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

Saturday, 8 November 2014

John Willie Higson

Long before Featherstone Rovers joined the R.F.L. in 1921, the club was producing top quality front-row forwards. In those days the ultimate honour was to win “All Four Cups”, that is to say the Championship, the Challenge Cup, the County Cup, and the County League. Hunslet were the first of only three sides ever to do it, back in 1908. Led by renowned centre Albert Goldthorpe, it was their pack which was acknowledged to be the driving force behind their success. Those forwards were known as the “Terrible Six”, and went down in rugby league folklore. Not surprisingly, given its phenomenal reputation as a breeding ground for quality players, the town of Featherstone played a large part in Hunslet’s glory. Of that famed pack of forwards, three were coal miners who began their careers at Featherstone. Second-rower Bill Jukes played for Rovers until 1905 before joining Hunslet, where he won a total of six international caps. Jack Randall and John Willie Higson made the same trip from Post Office Road to Parkside the following year. In 1908 they all won four medals each in a single season and made history. Later that year John Willie Higson played for Great Britain against the 1908 Kangaroos, winning his only two international caps. It was remarkable stuff from all three local lads, but Higson’s story goes one step further. 

The balance of power in the game in Yorkshire shifted from Hunslet’s “Terrible Six” to Huddersfield’s “Team of All Talents”. Captained by the legendary Harold Wagstaff, in 1915 the Fartowners emulated Hunslet’s All Four Cups feat. And there in the thick of the Huddersfield pack was that fearsome scrummager John Willie Higson. He became the only man ever to be involved with two different All-Four-Cups teams. In an era when rugby league was as tough as it gets, John Willie was right up there with the best of them. He was 22 years old when he won his GB caps, but thirteen years and a bag full of medals later he was still going strong. When his beloved hometown team made the senior league in 1921 John Willie couldn’t resist coming home. He gave Featherstone Rovers four solid years, playing 99 games and notching 11 tries. His experience in a young Rovers team playing senior rugby for the first time was invaluable and he helped to bring on local youngsters such as Ernie Barraclough and Billy Clements. He played the final game of a magnificent career at home to York on the 25th of April 1925, Rovers marking the occasion with a 29-16 win.

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