Today’s featured programme from the 1985/86 season is one of my favourite covers, the combination of the right colours (French navy blue and white) and eye-catching lettering make it a classy-looking design. It also has an artist’s impression of what would become the Rovers’ main stand, still a few months away from completion.
It’s obvious that the producers have put a lot of thought and attention into this self-titled “official match brochure” priced at 40p and containing 32 pages. It is part of the golden age of Featherstone programme printing, having improved in quality and content over a number of years during the early 1980s. Indeed, in the annual competition to judge the best club production in the league, organised by “Programme World”, the Rovers issue of 1985/86 narrowly pipped Wigan for the top prize. This reflected great credit on editor Terry Mullaney and his production team, and was reward for a number of years hard work.
Inside, there is plenty to keep the reader occupied. Coach George Pieniazek appealed to the fans to keep the faith during our difficult run-in towards avoiding relegation. Apologies were offered for the delay of the construction of the new main stand, but we were promised it would be worth the wait. As it was our last home match of the season, the “John Jepson Trophy” for player of the year was set to be awarded on the pitch before the match (deservedly won that year by Paul Lyman). There was a feature on Rovers latest signing, youngster Neil Kelly (future Widnes coach). Ray Handscombe was pleased with the progress of his Colts team, despite having lost their recent Cup Semi-final to Wigan. Reserve team coach Dave Busfield outlined a number of his players who were knocking on the door for first team selection, including Richard Marsh, Brian Kellett and Tim Slatter.
A quick look at the Widnes team pen pictures reminded me just how many brothers Widnes had in their team at that time, including the Hulmes, the O’Neills, the Ruanes and of course the Mylers.
Resident columnist Ian Clayton has an oddly prescient piece, lambasting recent newspaper reports of the creation of a Super League in rugby league (this was April 1986 remember). His mock-horror predictions of possible future changes to the game don’t look funny in retrospect, as some of those far-fetched plans actually came to fruition almost a decade later.
The game itself was a very good one with Rovers, having struggled for most of the season to string some good form together, putting up a brave show against a powerful Widnes side. Rovers gave a debut to Kelly off the bench, and Widnes included at centre former Featherstone favourite John Gilbert, replacing youngster Andy Currier (Rovers future record signing).