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

Saturday, 25 February 2017

John Newlove

John Newlove’s career had started as a very talented three-quarter, alternating between centre and wing with ease. Signed from Ackworth as a teenager, he swiftly made his mark in the first team, and within months of turning professional helped Rovers win a Challenge Cup semi-final against Leigh. He failed to make the team for the 1967 final at Wembley but history shows his time would come. By the time the club got back to the final six years later, John was club skipper and a typically stylish display saw him grab two tries as Rovers romped home against Bradford. He also skippered the side at Wembley the following year as Rovers failed to reproduce their best form against Warrington.

John Newlove, Wembley 1973
It was between those two finals that coach Fox experimented with the possibility of moving Newlove to stand-off. Although he was initially reluctant to adapt to this new role within the team, John grew naturally into the stand-off position, half-back partner to first Peter Banner then Dale Fennell as Rovers became a real power within the game. His intelligence and ability to read the game allowed John to have much more of an influence over the team than was possible at centre, and his eye for a gap and penchant for interceptions became hallmarks of his game.

Although he was a natural leader, John gave up the captaincy in 1975 and handed over the responsibility to Vince Farrar, believing it was negatively affecting his game. When it came to Rovers’ Championship year in 1977, it was a great disappointment that Newlove suffered an injury which kept him out of the side in the run in to securing the title. The following season John then enjoyed a well-earned benefit year, but soon after that he was recruited by a free-spending Hull FC side who were beginning to rebuild. He joined ex-Rovers Charlie Stone, Vince Farrar and Graham Bray at the Boulevard. With Jimmy Thompson and Keith Bridges having left for Bradford, this represented an enormous talent exodus from Post Office Road. It came as little surprise that Rovers were relegated the season Newlove left in 1979.

John Newlove played twelve seasons in the first team at Featherstone covering a mammoth 381 games, 124 of them at stand-off, and the rest as a three-quarter. His 147 tries still makes him Rovers’ second highest try scorer ever after Don Fox. His contribution to the club’s cause was not at an end however, as all three of his sons, Shaun, Paul and Richard all went on to represent Featherstone Rovers. Between them, father and sons, they played 650 games and scored 341 tries. Some record.

Sunday, 19 February 2017

Mel Mason

Mick Smith  had been Rovers’ first choice stand-off for five successful seasons when coach Laurie Gant decided to give young Dave Kellett a run at stand-off. Kellett was a quality player who looked a good all-round package, but his promising career was cut short by a knee injury. For his part, Mick Smith switched to the wing to great effect and spent most of the rest of his playing days in the three-quarters. Then Chris Harding signed from Otley Rugby Union and he showed some classy touches without really settling. Rovers then came up with another option as half-back partner for mercurial scrum-half Steve Nash.
Mel Mason with Peter Fox
Melvyn Mason made his debut October 1970 as a teenager at Headingley against Leeds. Rovers were hammered and the young debutant went straight back to the A team. There was to be no doubt as to the absolute class of this youngster though and before the end of that season he had a more extended run in the first team. From that point, Mason developed his game quickly and over the next three seasons, which were some of the most successful in the club’s history, he was first choice stand-off. Quick and elusive, he was capable of breaking the line with his side-step and body-swerve and he also had the handling skills to link with his three-quarter line. 
Playing alongside Nash and behind a formidable pack of forwards, Mason had the platform to show the fans the full range of his silky skills, no better evidenced than in the 1973 Challenge Cup final at Wembley. Nash picked up the Lance Todd Trophy for a superb display, but he was aided by Mason’s constant probings, which cut Bradford up that famous afternoon
Although never a prolific try scorer, he enjoyed his best afternoon in February 1973 with five tries in a match against Bramley. Disappointingly, the following year niggling injuries led to him being interchanged at number six with erstwhile centre and club skipper John Newlove. Although he started 25 games that season Mason missed out on many big fixtures, including the Wembley final, despite having played in the semi-final against Leigh. By the start of the 1974/75 season he was first choice again but when Peter Fox turned definitively to Newlove as his number one stand-off, Mel knew that his Featherstone days were numbered. The first club who came in for his services was Leeds and he signed for them for £6,000 in January 1975.  In total he played 121 games and scored 34 tries for Rovers. 
Within four months Mel had proved his worth once more, winning the prestigious Harry Sunderland medal for a man of the match performance in the 1975 Premiership final for Leeds against St. Helens. Injury interrupted his progress at Headingley and in 1977 he moved to Barrow. His six years at Barrow brought him county honours with Cumbria, and he finished his playing career with a couple of season at Whitehaven.

