the league. After a run of eight games without a win, Rovers had won the last three on the trot. This game was played on the 20th of April and as such was the final league game of the season and it came on the back of a good win against Castleford on Easter Monday.

The match itself was quite memorable in that Rovers managed to beat a long standing club record. Their 65-5 win broke the points in a match record which had stood for 7 years. Remarkably, that remained Rovers record score for a full 16 years until we beat Barrow 66-14 in 1987.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Featherstone Rovers: Fifty of the Finest Matches by Ron Bailey

As the title suggests, the concept of this book is relatively straightforward. The author chooses fifty of the most memorable and important Featherstone games, and relates the story of the game itself and its context within the club’s season and overall history. It’s a winning formula with plenty of interest for fans of all ages. For the reader, this type of book is always divided into two distinct parts; firstly, the games that we remember through having been there,  and secondly those from earlier times which can be interesting and informative.

The beauty of a book like this is the inevitable debate that is provoked by the author’s choices of what to include and what to leave out. With more than 3,000 Featherstone matches to choose from, Bailey faced an unenviable task if he wanted to please everybody. Some of the selections are inarguable, and of course all our major finals are covered in detail, the Yorkshire Cup triumphs, the Challenge Cup finals and semi-finals, the Premiership finals, etc. Big games against Australia are also obvious inclusions. There are also a sprinkling of regular league fixtures too.

So, from which eras are the 50 greatest games of Featherstone Rovers? There are five games from the 1920s, just three from the 1930s and two from the 1940s. Given the paucity of information available to write match reports and provide illustrations on those eras, the lack of games from that age is not surprising. Rovers also generally had a very poor team from the period 1932 to 1950. From the fifties there are eleven matches and the sixties is the most popular decade with 14 games. Just eight games from the seventies is surprising, given that in terms of silverware and league positions it was our most successful decade. From the eighties there are just four matches and from the 1990s three games which reflects the author’s lack of contact with the club during recent decades, because having supported the club during those twenty years, I would certainly say there were a lot more than seven ‘great’ matches!

For an afternoon wallowing nostalgically in the rich history of our club this book is perfect, and some of the old black and white photographs provide the ideal compliment to the well researched and well written text. My favourite is a wonderful snap of jubilant fans invading the snow bound pitch after the final whistle of an epic victory over St. Helens in 1958.

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v St.Helens, 1959

This  programme comes from the late fifties and perhaps one of Featherstone’s most memorable Challenge Cup games of all. On a snowy day in February 1958 Rovers had taken on and beaten St. Helens 5-0 in an epic Cup tie. Twelve months later, history repeated itself and at the quarter final stage on the 21st of March, Rovers drew Saints again. If you have a copy of this programme or ever see one, hang on to it. It’s a piece of history. This match turned out to be Rovers’ record crowd, a staggering 17,531, a figure unlikely to be beaten any time soon. Very few professional sports clubs in the world have a record home attendance which is greater than the population of the town they represent, but Featherstone Rovers is one.

So what did that enormous crowd get to read in the programme? Well, at the game, nothing. The ground was so jam-packed full of spectators the luxuries of enough elbow room to read the programme were dispensed with. But when the fans got home, they would have found a tidy twelve page booklet edited by Rovers’ secretary Ron Bailey who had significantly increased the quality of the programme since taking over in 1955. Pride of place must go to some evocative photos of the snowbound pitch of the Cup tie twelve months previously (attended by a mere 15,700 fans). I once had the privilege to ask the late great (not a lightly used word) Vince Karalius about Featherstone’s players. He answered “You had to look out for them all; they were all over you like a rash. I remember playing there in a cup-tie, it was freezing and snowing and we got beat. Happy memories!”. The programme has photos of Karalius and some of the other St. Helens stars, and what a side they had: Tom Van Vollenhoven, Alex Murphy, Dick Huddart and more.

