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

Saturday, 19 May 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v St.Helens, 1959

This  programme comes from the late fifties and perhaps one of Featherstone’s most memorable Challenge Cup games of all. On a snowy day in February 1958 Rovers had taken on and beaten St. Helens 5-0 in an epic Cup tie. Twelve months later, history repeated itself and at the quarter final stage on the 21st of March, Rovers drew Saints again. If you have a copy of this programme or ever see one, hang on to it. It’s a piece of history. This match turned out to be Rovers’ record crowd, a staggering 17,531, a figure unlikely to be beaten any time soon. Very few professional sports clubs in the world have a record home attendance which is greater than the population of the town they represent, but Featherstone Rovers is one.

So what did that enormous crowd get to read in the programme? Well, at the game, nothing. The ground was so jam-packed full of spectators the luxuries of enough elbow room to read the programme were dispensed with. But when the fans got home, they would have found a tidy twelve page booklet edited by Rovers’ secretary Ron Bailey who had significantly increased the quality of the programme since taking over in 1955. Pride of place must go to some evocative photos of the snowbound pitch of the Cup tie twelve months previously (attended by a mere 15,700 fans). I once had the privilege to ask the late great (not a lightly used word) Vince Karalius about Featherstone’s players. He answered “You had to look out for them all; they were all over you like a rash. I remember playing there in a cup-tie, it was freezing and snowing and we got beat. Happy memories!”. The programme has photos of Karalius and some of the other St. Helens stars, and what a side they had: Tom Van Vollenhoven, Alex Murphy, Dick Huddart and more.

Also in the programme is a short article on Willis Fawley, and a letter of congratulations from Tom Mitchell of Workington on our notable success in Cumbria in the first round of the Cup. There are also plenty of small box adverts for local businesses in Featherstone and Pontefract, all of them with three-digit telephone numbers. The game itself went Rovers way for the second successive year, and a more open game than the 1958 slog saw Joe Mullaney turn in a brilliant two-try performance in a convincing 20-6 win.

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