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%