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

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%

Friday, 20 April 2012

Kevin Hobbs September 1998 to May 1999.

 After the heart-breaking disappointment of our grand final defeat, Steve Sims left Featherstone Rovers. It was left to assistant coach Kevin Hobbs to pick up the pieces, and what an unenviable task he faced. Kevin was well known at the club, having started out as a player in 1977 around the same time as his brother David. He played a total of 30 games for the first team before turning to coaching, joining the staff in 1994/95 to oversee the academy team with Bob Spurr. He coached the Alliance team in 1996, and filled in as caretaker coach between David Ward and Sims. He then spent time as Sims' assistant. In this way, being offered the head coach role at the end of 1998 was reward for a number of years spent on the backroom staff.

Hobbs’ first job was to try and lift his physically and emotionally shattered squad to take part in the post-season Treize Tournoi. A new concept and a decent idea, this tournament came at exactly the wrong time for Rovers, but nevertheless, Hobbs took advantage to have a look at a few fringe members of his squad. A young scrum-half called Jamie Rooney was handed his debut, as was long term loan signing Jamie Peacock. Other youngsters such as Jamie Stokes, Chris Spurr and Steve Dooler also received game time, though the results Rovers recorded were inevitably forgettable at the end of such a gruelling year.

At the beginning of the 1999 season a new side had to be built. Promising youngster Karl Pratt had been snatched up by Leeds, and from the Grand Final team of the previous September Rovers had lost captain Shaun Irwin, talented full-back Steve Collins, popular Australians Danny Baker and Ty Fallins, as well as Chico Jackson and Gary H Price. Kevin Hobbs did his best to plug those gaps. The capable Matt Bramald came in at full-back, our Aussie import was Wayne Simonds. Hobbs also signed Martin Law and Ryan Horsely. The pack was beefed up by Hitro Okesene , a former Kiwi international, and he was joined by veteran Brendon Tuuta, a Rovers’ legend playing in his farewell season. Together with young forwards such as Dickens, Lowe, Dooler and Evans, Rovers looked equipped for a good year.

A decent start saw Rovers win five straight league games, but then lose the next three. After defeat at Doncaster, Kevin Hobbs quit his post, citing verbal abuse his family had received from some ‘fans’ as the reason. However anyone feels about the attributes of the coach, this kind of thing is never acceptable, and so Rovers lost a dedicated and hardworking man who was popular with the players. It’s difficult to say how the season would have worked out had he stayed, but a disastrous result at home to Bramley after Hobbs’ departure left no doubt that the board had to move very quickly to rectify the situation.

Kevin Hobbs came back to Featherstone when he was appointed assistant coach to Gary Price, and then held the position of Football Manager, doing a lot of work in schools and the local community.

Kevin Hobbs’ coaching record:

1998: Won 1 Lost 3
1999: Won 8 Lost 6

Total: Won 9 Lost 9 = 50%

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Steve Sims April 1997 to September 1998.

For a side with dreams of Super League, Featherstone had started the 1997 season poorly and David Ward resigned after a home defeat against Hull in April. Rovers then turned to an Australian coach for only the second time in their history. Steve Sims, who had previously been in charge of Leigh and Halifax, had a good coaching pedigree and was used to working on a tight budget at his previous two clubs and so looked a good choice. His first game in charge was a convincing thrashing of Widnes and things augured well.

As the season developed however, the inconsistencies that had spoiled Ward’s reign continued. Rovers enjoyed good wins at Hull KR and a tremendous party-spoiling performance at the Boulevard in front of the TV cameras on the day Hull FC thought they were going to win the title. But we were also heavily beaten at home by Dewsbury and Huddersfield. Sims gradually started to make an impression on the squad, favouring young Ty Fallins to veteran Deryck Fox at scrum-half, and trying out a new stand-off from the Academy team called Karl Pratt. With the forwards led by Molloy, Powell and Slater a final position of 7th was a baffling disappointment.

In 1998 though, things looked decidedly better for two reasons. Firstly, Rovers’ rejuvenated young policy started to bear fruit and knocking on the door of the first team came a whole raft of youngsters. Alongside Pratt were Stuart Dickens, Neil Lowe, Danny Evans, and then Steve Dooler. It was the richest seam of young talent that Rovers had seen in some time. Secondly, Sims wisely recruited classy full-back Steve Collins from Australia and started to get the best out of some underachieving first teamers, most notably Richard Chapman and Danny Baker. Progress was slow however and the good results (nilling both Wakefield and Whitehaven at home) were counterbalanced by some awful stuff (getting mauled at home by Deryck Fox’s Rochdale). On the final day of the season Rovers found themselves needing a 31 point win at home to lowly Leigh to secure a merited playoff spot. Leigh were duly dispatched and the playoff games showed the real quality of the side Sims had moulded. Good wins over Swinton and Dewsbury were followed by the clinical destruction of Hull KR and a place in the grand-final against Wakefield. The rest, as they say, is bitter memories and the “what ifs” from that evening carried on for years. Suffice to say that Rovers fell a knock-on short of Super League status.

