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

Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Arthur Street

Arthur Street
Arthur Street signed for Featherstone Rovers in 1940 from Glasshoughton, and became the first of three brothers from that village to play in the Rovers first team. Times were obviously hard at Post Office Road with a war on, but young Arthur soon made his mark. His debut came on 9th November 1940 in a 6-0 loss at Hull, taking the loose forward shirt from established star player Bill Sherwood. He had a reputation as a youngster to ‘lose control’ from time to time, but he developed into an intelligent player and key part of the team. In 1943 he finished top of the club’s try scoring list albeit with a modest total of eight tries. It was during that season that Arthur’s younger brother Billy Street broke into the Rovers first team. Billy went on a total of 18 games for Featherstone and scored three tries, without ever fully establishing himself in the first team. Arthur and Billy had a younger brother Harry who played for Rovers junior side at the same time as his brothers were in the senior team. For once though Rovers missed out when Harry Street was spotted by St. Helens and signed for them in 1947.

By the time the war ended, Arthur had made the number thirteen shirt his own, with rugged defence and creative handling. Soon after though, he was sold to Dewsbury, with money once again the reason for his departure. The £350 Rovers received would keep the club afloat for a few more weeks. So Street departed, having played 106 games for Featherstone Rovers and scored a very respectable 25 tries. However, it was to be far from his final contact with the club. He enjoyed great success at Crown Flatt where he linked up with his younger brother, Harry and they appeared for Dewsbury against Wigan in the 1947 Championship final. Towards the end of his playing career Arthur moved onto Doncaster for what was their first ever season as a senior club in 1951/2. After a few games at Wakefield the following year he retired from playing.

Later Arthur Street came back to Featherstone to be Harold Moxon’s assistant coach. This period was the first real Golden Age of Featherstone rugby, and of course as A team chief Street played his part in the development of a very talented generation of star players. During Arthur’s first year in coaching, his brother Harry arrived at Post Office Road to finish his long and distinguished career. After six seasons coaching the A team, he then joined the Rovers committee in 1963 and served the club further for a number of years.

Sunday, 15 October 2017

Bill Sherwood

Bill Sherwood
When Bill Sherwood arrived at Post Office Road it was the beginning of a relationship with Featherstone Rovers that covered many years in different capacities, with spells as a player, as a coach and as a committee man. Although born in Castleford, Bill had signed for Bradford Northern as a youngster where he operated mostly at stand-off. However, from the start of his time at Rovers he played at loose forward. The 1930s were tough times for our club, which was still struggling from the retirement of the likes of Jack Hirst and the Denton brothers. Any promising young players coming through were quickly sold to pay the bills. In his role as pack leader and goal kicker, Sherwood had to take on the responsibility of holding the whole team together. It wasn’t until 1937 when Abraham Bullock became president that this sell-sell-sell policy was eased to allow some good players to stay at the club. Within three years, Rovers had tangible success to show for it. It was the highlight of Sherwood’s playing career when Rovers reached the 1940 Yorkshire Cup Final. He kicked three goals as Rovers beat Wakefield 12-9 to claim their first piece of silverware in senior rugby. Bill played on during the difficult war period and his final playing record was 205 games, scoring 571 points from 33 tries and 236 goals. This figure now leaves him 15th on Rovers’ all-time goal list, but at the time when he finished he was second only to Jim Denton.

Bill retired in November 1945, and was offered the job of team trainer. When he took over the responsibility for coaching, the post was very different to today. Featherstone, like many other clubs, had a selection committee, so the team line up was decided in the boardroom, not on the training field. Sherwood’s responsibilities lay with fitness and conditioning and to a certain extent playing tactics, although the players themselves would have a big say in how they organised themselves on the field. Bill Sherwood enjoyed only a 33% success rate as Rovers coach in the immediate post-war years, as Rovers once again struggled to hold onto and develop local players sufficiently to make a competitive team. Indeed, Sherwood was replaced for a season in 1947, but returned the following year when results had not improved. When Rovers went for another coach again in 1951, Bill Sherwood was co-opted onto the committee where he served for a number of years.

