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

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Match Programme: Featherstone Rovers v Barrow 1967

Pride of place in any fan’s collection purely for sentimental reasons would have to go to the Wembley programmes from our Challenge Cup final successes, reminders of some of our happiest days. In reality, for a collector these programmes are always easy to come by because so many were printed, and therefore cheap to buy. Here we look at the 1967 final when we played today’s opponents Barrow.

The cover design is identical to other finals from 1964 to 1968 and for a shilling (5p) you get a twenty page souvenir produced by the Rugby Football League, although six pages are given to advertising, so in the modern sense, the reading material is a bit thin. The front page of the Cup final issue from that era always had a picture of the Queen on the inside cover. Just for good measure in 1967 we’ve got a portrait of the Duke of Edinburgh too. Of course, her Majesty actually turned out for this final, one of only two finals she’s ever been to. Once she found out Rovers had beaten Leeds in the semi, I’m sure she couldn’t resist the opportunity to meet Mal Dixon and the rest of the lads.

Inside are the Rovers pen pictures, and another peculiarity of the age was the way that players were given their formal full names in their profiles. Hence, Rovers team included Kenneth Greatorex, Michael Smith, Leslie Tonks and Arnold Morgan. However, Jim Thompson and Tom Smales didn’t get the same treatment.
The Featherstone Rovers profile includes the usual praise of our club being a team of local lads full of pride and passion who are always prepared to give youth their chance. One point that irks is the constant references to Rovers as the ‘Colliers’. Now there can be no doubting the long-standing and strong connection between the club and the coal-mining industry, but I’ve never heard any fan of ours ever actually refer to the club as the ‘Colliers’; I always saw it as a nickname imposed from outside.

There’s no ‘shipbuilder’ references in the Barrow article, but their star players are on their Sunday best too; Edward Tees, William Burgess and Gerald Smith.

Towards the back pages a small ad pointed out that the Cup final was Southerners’ only annual opportunity to watch RL, but that in 1967 they could get a second helping as Great Britain were to take on Australia at the White City Stadium in November. You could get tickets for 10 shillings (50p). In the event the international drew a respectable crowd of 17,445, but it was to be some time before London became anything other than solely the Cup final venue for RL fans.

Sunday, 1 July 2012

Peter Fox: The Players’ coach by Graham Williams and Peter Lush

This book was published in 2008, and it is perhaps surprising that it took so long for the Peter Fox story to find its way into print. Peter was of course one of our finest ever coaches and he had a huge impact on the club in two separate spells. When he was in charge from 1971 to 1974 he took Rovers to Wembley twice and to consistently high league positions. He came back in 1987 and stayed four more years, winning promotion and establishing Rovers once again among the elite of the game. His total of 304 games in charge remains a record. This very readable book covers those two spells and the rest of his colourful career as well.

The book is set out in chronological fashion and so part one covers Peter’s childhood in Sharlston and his playing days as a loose-forward at Featherstone, then Batley, among other clubs. The authors managed to dig out a number of rare old photos of Peter in his playing days.

Part two covers Fox’s coaching career and it was in this sphere that he triumphed. He took his first coaching steps with the Black Horse amateur team in the Wakefield District Sunday League, but his first professional appointment was when he beat Tommy Smales and Harry Poole to the Rovers coaching job in January 1971 and the rest, as they say, was history. After such success, it was a shock when he was allowed to leave in the summer of 1974. All aspects of the club including recruitment and team selection at that stage was done by committee. Peter wanted more of a say, and a power struggle saw him lose out and he quit. Looking back, although Rovers went on to win a Championship in 1977 and reached a couple more Cup semi-finals in 1976 and 1978, I firmly believe it was a huge mistake to let Fox leave, a move which was also against the wishes of Chairman John Jepson. Who knows how far the club could have gone had Peter stayed.

As it was, he built a championship winning side at Bradford, made with Featherstone players like Jimmy Thompson and Keith Bridges. He ran Australia close in an Ashes series, but failed to get the 1979 tour job. He also had a high profile spell at Leeds before coming back to Rovers in 1987. The one black mark on his contribution to Featherstone was the manner of his departure to Bradford in 1991, but there can be no doubt that he was a major influence on our club and on the whole sport with his forward thinking tactics and his legendary man management skills. Thankfully this book does justice to his achievements.