As far as Steve Sims was concerned, it was the end. When it became immediately apparent that funds would not be available to continue the push for Super League in 1999, he resigned. He later became the director of football at Salford, a post he still holds. Rovers 1998 grand final team started to break up as Leeds poached Karl Pratt, and Steve Collins also won a Super League contract at Gateshead. Rovers turned nearer to home for their next coaching appointment.

Steve Sims’  coaching record:

1997: Won11 Lost 10
1998: Won 21 Drew 1 Lost 14

Total: Won 32 Drew 1 Lost 24 = %

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

David Ward October 1994 to April 1997.

 After the sacking of Steve Martin, the club realised that a lot of money had been spent on buying players who had not really bonded together as a team. There was also a feeling that this influx of players was at the expense of developing junior talent. So when the board turned to David Ward, it was with the specific remit that he rebuild the confidence of the first team and turn his attentions to the club’s own player development programme. Ward had made his name as a no-nonsense hooker at Leeds, and had coached  Hunslet (3 seasons), his hometown Leeds (2 seasons) and Batley (3 seasons) before taking up the Featherstone challenge.

It would be fair to say that David Ward’s reign as Rovers coach was one of the most turbulent and traumatic in the club’s history. With a backline full of pace and experience and a mobile and skilful pack Rovers comfortably held their own among the big boys in 1994/95. Unfortunately, due to circumstances beyond David Ward’s and Featherstone’s control all that was ripped apart. Despite finishing 11th in the league, and appearing in the Challenge Cup semi-final, Rovers were demoted in 1995 to make way for an all-singing, all-dancing “Super League” which looked suspiciously like the old First Division with London & Paris tagged on and a few famous old names kicked out. Rovers squad was decimated, as they lost players of the calibre of Tuuta, Butt, Banquet, Aston, Divet, Calland and Price in rapid succession.

A great deal of credit has to go to David Ward for the calm and calculated way he steadied the ship through those trying times. Although some quality players such as Molloy and Pearson remained, gaps in the squad needed plugging. Ward re-signed old favourite Deryck Fox and added Richard Slater, Roy Powell and Jon Sharp to the pack as the club set about picking up the pieces and trying to regain top-flight status. No-one really knew what to make of the final winter Centenary Season and we finished disappointingly mid-table with just 11 wins from 22 fixtures. Given the quantity of changes in playing personnel it was inevitable that would be a transition period.

When the first summer season kicked off, it became apparent Rovers didn’t quite have what it took to win the league as Salford set a blistering pace. Rovers did however come a creditable 4th ahead of Huddersfield, Wakefield and Widnes. The year finished with a convincing win over Super League bound Salford. But as other clubs built for the following year, Rovers lost Martin Pearson to Halifax, and Deryck Fox was starting to show his age. A poor start to the 1997 season led Ward to offer his resignation, which the club reluctantly accepted. With a strong Academy side, the junior development of the club was now back on its feet, but the first team needed a new direction. As Ward headed back to Batley, Featherstone turned to their second Australian coach, who had been recently sacked by Super League club Halifax.

David Ward’s  coaching record:

94/95: Won 11 Lost 16
95/96: Won 11 Lost 11
1996: Won 12 Drew 2 Lost 6
1997: Won 4 Drew 1 Lost 6

Total: Won 38 Drew 3 Lost 39 = 49.38%

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Steve Martin September 1992 to October 1994.

 With Rovers disappointingly back in the Second Division, the board took the bold step of looking outside Britain for the first time ever for their head coach. Australian coaches had become quite the vogue among clubs during the eighties but Rovers had until now resisted temptation. After much research, the man they chose for the job was John Dorahy, assistant coach of Newcastle. However, with Newcastle going well in the Australian playoffs and Dorahy’s arrival delayed, Rovers lost patience and contracted Steve Martin instead.
Steve Martin had been a half-back with Manly and Balmain and had also played in England with Leeds before coaching the North Sydney Bears in the ARL. He was head coach there for three seasons before he lost his job and Rovers came calling. With a talented squad, but having lost play-maker Deryck Fox, Martin set about building a Championship winning side. With players of the calibre of Newlove, Tuuta, Bibb and Pearson that aim was comfortably achieved.

