Fans these days complain of the top teams such as Wigan, Warrington and Leeds always meeting each other in the grand finals and big cup ties, but in the 1950s it was Featherstone Rovers v Workington Town that was one of the big tickets. Both clubs have a strong cup-fighting tradition, born in that era. Enough has been written already about our Wembley debut in 1952, but before that decade was out Featherstone and Workington were destined to meet in a further four cup ties, all of epic proportions, including two semi-finals.
|Rovers at Wembley v Workington in 1952|
After losing the 1952 final, Rovers arrived at the 1955 semi-final looking for revenge. They had beaten Belle Vue Rangers (great name, great club), Bradford and Leigh on the route to the last four and another clash with Town. Big ticket? An astonishing 36,077 people packed Headingley to see who would face Barrow at Wembley. Just four of the Wembley 1952 team were in the line-up three years later; Don Metcalfe, Ray Cording and pack men Kenny Welburn and Cliff Lambert. Having shown some marvellous form in the early rounds, Rovers must have fancied their chances, but on the day a very subdued display allowed Town to triumph 13-2. Despite dominating the first half, Featherstone failed to score, and Town produced two strikes of their own against the run of play. In the second half Workington established a strangle-hold that they were never going to loosen.
Back to the drawing board then, and three years later came another chance. In the 1958 Semi-final at Odsal Rovers were without the injured Don Fox, but had such stars as Joe Mullaney, Cyril Woolford and Jack Fennell in their ranks. Wembley 52 veterans Lambert, Welburn and Alan Tennant were still going strong. Once again a tight game ensued, but Rovers disappointed their share of another huge 33,926 crowd, going down 8-2, the only try of the game coming from Ike Southward. He also scored at Wembley where Town were pipped by Wigan.
Three big games and three defeats. Rovers must have been sick of the sight of the all-conquering Cumbrians. Imagine their feelings the following season when the first round draw of the 1959 Cup came out and Rovers drew Workington away. Having won 10-0 in a league fixture there just a week before, Featherstone probably thought they might have been pushing their luck to get a second successive positive result at such a notoriously difficult venue. They won though, with a phenomenal 80 minute tackling stint, and despite Town grabbing the game’s only try, Rovers triumphed 8 points to 5 thanks to four Terry Clawson penalties. No change of luck in the semi-final that year though, beaten by Hull 15-5.
Showing a distinct lack of imagination the draw-makers for the first round of the 1960 competition came up with Workington v Featherstone! Off to Cumbria again then, this time for a 15-0 success, practice having turned the Rovers team into a dab hand at tricky Cup ties in Workington. Tries from Wills Fawley, Joe Mullaney and Mick Clamp saw us through. That year it was Wakefield Trinity’s turn to break our hearts in the semi-final. Rovers were beaten in the 1962 semis too, as that particular golden age of rugby league drew to a close. Workington had played in three finals, the only Cup finals in their history. Rovers had lost five successive semi-finals between 1955 and 1962, but would be back again for Wembley glory with a new side before the sixties were over.