Saturday, 7 October 2017

Joe Morgan

Joe Morgan

In their very first season in the NU Rovers signed a local scrum-half called Joe Morgan. He made his debut on 7th December 1921 at Dewsbury and held his place in the team for the rest of the season. Rovers had begun the campaign with star signing Joe Kirkham at scrum-half, but he was moved out to the wing to accommodate this impressive newcomer. The following year, Kirkham was back at scum-half, but the versatile young Morgan slotted in at centre. In his third season Joe’s career was interrupted by an accident at the pit, and he faced a long layoff with a back injury. When he came back into the team, he alternated between stand-off and loose forward, and by the time of our famous Championship final in 1928, Joe Morgan had found his best position and was firmly established as Featherstone’s loose forward. This was the position he would hold with distinction until he retired in 1932. He played a grand total of 247 games (and scored 19 tries) for Featherstone over twelve seasons. Unfortunately, the club records appear to show that he was never awarded the testimonial he obviously deserved. Joe’s total of 134 matches as loose forward was the 4th highest in the club’s history, with only Cliff Lambert, Bill Sherwood and Keith Bell playing more games for Rovers at number thirteen. 

From 1928, Joe’s younger brother Tom Morgan made occasional first team appearances over three seasons (15 games in all), mostly deputising for his brother at loose forward. Then, their youngest brother Luke Morgan also began his Featherstone career, making a name for himself as a tough scrummager in an uncompromising front row. Before long, all three brothers played together in the same Rovers line-up, the only family ever to achieve this feat at Featherstone. After Joe had retired, Luke continued as a mainstay of the first team until injury forced his retirement in 1935 after 167 games in the Rovers engine room. This brought an end to a fourteen year contribution from the three brothers, which yielded 429 appearances between them.

Thursday, 13 July 2017

Vince Farrar, 1947-2017, Rest in Peace

Born in 1947, Vince Farrar made his Featherstone Rovers debut in 1965 and started his career as a hooker, competing for a spot with Milan Kosanovic and Graham Harris. When he wasn’t hooking, Farrar often played at loose forward, where his natural handling ability was put to good use. In 1971, with Keith Bridges at hooker, the departure of Mal Dixon left a space at prop which Vince filled ably. He remained a prop forward for the rest of his career.

Once he was established in the first team, it was not long before he won county honours, and after making his debut in 1971 he played for Yorkshire eight times during his career. He suffered a setback in 1972 when he had a serious knee injury, which fortunately cleared up in time one of the biggest days of his career, the 1973 Challenge Cup final at Wembley. A vintage performance was capped by an iconic try as he crashed over the line in fine style. He remained an automatic first choice pick when fit, and his hard work and courage was always an inspiration to his team-mates. In the summer of 1974 he had a brief spell in Australia with the Cronulla Sharks.

By the summer of 1975 Farrar was back to full fitness, and a regular over the next three years at blindside prop alongside Bridges and erstwhile second-rower Jimmy Thompson. For two glorious seasons the Thompson-Bridges-Farrar front-row combination took Rovers to our best ever years in the league. Featherstone finished second in 1976, which was Vince’s benefit season after ten years’ service to the club. Then in 1977 came Vince’s proudest moment as a player, captain of his home-town team as they lifted the game’s biggest prize, the Rugby League Championship, for the first and only time in our history. He played a total of 309 games for Featherstone Rovers.

This awesome pack of forwards was sold off too quickly, and Farrar himself joined Hull in November 1977. He went on to great things for his new club, gaining international recognition whilst at the Boulevard. He won a Great Britain cap when Peter Fox selected him for his country against Australia in November 1978. At 31 years of age, he was surely one of the oldest ever Great Britain debutants. He also played for Hull in the 1980 Challenge Cup final.

When Featherstone Rovers first team coach Paul Daley resigned in January 1981 Vince Farrar came back to Post Office Road for his first senior coaching role. Such had been the turnover of players in the four years he had been away that only a few of Vince’s old team-mates remained at Featherstone. His initial brief was to keep Featherstone in the top flight, and to try and break a losing run of matches. Despite taking Rovers to the Cup quarter-finals, the side didn’t win their first league fixture under Farrar until 29th of March against Salford. Featherstone did just enough to stay up in the end finishing just two points ahead of relegated Halifax.

The following year, 1981/82, Rovers finished 10th, despite winning only 12 of their 30 fixtures. 1982/83 started with high hopes but Rovers won just four of their opening 12 fixtures and inevitably it is the coach who pays the price in these circumstances and after a heavy 45-0 defeat at Wigan Vince Farrar was sacked in November 1982. Within a few months the side he coached would go on to prove just how well they could play on Rugby League’s biggest stage. Vince Farrar coached Featherstone Rovers for a total of 65 games, all of them in the First Division.