Martin’s first real test came the following season as he had to try and consolidate the club’s position back in the top flight whilst coping with the loss of Newlove. In fact, he managed pretty well. In many ways Martin was the archetypal Australian coach, a product of his Sydney environment which placed great emphasis on defence, ball security and no risks no frills rugby. Whilst not the most entertaining of styles, it was effective. Rovers held their own in the First Division, finishing 11th of the sixteen clubs. With the money generated from Newlove’s transfer and the departure of Ian Smales, Rovers were able to splash out on Andy Currier, Steve Molloy, Carl Gibson, Gavin Hill, Matt Calland, Gary H Price and Iva Ropati. Currier suffered a cruel injury, Gavin Hill arrived crocked, but the others provided good value in a satisfactory year.

The following season was the last ever ‘normal’ season before the SKY backed Super League revolution took over the sport. Rovers had lashed out more cash, bringing in Mark Aston, Danny Divet and Fred Banquet. The Frenchmen proved a hit but Aston came in for a lot of criticism as the relatively expensively assembled side started to malfunction. Steve Martin had not quite got the balance right. With big money signings failing to perform and no local lads in the team, the dressing room was an unhappy and dislocated place. Given time Martin would have worked this out, but as always in these situations it’s the coach that’s the first to pay the price for a run of poor results. Martin went back to Australia, and briefly coached South Sydney in the late 1990s, and into Post Office Road came David Ward.

History will judge Martin as a capable coach with clear ideas of how to play, technically strong, but who failed to get the best out of his players, having assembled a squad that simply didn’t gel.

Steve Martin’s  coaching record:

92/93: Won 27 Drew 1 Lost 6
93/94: Won 15 Drew 1 Lost 18
94/95: Won 2 Drew 1 Lost 5

Total: Won 44 Drew 3 Lost 29 = 59.87%

Monday, 16 April 2012

Peter Fox May 1987 to November 1991.

With Rovers disappointingly back in the Second Division and former favourite Peter Fox available having recently lost his job as the head coach of Leeds, Rovers moved swiftly in the close season to bring this larger than life character back to Post Office Road for his second spell in charge. During his first reign more than decade earlier (1970 to 1974) Fox had enjoyed much success with a very talented homespun team based around a fearsome pack. He went on to enjoy success at other clubs, most notably Bradford, and also coached Great Britain, but faced a new challenge at his hometown team in reduced circumstances. With a nucleus of quality players around which he could build a team, Fox set to work.

Despite a couple of early hiccups and some mediocre form, Rovers were soon stringing together a series of wins which would take them to immediate promotion back to the top flight. With players such as Fox, Smith, Bibb, Lyman and Steadman that was only to be expected. The slow start to the season had cost Rovers a chance of the title which went to Oldham who also beat us in dramatic fashion at Old Trafford in the play-off final. A breath-taking game saw Rovers edged out 28-26 and a good chance of a piece of silverware had gone.
It was on our return to the first division that Peter Fox showed his true class. He shrewdly bought Jeff Grayshon and Trevor Clark to steady the pack. Rovers went on to exceed all expectations for a promoted side and claimed sixth place in the league. In the summer of 1989 the club was dealt a double blow with the loss of Steadman and Harrison but coach Fox rolled with the punches and reassembled his squad buying Price, Rose and Manning. After another solid season in 1989/90, the off-season recruiting that summer gave real cause for optimism. In came big money signings Leo Casey and Brendon Tuuta. Ikram Butt arrived from Leeds and then Owen Simpson signed. The squad was complete and another very successful campaign in 1990/91 saw Rovers finish 7th and go to the semi-finals of the Premiership with a famous win at all-conquering Wigan.

Not long into the following season (Fox’s fifth year in charge) He took  the decision to accept the offer of a job from Bradford, a move that many Rovers fans found hard to take, smacking as it did of disloyalty, the very virtue that Fox prided himself on. When we lost Deryck Fox, Newlove and Clark to Bradford over the next year or so, feelings only deepened. Whatever the reasons, the effect of Fox’s departure was catastrophic. The side he had built lost its way badly. Allan Agar came in, but league form was in tailspin and a disastrous combination of results on the final day of the season led to a shock relegation.

Despite this, Peter Fox’s outstanding record must make him among the finest coaches the club has ever had. In two different spells he coached the club in more games (304) and to more wins (169) than any other coach. Only Harold Moxon could approach these figures.

Peter Fox’s  coaching record (second spell only):

87/88: Won 27 Drew 2 Lost 10
88/89: Won 18 Drew 1 Lost 16
89/90: Won 15 Drew 1 Lost 20
90/91: Won 15 Drew 1 Lost 17
91/92: Won 5 Drew 1 Lost 3

Total: Won 80 Drew 6 Lost 66 = 54.61%

Friday, 13 April 2012

George Pieniazek November 1985 to November 1986.

