Rovers had attempted to change their poor run of form after the end of World War Two by changing their coach in 1947. They brought in famous ex-international winger Stan Smith. This move lasted only one season, and never worked out for a number of reasons. Four years later in the summer of 1951 Rovers tried a similar idea, and in came Eric Batten. In the whole history of the club, it must rank of one of the most significant moves ever made. From rock bottom strugglers, Featherstone were gradually transformed into a fit and competitive side, capable of matching the best in the league on their day. The influence in this revolution of Eric Batten is hard to underestimate.
Firstly, there was his considerable presence as a player. Although approaching the veteran stage when he arrived at Featherstone, Batten, like his father before him, was one of the finest wingers of his day. He had won Championships and Challenge Cups, as well as Great Britain caps, at his previous clubs, most notably Hunslet during the war, and Bradford in the late 1940s. He actually carried on playing for Rovers for three years until he was 39 years old, accumulating a total of 101 games and scoring 60 tries, whilst at the same time coaching the team. His on-field presence steadied a largely inexperienced team which also had the rock steady figure of Fred Miller at the back.
Rovers made it all the way to Wembley in Batten’s first season as coach, which was a tremendous, almost undreamed of, achievement. However, for me, much more remarkable was the way in which Batten’s influence on the whole club over the succeeding four seasons allowed the whole club to grow in stature. For a club that had consistently struggled near the bottom of the table throughout the 30s and 40s, the consistently improving league finishes that Rovers enjoyed from 1951 to 1956 were the true measure of Eric Batten’s impact. Rovers had spent five straight seasons finishing among the bottom five teams in the league, so even the 22nd place they managed in Batten’s first season was an improvement. They then finished 24th, 14th, 9th and 6th, unprecedented heights for a club who gradually earned the respect and admiration of the rest of the league for the way they used their limited resources to maximum effect. Rovers reached a second Challenge Cup semi-final in 1955, but fell to Workington.
Future coaches were able to build on the foundations Eric Batten had built and right through the 50s, 60s and 70s Rovers were a force in the game. It was perhaps somewhat surprising then, that in the summer of 1956 Rovers allowed Batten to leave the club and appointed a new coach. To this day, his lasting legacy to the Featherstone club is commemorated at the ground with the sponsors’ lounge in the clubhouse carrying his name.
Eric Batten’s coaching record:
1951/2: Won 20-Drew 2-Lost 23
1952/3: Won 14-Drew 1-Lost 28
1953/4: Won 18-Drew 2-Lost 20
1954/5: Won 26-Drew 1- Lost 14
1955/6: Won 24-Drew 2-Lost 15
Total: Won 102-Drew 8-Lost 100= 50.48%