Saturday, 18 February 2017

Mick Smith

Ivor Lingard's surprising departure to Parramatta in Australia created another hole in the Rovers team. They found his successor in an unlikely place. A quick look at the number six shirt in the months following Lingard’s departure was a picture of a team who just didn’t know who to play there. Centres Jim Hunt, Peter Bell and Keith Cotton, as well as scrum-halves Carl Dooler and Colin Bates were all tried there. Rovers even had to turn to bringing legend Joe Mullaney out of semi-retirement to cover some games. Eventually the club went to Rossington near Doncaster, and plucked an eighteen year old out of the amateur game and threw him straight into the first team at Wigan in October 1964. Mick Smith’s Featherstone Rovers career was off and running. He held a mortgage on the stand-off position for the next five years, before switching equally successfully to the three-quarters. He struck up a good half-back partnership with first Carl Dooler and then a young Steve Nash.
Mick Smith
Any stand-off worth his salt will have great pace off the mark and a good sidestep. How good was Mick Smith’s? Well, the whole country used to get a weekly reminder as Mick scored a blinding try in the 1973 Cup final at Wembley and for years afterwards Grandstand used the clip of that try in its opening credits sequence. The sight of the diminutive Smith backing up Mel Mason’s break, stepping through the flat-footed Bradford defence and weaving his way over before jumping for joy remains one the iconic moments in Featherstone Rovers’ history.
That 73 final was the second of three Challenge Cup finals Mick Smith played for Rovers, having been stand-off in the 67 final and then centre in 74 against Warrington. He also added three Yorkshire Cup finals to his medal tally. Coupled with his steady defence, competitive spirit and infectious enthusiasm it’s easy to see just how Smith’s career took off. In 1968 he was given a short run on the wing and promptly shattered the club try scoring record by scoring six tries in a match against Doncaster. Although matched by Chris Bibb 21 years later, that record has never been beaten.
When Rovers wanted to try promising new half-back Dave Kellett in partnership with Steve Nash, Mick simply switched to centre as if he had been playing there all his life. His career total includes 129 games at centre, and a further 48 on the wing. Oddly enough his final game for Featherstone came at full-back in September 1976 filling in for Harold Box. After that, his eleven season spell at Post Office Road came to a close and he finished his career at Huddersfield. In total, Mick Smith played a colossal 373 games for Featherstone, which puts him 9th on our all-time list. His record of 114 tries puts him in 11th  position on the all-time try charts.

Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Ivor Lingard

Where could Featherstone Rovers look for a replacement for the incomparable Joe Mullaney in the number six jersey? The very same village that had produced Joe also produced his successor. Sharlston born Ivor Lingard was signed by Rovers in early 1961. Ivor was immediately faced with the same tough task as a number of talented half-backs had faced at Post Office Road since the early 1950s. How could he break into a Rovers team where Don Fox and Joe Mullaney had a mortgage on those all-important positions for years? The answer was slowly, but surely.