Also in the programme is a short article on Willis Fawley, and a letter of congratulations from Tom Mitchell of Workington on our notable success in Cumbria in the first round of the Cup. There are also plenty of small box adverts for local businesses in Featherstone and Pontefract, all of them with three-digit telephone numbers. The game itself went Rovers way for the second successive year, and a more open game than the 1958 slog saw Joe Mullaney turn in a brilliant two-try performance in a convincing 20-6 win.

Friday, 18 May 2012

High Ambitions by Jamie Rooney with Phil Hodgson

There have been a number of autobiographies published over the last few years on notable ex-Rovers players. The thoughts and words of Ikram Butt, Iestyn Harris, Jeff Grayshon, Paul Newlove, and even as far back as Terry Clawson have all found their way into print. Today we look at the work of a current player, scrum-half Jamie Rooney. His autobiography ‘High Ambitions’ was published in hardback version in 2009, and therefore covers the period up until things began to go wrong at Wakefield. Since publication Jamie has played for Barrow, Limoux, South Wales and Whitehaven, so perhaps when he finishes playing the book will be updated to include the end of his career. As it is, his story so far as told in this book has been very interesting, as a lot of things have happened to him since he first started playing. 

As we all know Jamie began at Featherstone, straight from school and his early days at Post Office Road are covered in some detail, how he was signed by David Ward, came into the first team under Steve Sims and established himself under Peter Roe. In four years at Featherstone as our first choice scrum-half and goal-kicker he certainly made his mark, and it is obvious from the way he writes that Jamie maintains a great affection for his home-town club.

 The on/off possible transfers to both Castleford and Widnes which never materialised left an impression on him, and once he got to Super League at Wakefield he made a significant impact in the top flight. Representing England was certainly a high point of his playing career, as was helping Wakefield to stay up in 2006 when their ‘miracle’ escape sent Castleford down. The low point would be when he was surprisingly dropped for Wakefield 2008 Challenge Cup semi-final.

What sets Jamie Rooney’s story apart from many other sporting autobiographies is that he has such an interesting off-field story to tell. When his first born son Brennan was born with cerebral palsy it dramatically changed the life of Jamie and all his family. This book therefore represents not only the ups and downs of Jamie’s life as a rugby league professional, but also is an insight into how life has been for his family these past few years. It tells of the struggles and the triumphs, as well as the determination and strength with which Jamie and his wife have confronted everything that has been thrown at them. He manages to convey very well how his son has allowed him to place everything that happens on the rugby field into context, and as such the book has a value which goes beyond the potted history of a playing career.

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v Dewsbury, 1995

Here’s the match programme printed for Featherstone v Dewsbury from August 1995. As a historical record of the spirit of the times this nearly seventeen year old magazine makes fascinating reading. It was of course the start of the ridiculous “Centenary Season” before the introduction of Super League the following summer and reading through the articles gives you an idea of how everyone was still struggling to come to terms with the whirlwind that had blown through the sport.

It’s a very smartly produced issue, named “Blue and White”, which cost £1.20. For your money you get 32 glossy pages of colour and plenty to read. Rovers had been producing a consistently high quality programme for a number of years and this had not changed despite our enforced demotion. The first page announced a significant new sponsor in RJB mining who would soon begin the construction of the Family Stand on the site of the old Bullock shed. In his weekly column, coach David Ward sounded as shocked as anyone about the summer events, but was determined to get Rovers back into the big time at the first attempt. Ian Clayton had two articles, both referring to his strong opposition to recent events and announcing a sequel to the popular “When Push Comes to Shove” book. Tony Fisher was featured as the coach of visitors Dewsbury, as was new signing Jon Sharp, making his home-coming after many years at Hull. Chris Westwood had an article reminiscing about Rovers Championship year of 1977, there were photos of our Wembley 83 win and Donald Hunt wrote an article summing up a lot of people’s feelings, those of pure and simple bewilderment. The overall impression the programme gives could be summed up as ‘at least our club still exists and is playing today’, a simple fact that had seemed unlikely months earlier.