Two years later there came the surprising move of taking up playing again when the brand new Sheffield Eagles team was formed in the summer of 1984. Vince proved what a genuine rugby league man he is by playing 22 games that year at the age of 37 and making a lot of new friends at the fledgling club with his whole-hearted attitude.

He continued to be a popular figure in the game for the rest of his life, well loved and respected by everyone at Featherstone Rovers and throughout the game.

Rest in Peace. 

POST-SCRIPT. Vince Farrar’s testimonial brochure was printed by Featherstone Rovers in April 1976. In it, well-respected journalist Joe Humphrys of the Daily Mirror wrote the following:

“Rugby League footballers come in all shapes and sizes. Some are thick-set and short; others long-haired and lanky. Then there are those only too anxious to play their hearts out for the love of the game, contrasting with the ‘grabbers’ who believe the game owes them a living. And of course, there are the hot heads; players who don’t seem to be able to control their tempers and go seeking trouble in almost every tackle. They are all in a cross-section of Rugby League players.

But it is the home-spun players of the calibre of Vince Farrar, that ‘iron man’ of Featherstone Rovers, who form the real backbone of the sport.

Vince has always been the same. A sound, down-to-earth, hard-working, reliable player any coach would be glad to have in his pack - and one of the toughest. A player who has never set out to grab the headlines other than by his unstinting efforts on the field - and one whom I regard as unlucky not to have caught the eyes of the (international) selectors more often.

Vince cannot look back on a string of international appearances; injuries have plagued him at the wrong time. But a player who never complains, he has always played the game the way it was meant to be played…… asking for no quarter and giving none.

Yes, Rugby League footballers come in all shapes and sizes, but few like Vince. He’s the best of a kind.”

Saturday, 22 April 2017

Andy Kain

       After losing promising local star Richard Whiting to Hull after only a handful of first team games, Rovers used youngster John Presley at stand-off for the 2004 campaign. He was more of a scrum-half but played at six quite capably before he moved onto a long and successful career at Sheffield, Keighley and then York. We also used Richard Blakeway, essentially a loose forward but with the distribution and kicking skills to do a good job for us in the halves. Australian import Josh Weedon arrived from Queanbeyan, staying with us for two seasons, and the much travelled Dom Brambani also played briefly at Rovers between spells for Dewsbury and Sheffield.

Andy Kain
      After our relegation into the third tier of rugby league for the first time ever in 2005, Rovers had Paul Handforth at scrum half organising and kicking, and needed a pacy livewire sort of player to complement him at stand-off. Castleford-born Andy Kain was playing for Widnes and he fit the bill perfectly. He slotted straight into Rovers team in June 2007 and scored some vital tries in our promotion push. With two tries on his debut in a defeat at Celtic Crusaders, Kain played all sixteen remaining games including the playoff final victory against Oldham at Headingley. Back in the Championship he was first choice stand-off throughout 2008, his pace and willingness to back up making him a regular scorer. For 2009 new coach Daryl Powell brought in both Kyle Briggs and Iestyn Harris as pivots, so Kain moved equally successfully to scrum-half, and notched a more than respectable seventeen tries that year playing essentially the same role he had in the number six shirt.

      When Rovers signed Liam Finn to partner Briggs for the 2010 season, Kain started most of that year on the bench, being used as interchange hooker where he adapted to the increased defensive duties of tackling in the middle of the park very well, whilst continuing his eye for the try-line. That year brought him twelve tries. When Briggs left for Bradford, Kain & Finn became a half-back fixture at Rovers throughout three very successful seasons, and Andy continued to rack up the tries at a phenomenal rate. His record of 30 tries in the 2012 season was in fact the fourth highest ever for Rovers by any player in a season, behind only Newlove (48) Simpson (34) and Woolford (31). After the departure of Liam Finn, Andy continued for one more year at Rovers partnering Gareth Moore at half-back throughout 2014. He reached his fourth Championship Grand final in five seasons, a record matched by only Ian Hardman and Tim Spears.

     At the end of the 2014 season after 210 first team matches and 128 career tries over eight seasons, Andy Kain moved first to Hunslet, then to Dewsbury. His try tally leaves him fourth on the all-time list behind Don Fox (162) John Newlove (147) and Jim Denton (129).