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

Saturday, 31 October 2015

Percy Morris

We can safely say that the 1930s were easily the worst decade in the history of Featherstone Rovers. As a global economic depression wreaked havoc on the local job market, the club staggered along virtually penniless from season to season, selling any and every available player for whatever transfer money they could raise in order to survive.

However, what kept the club in existence was its incredible production line of serviceable players who stepped up to first team football and made a name for themselves as soon as a ‘star’ player was sold. For Featherstone Rovers, the emergence of Percy Morris was a godsend. Every so often, one of those incredibly durable players who never seem to miss a match or get injured comes along. Percy was one of those players. Not only was he hard-wearing, but he also offered consistently high levels of possession- winning from the scrum and his fair share of tackling in the loose.

Originally from Knottingley, Percy made his debut on the opening day of the season in 1929/30. The hooker’s jersey was his and it was well over two years before anyone else got their hands on it. Percy played all 39 games in his debut year and all 41 games the next year. When he finally missed a game in October 1931 it was only because he had won county selection and was playing for Yorkshire. His consecutive appearance record stood at 88 straight matches. He went on to play every other game that year. The following season was only interrupted by a rare four match suspension having been sent off and he represented Yorkshire again that year.

Inevitably, the harsh realities of Rovers’ precarious economic situation bit again and Percy Morris was sold to Halifax. Useful utility forwards Luke Morgan and George Taylor took over the hooking role, but by Christmas 1934 Percy Morris was back at his local club and back in the number nine shirt. By then his old front row partner Ernie Barraclough had retired and he had a new open side prop to help him out in the scrums in the shape of Frank Hemmingway. Of course, Percy played every game that year and all 41 games the next. He played in fact 66 games straight after re-singing, short of his original run but still impressive. His record stood for decades until Matt Bramald broke it with 98 straight games between 1999 and 2001, and then Liam Finn took the record with 116 on the trot between 2010 and 2013.

Percy Morris’ final year was 1936/37 and when he quit in January 1937 he had played 209 out of 214 Featherstone Rovers matches with four games missed for suspension and one for county selection. What an incredible achievement of consistency and durability.

Thursday, 29 October 2015

Charlie "Pep" Hepworth

Perhaps more than any other position on the field, it is the role of the hooker that has changed most in rugby league over the years. Back in the day when the scrum was a vital battle for possession and unlimited tackles meant a side could hold onto the ball indefinitely, the hooker had a loud and clear primary function. To hook the ball. Without the ball from the scrum, a team was going nowhere and, as with other specialist positions in rugby league, the Featherstone area became adept at producing hookers of the highest quality.

When Rovers joined the Northern Union in 1921 it was on the back of some sensational form the club had produced as a junior club. Our hooker for the very first senior match we played was a popular character by the name of Charlie Hepworth, known to fans and his team-mates as Pep. He played his junior rugby at Sharlston, his home town and signed for Featherstone Rovers, then the biggest junior club in the district, at the end of World War One when competitive rugby started again. In his first season he shared the hooking duties with another Sharlston-born player Harry Dooler, but by the end of that first year the number nine jersey belonged to Pep. He held that position during our first four seasons as a senior club and he went on to make 163 first team appearances.

Wise observers know that every hooker worth his salt needs a couple of handy props to help him out in the front row battle against the opposition. Pep was well blessed in the support he received from two Rovers stalwarts. In the early twenties Ernie Barraclough was a promising young open side prop and John Willie Higson was a wily veteran who packed down at blindside prop. It made for a formidable and highly consistent front row formation.

After an injury to Pep Hepworth in 1926, he was challenged for his place by Charlie Flaherty (35 games), and also Joe Hall (31 games), who played in the 1928 Championship final team. Then Arthur Lorriman (81 games) became first choice hooker until the emergence of Percy Morris. Pep Hepworth played his last game on the 6th April 1929 in defeat at Bramley, and then retired.