George Pieniazek arrived at Post Office Road with an unenviable task in front of him. Rovers had started the 1985/86 season badly, and were at a low ebb in terms of form and confidence which had led to the departure of Allan Agar. The dressing room was clearly not the happiest place, but Pieniazek’s first bold actions raised eyebrows and gave fans confidence that things were going to change. He axed all four of Rovers overseas imports and Paddy Burgoyne, Mark Roiall, Rod Pethybridge and Scott Durrough had to look for new clubs. As a statement of intent, the message couldn’t have been clearer: hard graft was what would get the team out of trouble and there was no room for holiday-makers.

The new boss’s reputation as a strict disciplinarian which had served him well in his previous post at Batley was already to the fore at Featherstone then. On the field however results were not immediately favourable. With a tough run of fixtures, Rovers won just one game in December, against Warrington. Despite a few good performances (a draw against Hull and narrow defeats against Leeds and Widnes) that first victory was followed by a run of eight matches without a win and things were starting to look desperate until we finally triumphed, beating Castleford 21-6 in March. The relief was tremendous, coming on the back of winning just one of the previous seventeen fixtures! It was the first of four successive victories which took Rovers towards salvation. A memorable 13-all draw against Champions-elect Halifax took Rovers to safety on the penultimate day of the season, but in truth two excellent away wins at Bradford and Oldham had laid the platform for the escape act at Thrum Hall.

Pieniazek had made a number of significant changes in playing personnel in his first few months in charge. Firstly, he moved for a promising young prop called Karl Harrison from Bramley. Then Rovers surprised the rest of the league by capturing York stand-off Graham Steadman for £55,000. These were two smart moves that firstly improved the quality of the team, and then later generated plenty of profit when both players were resold within 3 years. Some of the money outlaid on Harrison and Steadman was recuperated with the departure of long-serving centre John Gilbert to Widnes.

Season 1986/87 opened in a much more positive frame of mind with a brand new main stand to baptise and the atmosphere on matchdays at the ground transformed.  What wasn’t transformed was the patchy league form of what looked on paper to be a relatively talented squad. Our first league win didn’t come until the sixth game of the season and by November George Pieniazek was sacked. In reality, Rovers didn’t seem to have any real contingency plan for this event. Paul Daley, well known to Rovers fans as a promotion specialist, came in with the tough task of turning the team around mid-season which he failed to do and Rovers were relegated in April 1987.

George Pieniazek’s  coaching record:

85/86: Won 7 Drew 2 Lost 14
86/87: Won 4 Drew 2 Lost 8

Total: Won 11 Drew 4 Lost 22 = 35.14%

Thursday, 12 April 2012

Allan Agar December 1982 to October 1985, October 1991 to April 1992.

Allan Agar arrived at Post Office Road in December 1982 with the club in some trouble. A poor start in the league had left Rovers with relegation worries and Agar was a young coach making his way in the game. Although he was locally born he had played just a few games for Featherstone before making his career as a scum-half at Dewsbury, then Hull KR among other clubs. He started coaching at Carlisle in their first ever season and with help from the likes of Jimmy Thompson and Mick Morgan had steered the new club to promotion at the first attempt.

At Featherstone he set about preserving our First Division status. The story of how he managed to achieve this whilst taking the club to the biggest day in its history at Wembley in 1983 has been well documented elsewhere, and is something for which Agar will receive eternal credit.

Hopes were high in the summer of 1983 that the club would build on the incredible success of the previous year. After signing Deryck Fox, league form was solid but not spectacular and in the end the club had to settle for a disappointing 12th spot, just one place above the relegation spots. The following season (1984/85) saw a slight upturn in the club’s fortunes whilst off field the town struggled through a crippling miners’ strike. David Hobbs was sold to Oldham to balance the club’s books, but it was an uphill battle. When the following season started in a similar vein, a heavy defeat at Wigan triggered the resignation of Allan Agar. He left a decent team behind and his legacy was largely a positive one. Wembley apart, under his stewardship Rovers had used their resources to maintain themselves in the top flight, which was about as much as could have been asked. Agar was replaced with George Pieniazek.

Within a few months Allan Agar was back in coaching at Bramley where he stayed at couple of years. He then took Rochdale to promotion. When Peter Fox walked out on Rovers for a second time in October 1991, the club turned once again in difficult circumstances to Allan Agar. He had a huge task in front of him to raise the morale of a team created, then abandoned, by Peter Fox. Despite some terrific one-off displays Rovers struggled for consistency through the rest of 1991/92 and then were relegated in incredible fashion on points difference through a remarkable combination of results on the final day of the season. This cost Agar his job and his second spell with the club was over. He was later involved in marketing, and for a brief spell was appointed the CEO of Featherstone Rovers in 2001.