One interesting piece that caught my eye was one of the earliest possible references to the “world wide web” and that the whole sport of rugby league had one page where fans could get together and exchange views. Given the thousands of RL sites available today on the internet, it’s always amusing to see how things have turned out.

Buying and selling old programmes is as popular nowadays as it ever was, and for fans looking to build up their collection, this and many other programmes from the 1980s and 1990s can be purchased for very little, probably less than the cover price at the time. As documents of the history of change, they make very good reading.

Monday, 14 May 2012

100 Years of Featherstone Rugby by Ian Clayton.

When Ian Clayton brought out this softback book in 1984, it was the first publication that had been written on the Rovers for a number of years. The title at first glance appears to be a bit misleading in that we know that Rovers were formed in 1902 and joined the league in 1921. This story of this book however pre-dates Featherstone Rovers and covers the early rugby clubs that were formed in the town at the end of the nineteenth century. Indeed, the book has much more on those early days than on the feats of the club in later years.

Starting with the history of the town itself, Clayton narrates how Featherstone grew, so did the number of rugby teams including Featherstone & Purston United, Featherstone Trinity and Featherstone Red Star. Rugby League was born in 1895, but it wasn’t until 1898 that Featherstone RUFC changed over to Northern Union rules. Featherstone Rovers came along four years later and all these comings and goings of clubs are covered in some detail by Clayton. Even once Rovers were firmly established, they didn’t have exclusive rights to rugby league playing, as other clubs such as Purston White Horse continued to exist right up to 1913 when a final merger between the Rovers and Purston led to the consolidation of all the town’s talent in  just one club.

With such emphasis on the early days of rugby in Featherstone its not surprising that later years are dealt with briefly in this book. Indeed, the entire post-War period is covered in just a few pages, ending appropriately enough with our Wembley triumph in 1983.

The publication is A5 booklet size with around 70 pages of text, twenty pages of photographs and 30 pages of statistics in the form of appendices. For me, the text is too brief, but the book was only ever intended to be an introduction to the considerable original research that the author made on the topic. There are some interesting and quite rare old photographs, including a nice portrait of the club’s founder George Johnson. As his later media work went on to prove, Mr. Clayton’s strengths lay in the story telling aspects of history rather than the statistical, as there were many errors in the appendices, some of which were corrected in an updated version of the book which came out in 1994 and will be reviewed later.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v Leigh, 1952

Some people may have thought that in this age of internet and immediate access to news that the match programme as an official organ of the club would become obsolete. But here we are in 2012 and the Rovers programme, now called 'Pride and Passion' is still going strong. Looking back at old programmes and the matches they were printed for is a good way of exploring the club’s history .

This programme was printed 60 years ago, for a cup clash between Featherstone and Leigh. As you can see from the front cover, the 1952 Challenge cup semi-final programme would have won no awards for design flair. The game was played at Headingley and as such the programme was produced by the RFL. It cost sixpence but you didn’t get much for your money, just eight pages printed on the thinnest paper with the players’ pen pictures, team photos and a couple of short articles. In the Rovers profiles, some of the lads were given their full “Sunday best” names, hence Kenneth Welburn, Raymond Evans and William Bradshaw. Others, it seemed didn’t make the upgrade, Hulme and Miller both remaining plain old Fred! Even more puzzling was Norman Mitchell’s appearance as Antony (perhaps his first given name, or just a mistake?). It was interesting to note that of the Rovers fifteen, six were born in the village of Featherstone, others came from Sandal, Glass Houghton, Leeds and Hull. The only ‘outsider’ was that famous son of Cork, John Daly. In the Leigh line up was ageing player-coach Joe Egan, legendary Jimmy Ledgard at full back and an Aussie second-rower named Rex Mossop who went on to have a long career as a TV commentator down under. Rex was one of three ex-Union Australians in the Leigh side, the others being Trevor Allen and Jeff Burke.

