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.