Ivor Lingard
Ivor made his debut within three months of signing for Featherstone, getting three matches to show his worth towards the end of the 1961/2 season as Mullaney was rested. He wasn’t the only player with his eye on that coveted stand-off spot. Roy Bell was another talented youngster hoping for a chance. The following year Lingard picked up more and more games as injuries took a toll on Mullaney’s magnificent career. Roy Bell was sold to Wakefield and by April 1962 Ivor was first choice at stand-off partnering Don Fox at half-back and was part of a team that went to within a whisker of Wembley, losing a tight semi-final to Wakefield. As Ivor had replaced Joe at stand-off, so Carl Dooler gradually replaced Don at scrum-half. Thus those two great Sharlston-born half-backs had been finally replaced by two great Sharlston-born half-backs. They seemed set to take Rovers forward throughout the sixties under new coach Johnny Malpass.
However, after three successful seasons, Ivor took the unprecedented step of emigrating to Australia in January 1964. Then, as in modern day rugby, only the biggest names in the British game could hope to make it at the top level in Australia. For example, James Graham, Sam Burgess, Gareth Ellis and Adrian Morley all made the grade. Plenty more very good British players didn’t make it. Ivor Lingard, some fifty years ago, was an unqualified success. He signed for Parramatta Eels in the NSW Premiership where he spent the rest of his career. In many ways Ivor was ahead of his time as it became very trendy during the 1970s for Aussie clubs to import British talent, with such as Mal Reilly, Tommy Bishop and Mick “Stevo” Stephenson heading out to Sydney.
During his six years in the first team, Ivor was a model of consistency, appearing in 90 games for Parramatta, scoring 20 tries. He was noted down under for his perfect execution of the “Cumberland Throw” tackle, a common enough technique in England, but quite unusual in Australia, the art of using the leg to simultaneously trip and wrestle a bigger opponent to the floor. In 1970 he was an ever present in the first team, playing all 22 games, but by 1972 had retired and started to coach the junior teams at Parramatta. He got as far as head coach for the U23s side in 1975.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Dick Allman

The thirties were a desperate time for Featherstone Rovers, no two ways about it. Despite the impressive conveyor belt of talent continuing to roll out players, this talent was sold on almost as quickly as it was produced. After Wilf Evans and George Johnson were sold, Allen Ward, Ray Hamer, Bill Hughes, George Morgan, Harold Moxon, Nelson Tennant and Cyril Pawson were all tried out at stand-off. When World War Two started, the RFL decided to abandon the Championship and set up a War Emergency League. Some clubs found the going so tough they packed in playing. Each year there were fewer and fewer teams and at the end of the war only 17 clubs were active.  Featherstone Rovers found the wherewithal to continue playing right through. The tenacity shown for decades in the face of financial strife had equipped the club well for difficult times. Perhaps Rovers were also lucky in that many players were, of course, coal-miners. Workers in essential services such as mining were not called up as frequently as was the case with other jobs, and so the disruption to the club’s personnel may not have been as great as other clubs. However, a considerable number of Rovers players did serve King and Country and throughout the period the club was regularly having players called-up for service. At least one former player, Matt Killingbeck, lost his life in the six year conflict.
Dick Allman
In September 1941 a local lad called Dick Allman made his debut against Keighley and bagged a try in his first game. He followed that with two more in the next game at Halifax and two more in the next at Bramley. If he had kept that rate up, he’d have been Rovers most prolific try scorer ever. As it was, he went on to become a very useful member of the Rovers backline for the next eight years. Originally signed as a centre, Allman played in the three-quarters that first year but the following season he had a run-out at stand-off. By the beginning of the 1943/4 year Dick was installed as first choice stand-off where he shone for the next five seasons, despite missing half a year injured in 1945/6. He made a total 164 games, 113 at stand-off and scored 32 tries. A serious ankle injury finally forced him to quit in 1949. Cyril Gilbertson had been signed from Dewsbury with a view to taking over from Allman, but he had to wait for an extended run in the team. After Dick’s retirement a number of players were tried at six, including Fred Church, Ken Brookes, Bob Jarvis, Stan Shaw and Ray Cording. The latter two both played stand-off in our Wembley year of 1951/2, Shaw in favour before Christmas, and converted winger Cording picked throughout our famous Cup run and in the final itself. The following year Johnny Heritage looked a very promising prospect before injury struck.