The game itself was tough and dour with so much at stake, and indeed no tries were scored in the 80 minutes as the forwards kept it tight and shuffled round the field from scrum to scrum. It was the graft of the aforementioned Welburn, Bradshaw and Daly among others who set the platform for Rovers’ victory. In the end it came down to how many penalty goals Miller and Ledgard could kick, and it was Miller who won, three kicks to one giving Rovers a 6-2 win and the reward of their first ever trip to Wembley.

Buying and selling old programmes is as popular nowadays as it ever was, with websites as well as programme catalogues and auctions helping fans build up their collections. This slightly difficult to get semi-final programme is worth about £10 nowadays in the programme collecting market.

Saturday, 12 May 2012

Images of Sport: Featherstone Rovers RLFC by Ron Bailey.

Before the turn of the century, it was quite difficult to get a book published, even on a subject as obviously fascinating as Featherstone Rovers. The print runs that publishers demanded before they were prepared to risk publication were so high as to make production infeasible. New printing techniques and the advance of technology changed all that and one forward thinking company that sprung up was Tempus Publishing (now known as The History Press) who specialised in pictorial local histories. They linked up with former Rovers secretary Ron Bailey to produce a number of books, the first of which was this. It was published in 2001, costing £10.99 and has 128 pages. As the title suggests, it’s full of photographs of the club; action shots of matches, portraits of players and team groups. It also scanned programme covers, newspaper cuttings, and even an annual balance sheet too. The photographs themselves come from a wide range of sources, though most would appear to be from the club’s and the author’s own collections. Mr. Bailey provides a short overview as an introduction to each decade, as well as the captions and explanations of all the photographs used.

Readers will have personal favourites from their own particular golden era, mine being Graham Steadman scoring at Old Trafford. Our three Wembley triumphs are covered in detail, many of the shots of Vince Farrar crashing through tacklers to score and Steve Quinn slotting that late penalty will be familiar to many fans. Although the earliest action photographs in the book date from about 1950, the pictures previous to that date give a real flavour of times past. Probably sepia in their original, but re-produced here in black and white, these old photos are perhaps the most evocative in all the book; the 1940 Yorkshire Cup winners, the baby-faced ‘Prince of Centres’, Jack Hirst and the clean-cut Denton brothers.

Ron Bailey was Rovers club secretary from 1955 to 1967 so it is perhaps inevitable that that particular period is covered in more detail than others. However, given that there are so many more photographic sources available these days, the selection of photos for the modern section is a little disappointing.

That said, this book is obviously an indispensable for any Rovers fan who likes to reminisce about the past (older fans) and learn about the club’s past (younger fans). Peter Fox in the trilby, Jimmy Williams and his pipe, president George Johnson, Freddie Miller lining up the goal and Tex Hudson with the Cup are all iconic images of our famous club.

Wednesday, 2 May 2012

David Hobbs July 2005 to June 2008.

 During the difficult 2005 season, young coach Gary Price was struggling to impose his ideas on a side that was losing too many games and slipping down the table. After a run of four straight losses, he left the club, and in came a familiar figure who needed no introduction to Rovers fans. Former star player David Hobbs had first signed for Faetherstone Rovers as a young back-rower in 1978, and had gone on to achieve just about everything in the game, including international caps, a Great Britain tour in 1984 and of course the Challenge Cup at Wembley in 1983.

Hobbs had previously coached at Bradford Northern (as player-coach) and also at Wakefield Trinity in the nineties, as well as having been director of rugby at Halifax BlueSox. With very few games left to play with in 2005 Rovers needed an immediate reversal of fortunes to stave off relegation and that was not to be forthcoming. Hobbs’ first match in charge ended in a heavy defeat at Whitehaven, which was followed by another drubbing at home to Batley, and by the end of the season, Rovers were down to the second division, the first time that the had ever found itself at the third tier of rugby league. In 2006, the intention was to bounce straight back up. However,  National League Two proved to be very competitive, and an expected promotion push never materialised. Inconsistent form meant Rovers were never really in the running for the title. Instead Dewsbury and Sheffield went up and Rovers finished fourth in the table. The playoffs finished with a very disappointing home defeat against Swinton.