Allan Agar’s  coaching record:

82/83: Won 11 Drew 3 Lost 8.
83/84: Won 13 Drew 2 Lost 20.
84/85: Won 18  Lost 18.
85/86: Won 3 Drew 1 Lost 7.

91/92: Won 12 Drew 1 Lost 14.

Total: Won 57 Drew 7 Lost 67 = 46.18%

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Vince Farrar February 1981 to November 1982

 After taking Featherstone out of the old Second Division in 1980, coach Paul Daley found the going tougher in the top flight. However, Rovers had won a creditable ten of their opening 16 fixtures and were mid-table when Daley resigned in January 1981 and in came Vince Farrar. Vince had finished a very distinguished playing career of more than 300 games at Featherstone when he joined Hull in 1977, shortly after captaining Rovers to the league title. He was capped for Great Britain in 1978, surely one of the oldest ever Great Britain debutants at 31 years old. Two years later he quit playing and came back home to start his coaching career. Such had been the turnover of players in the four years he had been away that only a  few of Vince’s old team-mates remained at Featherstone.

His initial brief was to keep Featherstone in the top flight, and to try and break a losing run of matches. Despite taking Rovers to the Cup quarter-finals, the side didn’t win their first league fixture under Farrar until 29th of March against Salford. Featherstone did just enough to stay up in the end finishing just two points ahead of relegated Halifax. Vince had to deal with a considerable amount of player unrest in his first few months, with a variety of players submitting transfer requests, even stalwart Peter Smith was listed at a world record £80,000. Boardroom changes saw Bob Ashby became chairman and some stability was brought to the club for 1981/82. A more harmonious dressing room it may have been, but the side still struggled until a good run towards the end of the year saw Rovers finish 10th, despite winning only 12 of their 30 fixtures. Star player Steve Evans was sold to balance the books but with an experienced pack based around Gibbins, Handscombe, Siddall, Smith and Bell Rovers had the makings of a decent team.

1982/83 started with high hopes but mediocre league form. Rovers won just four of their opening 12 fixtures and the feeling was, not for the first time, that here was a relatively talented bunch of players underperforming. Inevitably it is the coach who pays the price in these circumstances and after a heavy 45-0 defeat at Wigan Vince Farrar was sacked in November 1982. Within a few months the side he coached would go on to prove just how well they could play on Rugby League’s biggest stage.

For Vince himself, there came the surprising move of taking up playing again when the brand new Sheffield Eagles team was formed in the summer of 1984. Rovers turned out to be good friends to this new club, Alan Rhodes as coach and Billy Harris joining Vince in a veteran front-row. Farrar proved what a genuine rugby league man he is by playing 22 games that year and making a lot of new friends at the fledgling club with his whole-hearted attitude.

Vince Farrar’s  coaching record:

80/81: Won 4 Lost 10.
81/82: Won 13 Drew 1 Lost 20.
82/83: Won 6 Drew 1 Lost 10.

Total: Won 23 Drew 2 Lost 40 = 36.92%

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

Paul Daley May 1979 to January 1981, November 1986 to April 1987.

With Rovers in the Second Division for the first time ever and looking to bounce straight back, they naturally turned to an experienced coach with a reputation for guiding sides to promotion. That man was Paul Daley. He had enjoyed a modest playing career as a scrum-half at Hunslet, as well as Bradford, Halifax and Hull KR, and after finishing playing he took over coaching at Hunslet in 1974. They were a club near the foot of Division Two but within three years Daley had steered them to promotion. He then took over at York and took them up too in 1979. Fortunately for Featherstone Rovers, Paul Daley proved himself the man for the job and he secured his third promotion in four season whilst at Post Office Road. It should be pointed out that Rovers had a relatively strong team with a lot of quality players. However, the games still had to be won, and the championship was secured with no drama and with some considerable style, so Rovers were back in the big time.

Unfortunately our return to the first division proved to be a struggle and with the impression that Daley was not getting the best out of a talented bunch of players he was sacked in January 1981. He had been given just five months to prove himself in the top flight, and was quickly  replaced by legendary ex-player Vince Farrar. In truth Rovers had not made too bad a start to the campaign and were lying mid-table, but such is the position of coach and a run of defeats in January had cost Daley his job.

