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

Monday, 30 October 2017

Don Fox

Few players have the ability to reach the highest standards in rugby league in three quite different positions, but Don Fox was one such player. Well known as one of the best scrum-halves of his generation, Fox switched later in his career to the back of the pack with great success, and finished as a very effective front-rower.

Don Fox
Of course, it was in the number seven shirt that Don Fox was best remembered by Featherstone fans. His famous partnership with Joe Mullaney was a time of unparalleled success for the club. At various times, Fox had to see off challenges for his position from the likes of Roy Bell, Tommy Smales and Alan Marchant, all very good players. But from 1953 to his benefit year in 1963 Don reigned supreme at scrum-half.The following season however, Fox’s career entered a new phase. With another bright young half-back called Carl Dooler battling for a first team spot, Rovers’ new coach Johnny Malpass came up with the perfect solution. Dooler started at seven, and Don’s talents were to be employed among the forwards. So, for the first time in his career, on the 17th of September 1963 Fox switched to the pack and turned out at loose forward. Rovers enjoyed a good win against Leeds in the Yorkshire Cup that afternoon, and the new line up was cemented. With much of the organisation of the side now falling on Dooler’s shoulders, Fox revelled in his new role.

Up to this point, Fox’s outstanding talent had not been fairly reflected in the representative honours he had won. He had been capped three times by Yorkshire, and played twice for Great Britain in unofficial tests against France, and toured with Great Britain in 1962 without playing a test. Otherwise he had been largely overlooked throughout his career as a scrum-half.

Ironically, within two months of his switch to loose forward his representative luck changed. In November 1963 Fox finally made his official Great Britain debut against Australia, in the third Test of a series that Britain had already lost. Don was chosen at thirteen, with the scrum-half slot going to Tommy Smales, who had done well for himself after having been unable to shift Don from the Rovers first team years earlier. Smales and Fox inspired Britain to victory in a brutal game that day, but it was to be Don's one and only test cap. 

After two more good years at loose forward for Featherstone, vying for a place with the fit again Terry Clawson and other promising newcomer Arnie Morgan, Don called time on his Rovers career.When he signed for Wakefield in 1965, Don was Featherstone’s leading try, goal and points scorer. He played just 48 of his 368 games at loose forward, but certainly made an impact in that role. Over fifty years later his Rovers try scoring record of 162 still stands today. In 1968 Don Fox won the Lance Todd trophy in the infamous ‘Watersplash’ Challenge Cup final of 1968.  By then he was no longer a brilliant scrum half, nor a wily loose forward, but had converted himself into a top class prop.

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Colin Clifft

Colin Clifft
Born in Leeds, Colin Clifft started his rugby league career at Wakefield Trinity, where he stood out as a tallish, rangy, and difficult to tackle forward with good handling skills. When he was aged just 22 he won international honours when he was selected for England against France in 1956. This was just reward for the early promise his career had shown and he marked the occasion by grabbing a try. Colin then moved to Halifax where he played for a further three years. Despite being a consistent performer, that early England cap to be Colin’s last international honour, although he did play for Yorkshire whilst he was at Halifax.

In the summer of 1959 Rovers decided to do something about the embarrassment of riches the club had at scrum-half at that time. Don Fox got the nod as first choice number seven, and the talented Alan Marchant had to leave. Marchant was swopped for Halifax’s loose forward, Colin Clifft. On the face of it, Clifft, now aged 25, was an unlikely signing when he arrived at Post office Road. Rovers looked well blessed in the back row, especially at loose forward where both Cliff Lambert and young Terry Clawson employed their wide range of skills. However, canny coach Harold Moxon soon decided that, of the three players, it would be Clifft who would operate at loose forward and thus Lambert and Clawson both played second-row. There could be no greater testimony to Colin’s skills than that.

It quickly became apparent that Clifft was a tactically astute player and he revelled in the distribution role. He quickly settled into a very good team, although his first year ended prematurely with a shoulder injury just before an unsuccessful Challenge Cup semi-final. The following season was an excellent year as the potent triumvirate of Clawson, Lambert and Clifft caused all kinds of problems for opposition defences, offering, as they did, a variety of attacking options. In 1961/2 Rovers came to within a whisker of both the Challenge Cup final and Championship final, thwarted at the semi-final stage in both competitions by a powerful Wakefield team.

Clifft was our loose forward in the 1963 Yorkshire Cup final against his former club Halifax. However, Rovers turned in an awful show, and ex-Rover Alan Marchant lifted the trophy. Colin suffered a serious back injury in that game which finished his season. He then spent a year battling back to fitness, including a spell in the A team. Colin Clifft played his last first team match in October 1964 and in total played 118 games for Featherstone Rovers and scored 17 tries.