So it was back to the drawing board for the 2007 season, and after recruiting Field, Handforth, Handford, Kain and Whittle, Hobbs got it right second time. A competitive performance saw us finish runners up in the league to new boys Celtic Crusaders. They went up automatically, but we had to continue our form into the playoffs. To widespread relief, and in scenes of great joy at Headingley, we won the promotion playoff final against Oldham and moved back to National League One.

Once again, the step up proved difficult, and mid-season in our first year back results had not been as favourable as hoped. David Hobbs stepped down, and Reserve team coach Danny Evans took over for the remainder of the season, with assistance from former player Jon Sharp, who was between jobs having lost his position at Huddersfield.

David Hobbs was in charge for a total of 93 games, a figure beaten by only eight other coaches in the history of the club; Peter Fox (304), Harold Moxon (264), Eric Batten (210), Bill Sherwood (204), Laurie Gant (181), Alan Agar (131), Johnny Malpass (123) and now Daryl Powell.

Tuesday, 1 May 2012

Gary Price February 2004 to July 2005.

 Rovers decided to make a fresh start at the beginning of 2004 and they appointed a young coach with little experience but plenty of potential.  Gary Price was familiar to Featherstone fans, having played for the club as a second-row forward in two separate spells in the nineties.  He also had experience playing for Wakefield, his hometown club, and in Australia at South Sydney.

Before the season began Rovers lost veterans Nathan Graham and Brendan O’Meara as well as promising youngsters Richard Whiting and Andy Bailey from their 2003 squad, and so Gary Price added a host of new players including Nathan Batty, Richard Blakeway and Matty Wray.  His primary aim was to take Rovers back into play-off rugby having missed out at the end of the previous campaign, which had cost Andy Kelly his job. Results were mixed at first. Some poor displays in the Arriva Trains Cup saw Rovers win just three of their eight fixtures but still qualify for the playoffs where we lost to York for the fourth straight time. Price must have been sick of the sight of York as he struggled to cope with the demands of National League One coaching. The league campaign began with two straight 50 point hammerings at Oldham & Leigh and fans could sense a long season ahead. Slowly Rovers began to find their way, as they recruited Frenchmen Fred Zitter and midfield general Max Greseque. There were casualties too as long serving hooker Richard Chapman left and Paul Darley took over at hooker. Results did improve though and Rovers clinched a playoff spot in 5th. They then won a high scoring thriller at Oldham, pipped Hull KR 19-18 and stood improbably 80 minutes from the grand final with a trip to Whitehaven. It wasn’t to be, the side ran out of energy and ideas in Cumbria, but Price had done enough to suggest the team he was moulding could build on that playoff form.

2005 started in reverse to 2004 with encouraging early results including two very competitive games against title favourite Castleford. Defensive frailties were exposed by Bradford who posted a record club defeat on Rovers and successive 40 point defeats in the league at Hull KR and Whitehaven left question marks over the defence that were never answered. A run of four straight league defeats in June and July cost Gary Price his job after just over a season and a half in charge.  An enormous and embarrassing hammering by Hull KR at home left no-one in doubt as to the struggle that lay ahead to avoid relegation, a battle the club would go on to lose.

Gary Price was a young coach with fresh ideas, not afraid to take bold and unpopular decisions with regard to playing personnel. Inevitably though it is onfield results that count and when too many started to go against Price, he was, like so many of his predecessors down the years,  never going to be given sufficient time to see his project through.

Gary Price’s coaching record:

2004: Won 17 Drew 1 Lost 15
2005: Won 7 Drew 3 Lost 10

Total: Won 24 Drew 4 Lost 26 = 49.06%

Monday, 30 April 2012

Andy Kelly June 2002 to September 2003.

 Rovers' start to the 2002 season had not been as good as expected, and after the release of Ian Fairhurst, in came Andy Kelly, who had previously been in charge of Wakefield Trinity. Kelly had a good coaching pedigree, having largely over-achieved with Wakefield in Super League. He was then the victim of some off-field mayhem at Belle Vue in 2000, losing his job in harsh circumstances. Featherstone Rovers was his chance to get back into coaching and he took over a side that had performed poorly in the National League Cup, but were 4th in the league after a decent start to the season.