Unemployed for just three months, Paul Daley went back to Hunslet where he stayed for four and a half seasons more. He took Hunslet to promotion again in 1984 (his fourth career promotion). Once again he though he failed to keep this newly promoted side in the first division.

The following season 1986/87 with Rovers in trouble again after a poor start to the league campaign, George Pienaizek was sacked and Paul Daley was called in again. It proved to be a mistake as Rovers were relegated. From the outset this seemed to be an odd decision. Rovers needed to appoint a coach to dig the side out of a relegation fight, but chose a man who had a merited reputation as a promotion specialist but had struggled in the top flight. Daley did his best and was unlucky on occasions as Rovers fell just short in important fixtures. In the end though Rovers were relegated for the second time in their history. As it was Paul Daley wasn’t given the opportunity to rectify his mistake and take Rovers back up in 1988. Instead he was sacked for the second time and replaced by Peter Fox in the summer of 1987.

After this disappointment, Paul Daley then moved to Batley and coached there for three seasons completing a very respectable coaching career spanning some sixteen years and four clubs, an admirable record of longevity given the precarious nature of rugby league coaching. At Featherstone he will be remembered as the man who took us up in his first spell but failed to keep us there in his second.

Paul Daley’s coaching record:

79/80: Won 23 Drew 2 Lost 6.
80/81: Won 12 Lost 11.

86/7: Won 7 Lost 16.

TOTAL: Won 42 Drew 2 Lost 33 = 55.84%.

Friday, 6 April 2012

Terry Clawson July to November 1978.

 The Championship team that Rovers had so lovingly assembled over years of junior development quickly fell apart. Head coach Keith Cotton had quit and Keith Goulding filled in for the rest of 1977/78. That summer Rovers persuaded veteran forward Terry Clawson, who had operated at prop forward towards the back end of the previous season, to take on the player-coach’s role. Terry is one of the game’s “larger than life” characters and of course needed no introduction to the players having appeared alongside them. Therefore he became after Eric Batten only the second ever player-coach of the Rovers, an unusually small number given that player coach was once quite a fashionable role. Inevitably it was this proximity to the players which led to Clawson’s undoing as he lacked authority in the dressing room and survived just three months in the hot seat.

As a player, Clawson was a rough and ready back rower when he made his Rovers debut in December 1957. With a good kicking game, swift hands and unlimited courage, he overcame a bout of TB to represent Great Britain before leaving Rovers after a dispute in 1965. He had spells at many clubs including Leeds, Bradford and Hull KR, before arriving back at Featherstone in January 1978 after a spell coaching in Australia. He thus a set a unique record of the longest span between first and last game for Featherstone. As his last match was in November 1978 at Rochdale his career therefore spanned a total of 20 years and 11 months, a record unlikely to be even broken. Only Keith Bell, Willis Fawley or Peter Smith could come near to that for longevity, though of course those three players played in an unbroken spell at the club.

Rovers started the 1978/79 season weakened in the forwards by the sale of Farrar and Stone and a year long injury to Bridges. Although the backs had lost John Newlove, there was still plenty of talent there in the shape of Box, Evans, Gilbert, Quinn and Coventry. The young team struggled with a difficult start to the fixture list against Leeds, Widnes and Hull KR. However things failed to improve and Rovers won just two of their first ten games. A heavy loss at Rochdale convinced everyone it was time for a change and Clawson quit. As he wrote in his autobiography, he had grave misgivings about taking on the job in the first place, and so it proved.  It was left to Tommy Smales to try and pick up the pieces to salvage the season, which he unfortunately failed to do as Rovers were relegated. One interesting footnote to Clawson’s coaching career was a bit of cheeky nepotism when he selected his young son Neil in the game at Rochdale on 12th November 1978, thus becoming the first and only father and son combination to have played together in the same Rovers team. His bittersweet experience as a head coach discouraged Clawson from any other coaching role, and he eventually finished playing in 1980.

Terry Clawson’ coaching record:

78/79: Won 4 Lost 9 = 30.77%.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Keith Cotton August 1976 to December 1977.

