Looking back to 1921 when Featherstone Rovers first joined the league, at that time clubs didn’t really have a coach per se. The responsibilities that lie with the modern day coach were undertaken by a variety of people rather than one figurehead. In those days, team selection and recruitment was done by the committee. As the club had a large number of committee men, a rugby sub-committee, containing one or two former players, would have been formed to oversee team selection. On-field tactics would have been in the hands of the senior players in the team, who would decide on the style of play and what needed to be done during the match. Of course, until the 1960s there were no substitutes in rugby league, so another important aspect of the modern coach’s mandate didn’t exist. Finally, the training sessions and general fitness of the players was in the hands of the trainer, which in the case of Featherstone Rovers in 1921, was Mr. Billy Williams, a Rovers legend if ever we’ve had one.
Billy had played for the club in its junior days, and was a qualified physiotherapist. His brother Jimmy was stand-off for the Rovers, and as Billy was a fitness fanatic he started to help out the team. With the club having recently moved from junior to senior rugby, there was plenty to be done. Once Rovers had found their feet at the higher level, they went on to have a remarkable impact on the game, reaching the Championship final in only their 7th season, so he must have been doing something right! In the immediate post-war years when the concept of the modern team coach began to evolve, Billy took the title of club physio, a position he officially held until 1962 when he gave way to his son, Jimmy. In reality Billy never retired, and was always down at Post Office Road helping out. At his death in 1980, he was still there, 68 years after first having joined the Rovers. It would be difficult to bring to find a more loyal servant to the club, and perhaps then, we could regard Billy Williams as Rovers’ first ever coach.
Towards the end of the Second World War Rovers called on the services of notable ex-player Aubrey Casewell to help them out. He assumed the position of ‘trainer’ for the 1944/45 season with Billy Williams continuing as masseur. Casewell had played at second-row forward for Salford and Leeds during the 1930s, appearing in the 1934 Championship final and the 1936 Challenge Cup final. This new coaching experiment lasted only one season, and Rovers’ results in that final war-time season were not a noticeable improvement on previous seasons in those difficult times. Once the war was over, and normal league football returned, the Rovers committee decided it was time for a change.