Kelly’s first game in charge was a memorable affair,  a high scoring ding dong battle against potential play-off rivals Hull KR which ended in a 46-40 victory. In a single game, the new coach could see his challenge. With the likes of Rooney, Newlove and the creative Chapman he had plenty of attacking potential, but the defence and 80 minute concentration needed work. Rovers actually won nine of their first 13 games under Andy Kelly, including some free scoring displays against Keighley, Hunslet and Workington, but also a couple of heavy defeats at Leigh and at Batley. This left Rovers in 5th spot on the ladder, for the fourth consecutive season. Nothing if not consistent. Our play-off hopes were ended at home by Batley, a most disappointing way to go out.

In the off season Andy Kelly had to face up to some real challenges. Rovers lost their top three try scorers from 2002 Rooney, Newlove and Lowe to Super League clubs. To plug the gaps Kelly brought in Flynn, Brown and O’Meara to the backs with Carl Briggs at scrum-half. It also allowed Kelly to introduce a tremendous number of young players from the junior set up in 2003. During the course of that relatively unsuccessful season we saw Jon Presley, James Ford, James Houston, Andy Bailey plus a number of other youngsters given their senior debuts. Most noticeable perhaps was the introduction in April of Richard Whiting who did enough in less than 20 games to win a Super League contract. Despite the low league position finish, Kelly does deserve credit for being bold enough to introduce so many youngsters, a good number of whom have gone on to enjoy extended National League careers.

After unbroken seasons of playoff rugby it came as a bit of a shock to the club not to make the playoffs. After a solid start and a top six position for most of the campaign six defeats in the last seven games, including a desperately disappointing final day defeat at home to Oldham, cost us an outside shot at the title and inevitably cost Kelly his job. No leeway can be made for the fact that Rovers were clearly in a transitional phase in the competitive world of RL coaching.

After leaving Featherstone Andy Kelly coached at Gateshead, Dewsbury and also Ireland at the 2008 World Cup.

Andy Kelly’s coaching record:

2002: Won 11 Lost 5
2003: Won 16 Lost 16

Total: Won 27 Lost 21 = 56.25%

Friday, 27 April 2012

Ian Fairhurst November 2001 to May 2002.

After Peter Roe left to join Wakefield Trinity, Rovers appointed his erstwhile assistant Ian Fairhurst as team manager, his first senior appointment after a number of years as Roe’s number two at Keighley and at Featherstone. Rovers had finished fifth in the 2001 season, and at the end of the year Ian Tonks and Jimmy Carlton were added to the squad, but we lost Australian full-back Michael Rhodes replaced by Nathan Graham. On paper it was a competitive looking team which had made the playoffs in each of the previous three seasons.

The NFP, as it was then called, was attempting to move back to a winter season so the previous year had finished in mid-July and the 2002 season actually kicked off on the 3rd of December 2001. In Ian Fairhurst’s first game in charge Rovers won 28-16 at Chorley. A narrow defeat at home to Workington and a desperately disappointing 12-all draw at Gateshead (the only point they would win all season) represented a sluggish start which set the alarm bells ringing. However, on Boxing Day a spirited display against Huddersfield, who were widely regarded as title favourites, resulted in a narrow 20-21 defeat.