Keith Cotton took over from Tommy Smales in the hot summer of 1976. It had been a case of ‘so near and yet so far’ for Rovers in 1975/76 as they finished runners up to Salford in the league, pipped by just a single point to the title. The side that Keith inherited was undoubtedly one of the most talented in Rovers history. The previous season they had finished runners up in the league to St. Helens and got to the semi-final of the Cup. Keith Cotton managed to take the club one step further to the League Championship. It was a group of players that had come together under Peter Fox from 1970 to 1974, but in the three years between 1974 and 1977 Rovers had had a number of coaches. Look at the materials Cotton had to work with; a front row of Thompson Bridges and Farrar. In the back row Smith, Stone, Bell. At half-back Newlove and Fennell and in the three quarters Quinn, Gilbert, Evans, Coventry and Kellett.
Cotton’s playing days as a tough and compact centre began at Post Office Road back in 1961. His defence was immaculate, and he appeared in 165 games for Featherstone over twelve years, scoring 20 tries. Naturally enough the highlight of his career was Wembley 1967, and he received a testimonial in 1973/4. Within a couple of seasons of retiring he was back as coach.
The season 1976/77 started well enough, we showed good league form and reached the final of the Yorkshire Cup. Early john Player Trophy and Challenge Cup exits actually helped Rovers title push and for once the old cliché of ‘concentrating on the league’ had some substance to it. A run of crucial victories in March in four consecutive home games against Warrington, St. Helens, Leeds and Widnes took Rovers clear of the chasing pack and installed us as title favourites with five games to go. We were then promptly beaten over Easter by local rivals Wakefield and Castleford, but the nerves settle and by the end of April Rovers ended on top of the pile. What a tremendous achievement that was.
The following year started well enough with the team returning to the Yorkshire Cup final, where we were beaten by Castleford. League form dipped however and after a run of four consecutive defeats in November Keith Cotton left and was replaced for the rest of the season by Keith Goulding. It was the fourth season out of five that the coach had failed to see the season through. The only time the coach stayed all season 1976/77 we won the league.
Keith’s coaching connections to Rovers weren’t quite over as he had a spell back at the club in 1986 as assistant coach to Paul Daley, but our abiding memory of Keith Cotton will be as the coach who brought the league championship to Featherstone for the only time in our history so far.

Keith Cotton’s coaching record:

76/77: Won 28 Drew 2 Lost 11.
77/78: Won 9 Lost 7.

Total: Won 37 Drew 2 Lost 18 = 66.67%

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Tommy Smales (Scrum Half) February to May 1976, November 1978 to May 1979

At times the head coach position at Featherstone Rovers has resembled more a poisoned chalice, and that is possibly the way Tommy Smales sees it. A fitness expert with renowned knowledge of physical preparation and training, Tommy is an irrepressible character who always has a quip. Twice he took over as head coach in difficult circumstances in the middle of a season, and survived only until the end of that year. The first time he was coach for just four months, but was notably successful. The second time he was coach for seven months, and in more calamitous times things did not go well.

Tommy Smales enjoyed an illustrious playing career that included Championships, Cup finals at Wembley and the captaincy of his country. Unfortunately for the Rovers all of this happened after he had left his hometown club. At the time (1952 to 1956) he had severe competition for a scrum-half place and was sold to Huddersfield. He also had notable success at Bradford Northern. He played a total of 35 games for Rovers.

Tommy’s first stab at the coaching job was after the surprising departure of Keith Goulding in the middle of the successful 1975/76 season. His first game in charge was the home win against Dewsbury in February and he carried on the good work done by Goulding. After beating Wakefield and Hull KR, Rovers destroyed Leeds in a Cup quarter-final,  only to go down to a disappointing semi-final defeat to Widnes. League form continued to be good and after guiding Rovers to second in the table and to within a breath of Wembley, Tommy stepped down.

Rovers had ended the 1977/78 season in turmoil with the embarrassment of a players’ strike causing the postponement of a league fixture. After a boardroom upheaval the club had persuaded Terry Clawson to take over as player coach. When it became apparent he was not up to the job, Rovers turned to Smales for the second time. Things were not right though, and a club that had been crowned league champions just 18 months previously found themselves in the mire of a relegation battle they were set to lose. The first time he was in charge in 1976, Rovers won seven straight games. This time in 1978, they lost nine straight. Tommy took over in mid November and got his first win on 11 March against Workington. Inevitably, at the end of that disastrous season, Tommy left the club again.

In his entertaining autobiography ex-GB international prop Barrie McDermott played tribute to the skills of Tommy Smales as a masseur and physiotherapist and many international players regularly visited his gym over the Traveller’s Rest pub where he was landlord for many years. Barrie described Tommy as “one of the greatest characters in the game”, and after naming him as the physio to his all-time Dream Time called him “a really nice bloke and a true rugby league man”. Quite.

Tommy Smales’ coaching record:

75/76: Won 11 Drew 1 Lost 4.

78/79: Won 6 Drew 1 Lost 15

Total: Won 17 Drew 2 Lost 19 = 47.37%

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Keith Goulding September 1974 to January 1976, December 1977 to April 1978.