George Johnson, Wilf Evans, Ray Hamer

Billy Stott was sold to keep the club alive financially and Rovers had to find more local talent to fill the gaps in their rapidly depleting team. One youngster who stepped forward was Wilf Evans, the oldest of three brothers who started a family dynasty at Post Office Road. Wilf was a talented back who played mainly at stand-off but also at scrum-half during a productive eight year career spanning a total of 199 senior games with 29 tries. He formed notable halfback partnerships with Billy Hayes, Allen Ward and Ray Hamer. Wilf’s younger brother Joe was a scrum-half who made his debut in 1932 and went on to play 22 games over three seasons, most of them partnering his brother in the halves. Their youngest brother was another half-back. Ray Evans signed for Rovers in 1951 and played 73 games in four seasons before being sold to Rochdale. Ray’s son Barry also played as a scrum-half in the early seventies and Barry’s son Danny had a long career as a loose-forward at Featherstone and of course is our assistant coach today. 

George Johnson Junior
Another player who featured in the thirties was the son of Rovers’ founding father and club president. Despite his father controlling the club, George Johnson junior had to battle his way into the team the same as any other player. Fortunately he was good enough to dispel any hint of favouritism. On the field Rovers had a pretty grim time of it throughout the thirties, but Johnson did his best to lighten the gloom with some classy touches from stand-off. He played 103 games for Rovers, managing six tries and 50 goals. Ten of those goals came on the same day against Bradford in October 1931. That record tally stood 33 years until Don Fox beat it. In January 1935 George Johnson became one of the first British players to play rugby league in France when he was involved in a series of exhibition games playing for a British Empire XIII. As club captain in 1935 his portrait appeared on Ogden’s cigarette cards that year, a mark of fame in those days. Inevitably Rovers’ financial problems led him to be sold, and Hunslet came in with an offer where Johnson linked up with former Rovers team-mates Ernie Winter and Cyril Plenderleith.

Once Johnson had left, and Wilf Evans’ career with Featherstone was coming to an end, Rovers used Ray Hamer at stand-off as well as Bill Hughes and George Morgan. The latter, one of many players with that famous surname who have played for Featherstone over the years, actually played 42 games for us at stand-off but left very little trace in the history books. For a couple of seasons after the outbreak of the Second World War Hamer and future head coach Harold Moxon became a relatively stable half-back combination.

Friday, 10 February 2017

Billy Stott

Billy Stott in the colours of Broughton Rangers
Local youngster Billy Stott got the chance to fill Jimmy Williams’ shoes, and there can be no doubt that if he had stayed at Featherstone for a little longer in his career, he would have gone on to become one of the club’s great players too. Originally signed as a seventeen year old from our own junior set-up, Billy made his debut in March 1930. He had quick feet, good hands, a kicking game and a great step. He was obviously destined to become a very good stand-off indeed. Thrown straight into a struggling first team as a youngster presented no problems for Billy and he stood out as a future star. In his first full season he partnered the veteran Charlie Annable at half-back and managed 10 tries and 22 goals from 37 matches. The following season Rovers tried a new half-back combination with Wilf Evans partnering Billy Hayes. Billy simply slotted into the centres and continued to develop his game there. In the summer of 1933 after another successful season, Featherstone fans wondered how long they could onto the prize asset that Stott had become. Manchester giants Broughton Rangers moved in and offered Rovers a (then) mammoth £750 and our club was in no position to turn down that kind of money. No sooner had he left Featherstone than he was rewarded with his county cap, the first of seven appearances he made for Yorkshire.

Stott served Broughton well but as the 1930s came to a close they too had financial problems of their own and Billy was sold to Oldham to help balance the books. The story of the decline of professional RL in Manchester continued as they moved to Belle Vue, changing their name in the process. By 1955 the club was defunct. Billy continued to offer Oldham good service, and when the war was on he even found time to come back to his hometown team at Featherstone and play three games as a guest in 1940 and a further two more in 1944. Once the war was over, Billy made his final move, nearer home, when he left Oldham for Wakefield. Now in his 30s and after seventeen seasons in the game, Billy was destined to have his finest hour and write his name into the record books forever. Wakefield won through to the first post-war Challenge Cup final and faced Wigan at Wembley. Cometh the hour, cometh the man. Stott scored two tries, converted one of them and then landed a dramatic late penalty to win Trinity the Challenge Cup against the odds. He was named man of the match and was awarded the newly inaugurated Lance Todd Trophy. The list of great players who have won that honour since May 1946 is long and glorious, and there at the top is Featherstone born-and-bred Billy Stott.