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

Wednesday, 19 June 2013

Featherstone & Castleford United

Today we’ll look at one of the most unusual fixtures in Rovers’ history. Not an epic derby clash against Castleford, with both teams heroically defending local pride, but an occasion when players from both teams joined together, tackling and running alongside each other against a common foe. A prototype of the dreaded Calder team circa 1995? Thank God no. The occasion was the 1961 New Zealand tourists, and for reasons best known to themselves the RFL decided, instead of the usual fixture list, to arrange games against a whole raft of “combined” teams. It was customary for touring teams to face the best club sides during their stay in the UK. Thus Rovers had played against the 1955 Kiwis (and lost 7-6) and the 1959 Aussies (and won 23-15). For this tour, not only did Rovers and Castleford combine, but also Salford and Swinton played together as a “Manchester XIII”, Leeds, Hunslet and Bramley as a “Leeds XIII”, among others. Maybe the hope was that these combined outfits could attract larger crowds, by appealing to the fans of two or more clubs.

So, who made the line up for the Featherstone-Castleford select XIII?  The game was played on Castleford’s ground. Both coaches of the day, Harold Moxon and Harry Street (who had of course previously played for Featherstone for a short while) were involved in the preparation of the side. The side contained eight Rovers players and five from Castleford, reflecting the superior strength of the Rovers team at that time. Fullback was Castleford’s Albert Lunn, with Rovers regular Jackie Fennell missing out. The right three-quarters were blue and white; Jim Hunt and Ken Greatorex. The left three-quarters were amber and black; Geoff Ward and Colin Battye. Half-backs were Alan Hardisty and Don Fox, a pretty handy combination it has to be said. Joe Mullaney was a travelling reserve (no subs in those days). The pack was almost all Rovers, with the familiar front row of Len Hammill, Willis Fawley and Malcolm Dixon, Terry Clawson and Norman Hockley in the second row and only John Sheridan as Castleford’s representative at loose-forward, taking Cliff Lambert’s birth.  In his autobiography, Terry Clawson pointed out that he was only prepared to play provided it meant not having to pull on a Castleford jersey! Unfortunately I have been unable to find out what shirts this combined line up wore.

And how did they get on? It was only the third game of the Kiwi tour, played on the 26th of August. The tourists had previously lost to both Liverpool (Widnes and Liverpool City) and Manchester (Salford and Swinton), but won this game 31-20. For Featherstone-Castleford, Geoff Ward scored two tries, Jim Hunt and Len Hammill one each and Terry Clawson kicked four goals. Perhaps an understandable lack of cohesion between the two clubs’ players contributed to a disappointing result against modest tourists. The Kiwis went on win the first test against Great Britain surprisingly easily 29-11, though Britain bounced back to take the series with authoritative wins 23-10 and 35-19 in the second and third tests.

The match programme announced: “This temporary merger today will be watched with much interest by those writers of anonymous letters who suggest that the two clubs should permanently band together and play on a field in Pontefract Park”. So it wasn’t Maurice Lindsay’s idea after all! For RFL officials looking for clues as to whether a merged club could ever be viable, a crowd of 5,774 was reasonable, comparing with the previous Kiwi tour (5,100 at Featherstone and 2,440 at Castleford) quite well. The whole idea of combined sides was abandoned though, never to be repeated.

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