At the beginning of 1974/75 Tommy Smales (the ex-loose-forward) quit due to the pressures of work, and this left Rovers somewhat in the lurch so early in the season. As a solution Rovers turned to Keith Goulding, a man upon whom the club would come to depend many times in the future. As a player he played 87 games at centre between 1950 and 1955. He was particularly unlucky not to have played at Wembley in 1952 when he appeared in 30 games that season including the semi-final but lost out to Don Metcalfe at Wembley.

Keith started his professional coaching career at York in November 1973 where he was a success, taking York to promotion in his first season in charge. When he was offered the Rovers job, he realised he would be working with a stronger squad, and so it proved. Featherstone, under Goulding’s guidance finished the year in fourth position, behind Saints, Leeds and Wigan. York struggled and were relegated. Incidentally, York replaced Keith Goulding with another former Rovers favourite Gary Cooper, and he in turn was succeeded by Mal Dixon, showing just what a breeding ground for coaches our club is.

Keith Goulding’s  first game in charge was against St. Helens in October 1974. Despite losing that game, Keith’s fitness regime soon began to pay dividends and Rovers steadily climbed the table. After finishing fourth, Goulding set about building on that success the following year, and a very useful start saw Rovers placed second in the league when Keith Goulding surprisingly quit. His final game in charge was against Huddersfield in January 1976. He then handed over the reins to another fitness expert and former Rovers scrum-half Tommy Smales, who was then and for many years after the landlord of the Traveller’s Rest pub in Featherstone.

Within a couple of months of leaving Featherstone Goulding had found a new job as boss of Huddersfield, where he stayed until December 1976. After Keith Cotton quit as Rovers coach in December 1977, the club once again called on that safe pair of hands Goulding to steer them through the rest of the 1977/78 season. He began in phenomenal fashion as Rovers won ten games on the trot and raced to the semi-finals of the Cup. They lost that semi to Leeds in a very disappointing fashion after leading comfortably at half-time. Thereafter, things fell apart. The season ended in turmoil with a players’ strike over terms and Goulding left Rovers again, and was soon back coaching at Huddersfield.

His coaching involvement at the club was far from over however because when Allan Agar was appointed coach in December 1982 Keith Goulding came back to the club as his assistant. They enjoyed a further three years together at the helm.

Although his coaching career was affected to a certain extent by the coaching merry-go-round that plagued most club committees (including Rovers) in the 1970s, the fact remains that Keith Goulding posted some very good results in his two spells in charge and was a highly respected figure in rugby league coaching circles over fifteen years until his untimely death in 1987.

Keith Goulding’s coaching record:

74/75: Won 17 Drew 1 Lost 10.
75/76: Won 15 Drew 1 Lost 7.

77/8: Won 13 Drew 2 Lost 6.

Total: Won 45 Drew 4 Lost 23 = 65.28%

Monday, 2 April 2012

Tommy Smales (Loose Forward) June to September 1974

Following in the footsteps of a larger than life character such as Peter Fox would have daunted many, but that was not something to worry the phlegmatic Tommy Smales. He had enjoyed considerable success as a player with his hometown club, loose forward in the 1967 Cup final. There he is on the front cover of this programme crashing over for the match winning try at Wembley, the dream of every single lad who’s ever picked up a rugby ball. What a proud moment that must have been. After hanging up his boots, Tommy embarked on a coaching career that began naturally enough when a vacancy came up at Featherstone.

Unfortunately, no sooner had the 1974/5 campaign begun then Tommy began to have problems with the workload of being a part-time coach, and the amount of free time he was allowed from his full-time employment. On the field, the team started with three straight wins, but then lost four on the trot, including early exits from both the Yorkshire Cup at the hands of Wakefield, and the John Player Trophy to Widnes. It quickly became apparent that this situation was not going to resolve itself and Tommy quit after just a small handful of games in charge. Faithful Rovers servant Keith Goulding stepped into the gap, leaving his job with York to take over at Featherstone.

Strangely enough, in 1977 history repeated itself when Peter Fox, at that time in charge of lowly Bramley, quit to take over at Bradford Northern. Bramley then moved for Tommy Smales to replace him, just as Rovers had done three years earlier. After Bramley, he then coached struggling Doncaster for a season, a true test of any coach’s stamina and resolution. In 1979 he took over at Batley, coaching them for two seasons,  and had a spell at Dewsbury in 1983/84, his last coaching appointment. Within a few years Tommy’s son Ian had made his debut for Rovers and the family connection with the club continued.

I have referred to Tommy as the “loose forward” in this article, as another Tommy Smales, the former Rovers scrum-half and later Great Britain captain also confusingly enough had a spell as head coach of Featherstone Rovers in the 1970s.

Tommy Smales’ coaching record:

74/5: Won 3 Lost 4 = 42.86%