Rovers then found some form and won eight of their next nine fixtures. Their only defeat came against Hull KR in the Challenge Cup. The side sat comfortably in fourth spot having won eight and drawn one of their first 13 fixtures. Mixed in there were big home wins against Batley and Oldham, a narrow win against Whitehaven, and a revenge win at Gateshead after the embarrassing draw earlier in the season. Jamie Rooney was in particularly prolific form and Richard Chapman leading the forwards. However, the break for the mid-season Buddies Cup brought some poor form as Rovers lost their way and failed to qualify from the group stages. A heavy defeat against Doncaster was especially disappointing as a side lying fourth in the league table were bafflingly thrashed 42-18. Ian Fairhurst never really recovered from this body blow to the club’s confidence. A narrow 18-16 defeat at Sheffield meant that Rovers didn’t make the knockout stages. This gave the side a few weeks off before resuming the league campaign and the board took the opportunity of the break to make some changes and Ian Fairhurst lost his job after just 20 games in charge. He could justifiably feel aggrieved that he hadn’t been given more time to impose his methods on the team, especially given the relatively good league form, but modern day coaches inevitably pay a harsh price for even a short run of poor form.

What happened next was a perfect example of just what a merry-go-round club coaching can be at times. When Peter Roe went to Wakefield it was to replace Andy Kelly. Now, with Roe’s job on the line at Belle Rue (he was eventually sacked in mid-July, just seven months into his new job), Rovers moved for Kelly to replace Ian Fairhurst as Featherstone’s head coach in May 2002.

Ian Fairhurst’s coaching record:

2002: Won 11 Drew 1 Lost 8 = 57.5%

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Peter Roe June 1999 to August 2001.

Just three months in to the 1999 season Kevin Hobbs had quit, and in came a much travelled new coach. Peter Roe had a long history behind him, having previously had success at Barrow, Keighley, Halifax and Swinton.  It was to be hoped his experience of getting the best from his players on a limited budget would work at Featherstone where an expensive year in 1998 had ended in failure. Roe had the framework of a good squad to deal with, with plenty of young talent coming through; Jamie Rooney and Jamie Stokes in the backs, and Stuart Dickens, Neil Lowe and Steve Dooler in the forwards. Seasoned professionals such as Hitro Okesene, Richard Slater and Brendon Tuuta added steel to the pack and Roe set about his task.

His first game in charge was a 24-all draw against Dewsbury, but Rovers were soon stringing together an excellent run of results. They won 11 of their remaining 13 league fixtures including an impressive win over Hull KR on the final day of the season to secure 5th spot and a playoff place.  An excellent 17-4 win at Leigh in the first round of the playoffs raised hopes which were dashed by losing to eventual champions Hunslet 17-9 in the semi-finals.

In the off-season Rovers lost Okesene, Tuuta retired and Simonds went back to Australia. Recruitment for the following season included Michael Rhodes from Australia, Maea David and Matt Lambert. Roe had certainly found a formula that brought Rovers a very consistent set of results. They managed 20 wins from 28 league fixtures without pulling off any truly spectacular results. Three consecutive big wins  as the playoffs approached augured well, but then we lost 32-0 at Oldham. Our final league position was the same 5th spot we had achieved in 1999. In the playoffs Widnes were beaten in the first round in front of the “RL Raw” cameras, before defeat to eventual champions Dewsbury ended our interest. Young talent was now the backbone of the team with 23 tries from winger Jamie Stokes and 331 points from Jamie Rooney at scrum-half. Danny Evans, Stuart Dickens and Neil Lowe led the go forward, with Richard Chapman directing operations.

With no major changes of personnel 2001 had a familiar look about it. A respectable league campaign, a league finish of 5th, twenty-odd tries from Stokes, a sackful of goals from Rooney and a second round playoff defeat to Leigh.

Peter Roe’s good work at Featherstone had not gone unnoticed and at the end of the season Super League club Wakefield made Roe an offer he couldn’t refuse for 2002, and he parted ways with Featherstone on amicable terms. As often happens the move didn’t really work out and Roe was soon back in the national leagues, coaching at Swinton, Barrow and Keighley all for the second time.
Rovers had time to get their choice of coach right for the start of 2002 and gave a first head coach opportunity to Ian Fairhurst after a number of seasons as Roe’s number two.

Peter Roe’s coaching record:

1999: Won 12 Drew 1 Lost 3
2000: Won 22 Drew 1 Lost 9
2001: Won 19 Drew 2 Lost 11

Total: Won 53 Drew 4 Lost 23 = 68.75%