Monday, 23 October 2017

Terry Clawson

Terry Clawson
It was always going to take a very special kind of player to dislodge the legendary Cliff Lambert from the number thirteen jersey at Featherstone. However, local youngster Terry Clawson did just that. He started his Rovers career in 1957 and, although a very different type of player to Lambert, Terry established a reputation as an all-action, no-nonsense loose forward. Never afraid to take the ball to the line, Terry also displayed the hallmark skill of a good back-rower, the ability to handle the ball well. He also had a strong kicking game.

Clawson was a fixture in the Rovers team for five years, showing great consistency and fitness, and he turned into a regular points machine. In those five seasons his points returns showed 136, 256 (a new club record), 185, 263 (breaking his own record), and 188. Soon enough, his tough tackling and prodigious goal-kicking caught the attention of the international selectors. He made his Great Britain debut aged 21 against France in 1962, but within twelve months suffered a serious threat to his life when he contracted tuberculosis. He was sent to a sanitorium for a number of months to recuperate. When he came out he had lost a lot of weight and was in no shape for professional rugby.

However, after a full season out of the game, he bounced back and regained his place in the Rovers first team. He found form but failed to settle and within a few months had been sold to Bradford Northern. He stayed at Odsal for three years before moving on again. Thus began a nomadic journey through a wide variety of clubs which included Hull KR, Oldham, York and Wakefield before finishing at Hull FC in 1980. He even managed a spell as player-coach in South Newcastle, New South Wales. He won a total of 14 GB caps and kicked two goals in a famous British triumph in the 1972 World Cup final. He was also a Great Britain tourist in 1974.

Towards the end of his career Terry came back to Featherstone and had a spell as Rovers’ player-coach in 1978. When he selected both himself and his son Neil for a match at Workington in November 1978 they created possibly a unique moment in rugby league history of a father and son playing on the same side together. However, Rovers lost and it was Clawson’s last match in charge. During his swansong, he added to his impressive points and goals tallies. His record of 483 goals for Rovers in 215 games puts him seventh on Rovers all-time goal kicking list. His famous sense of humour and streetwise philosophy shone through his very entertaining autobiography, “All the Wrong Moves”.

Saturday, 21 October 2017

Cliff Lambert

Cliff Lambert
How important was the signing of young Cliff Lambert for Featherstone? From whichever angle you may care to consider the question, the answer is obvious and undoubted. After joing the club as a teenager, he went on to become one of the best players to ever wear the Featherstone shirt. He ticked the boxes for size, speed and skill, and was a dominant force in Rovers line-up throughout the 1950s.
Lambert started out as a professional in 1949 and, although the perfect build for loose forward, as a youngster looking for a chance, he grabbed a game wherever he could. He made his debut at centre and played a few more games in the three-quarters, even on the wing. It obviously took him a while to dislodge the more experienced Laurie Gant and Alan Sinclair from his preferred loose forward slot. At Wembley in 1952, though still relatively inexperienced, Lambert made his mark and from then on was impossible to dislodge from the Rovers team during the next decade.
Affectionately known to all Rovers fans as Slam Lambert, his solid frame and tough tackling was allied to a good footballing brain, but it was with the ball in his hands that he really showed his worth. He had a very useful dummy, speed off the mark, and clever hands to slip out a perfectly timed pass or flick a deft reverse pass at the base of the scrum.

Like other players of his generation Cliff’s achievements with Rovers were, to a certain extent, a question of what might have been, because after his early Wembley appearance he played in no fewer than four further Challenge Cup semi-finals (55, 58, 60 and 62, he missed 59 through injury) but never returned to Wembley. He did however pick up a Yorkshire Cup winners medal in 1959. That afternoon, Cliff scored a try playing second-row, after allowing youngster Terry Clawson to play loose forward. After 13 seasons in the Rovers team, and a well-earned benefit year in 1959/60, Lambert surprisingly left Rovers in the summer of 1962 and played for a short while at Hunslet before a shoulder injury finished his career.
Cliff Lambert's statistics are colossal. He played 376 games for the Rovers first team and his impressive tally of 82 tries stood for decades as the most ever by a forward at Featherstone until Peter Smith came along. He was inexplicably overlooked for the Hall of Fame until finally admitted in 2014. Ever the gentleman, he was a credit to his club during a long and distinguished career.

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 appeared for Dewsbury against Wigan in the 1947 Championship final. Arthur then linked up with his younger brother, Harry who moved to Crown Flatt from St.Helens in 1949. 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.