Thirty Years On.....
Today we begin a new blog series commemorating the 30th anniversary of what was quite simply the most famous hour (and a half) in the history of our club, the 1983 Challenge Cup final at Wembley. We will look at the key moments of that whole season and how we progressed round by round to that remarkable finish.
The draw for the first round proper of the State Express Challenge Cup, as it was then called, took place live in the studios of BBC Look North, and the tie of the round was undoubtedly Widnes v Leeds as two of the tournament’s favourites clashed at the first hurdle. Holders Hull FC faced a trip to Blackpool and Castleford faced a tough trip to Wigan. Rovers were given what looked like a relatively straightforward and definitely winnable tie at home to lower league Batley, with the match due to be played on Sunday 13th of February.
In all honesty it was not shaping up to be a particularly promising season for Rovers. Now in their third season back in the First Division since winning the Second Division Championship in 1980, they were hoping to make an impact after two years of consolidation. League form had been very hard to find however, and in November it cost coach Vince Farrar his job. Allan Agar was appointed, but Rovers continued to hover around the relegation zone until a Christmas and New Year double over Carlisle (Agar’s old club) gave the side a bit of breathing space. It was to be hoped that the Cup might provide a bit of relief from the weekly grind of the battle for survival in the league.
As the Cup transfer deadline approached Rovers snapped up fiery forward Tim Slatter from Wakefield Trinity to boost their pack. Home programmes from 1982/83 offered fans regular bulletins on progress of the Floodlight fund as supporters worked towards raising the £7,000 required to final purchase lights.
Come the 13th of February the Post Office Road pitch was covered in snow, and the pitch on the Bullock stand side too hard to play. With the schedule tight for the fulfilment of fixtures, the club had two possibilities. They could either play Batley on the Wednesday at Featherstone where they would have to kick off at 3pm due to the lack of floodlights. This would obviously deprive most fans of the opportunity of seeing the game. The other option, of switching the game to Wakefield Trinity’s ground, was accepted. The crowd of 1,374 which was well down on that season’s average showed just how important that floodlight fund was.
Strangely enough, the night before our game, St,. Helens had played Carlisle at home and duly thrashed them 52-0. With the Cumbrians desperately short of numbers due to injuries and unavailability they had put in a call to Rovers coach Allan Agar asking him to play for them. Carlisle still held Agar’ playing registration from his time as their player-coach the previous season, so Agar duly played his final professional match in unusual, if not unique, circumstances. It was of course far from being the end of his involvement in the 1983 Challenge Cup competition.