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

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Jamie Rooney

When we talk about players ‘coming through the ranks’, few players could have served a longer apprenticeship that Jamie Rooney. Match reports from Under 7s, Under 9s and Under11s featuring his name began to appear in Rovers match programmes from the early 1990s, and it was no surprise when he signed for his hometown club as a teenager. He was blooded in the post-season Treize Tournoi at the end of the 1998 season, and coach Kevin Hobbs had seen enough to know that young Jamie was capable of holding down a first team spot at 18 years old.

He made his league debut on 16th of May at Doncaster 1999, but he still had to dislodge the incumbent Paddy Handley from the number seven shirt. The arrival of Peter Roe saw Handley switch to stand-off, Rooney stayed at seven and what’s more took over the goal kicking from Stuart Dickens. He ended that first year with 9 tries and 72 goals from just 17 starts, a sign of things to come as far as his points scoring exploits were concerned. Jamie’s strengths lay in his distribution and kicking game, standing mostly at first receiver. He also knew when to drop the shoulder and ghost through the defensive line, as his try scoring record shows. In 2000 he racked up an impressive 331 points,  followed that with 311 the year after,  before leaving the best till last. In the 2002 season a long standing goal kicking record held by Steve Quinn was finally broken by Rooney who kicked 165 goals in the year. His 429 points was also a record, eclipsing Martin Pearson’s previous high of 391. In 118 Featherstone games he scored 66 tries, kicked 510 goals (4th on the all-time list) and 1,247 points (5th on the all-time list).
As one of the top talents at the club, indeed the whole league, his time with Rovers was regularly punctuated by speculation of interest from richer clubs. A proposed move to Widnes fell through, a trial spell at Castleford in 2001 was badly managed by coach Graham Steadman. He finally got a super league chance when he signed for Wakefield before the start of the 2003 season. He spent seven years at Belle Vue, racking up some impressive statistics and gaining international honours when he was selected for England to play France in 2003, and then again in 2006. From Wakefield he moved to Barrow, then Whitehaven, and very briefly back to Featherstone in 2014 before retiring.

Brett Daunt

Filling the shoes of a great player who has recently departed is never an easy task. The weight of expectation and onerous comparisons are inevitable, but Rovers had to face up to just that problem at the start of the 1992/93 season, and filled the void left by Deryck Fox with their first notable imported half-back.  Rovers found themselves back in the second division without their star scrum-half and captain, and without a coach either. Unusually for our club both vacancies were filled by Australians, as Steve Martin (ex-North Sydney) took over as coach and the club signed Brett Daunt from Brisbane Valleys (now Fortitude Valley Diehards) in the Queensland competition. The Valleys club most famous son was Wally Lewis, but Daunt arrived in England as a relatively unknown quantity.

Operating at a lower level gave him a gentler introduction than he could’ve expected in the top flight. Regardless of this,  it obviously took the side some time to adjust to life without Fox. Brett made his debut on 27th of September in a win against Carlisle. In the same game, Rovers other import that year Wayne Taeketa also debuted. Despite the previous year’s relegation, Rovers had a phenomenal team, with Bibb at the back, and a three-quarter line of Butt, Manning, Newlove and Simpson, which made mincemeat of opposition defences. From November to march Brett was part of a team which won a club record 14 consecutive league games. He didn’t lead the line in the way Fox did, but was an intelligent distributor and had a good short kicking game. He also had pace off the mark and backed up well, which brought him a number of tries. He first partnered Brendon Tuuta, then Martin Pearson, then Francis Maloney at half-back in his first year. By the time Rovers won the Championship Daunt had solidified his place in the team in his quiet unassuming manner. The year finished in tremendous fashion with Rovers winning the Premiership Trophy in front of a large crowd at Old Trafford.
Rovers enjoyed a reasonably successful return to the top flight, as the season started with Daunt and Maloney in cracking form as Wigan were crushed in an early league fixture. When Maloney was sold to Warrington, Daunt paired up again with the prolific Martin Pearson, and the Aussie must have been reasonably satisfied with his year’s work. But the sale of Paul Newlove had given Rovers the funds for big-money signings and in the summer of 1994 Daunt’s contract was not renewed and the scrum-half shirt went to Mark Aston, newly signed from Sheffield. Daunt went back to Queensland with the best wishes of the club for two years creditable work. He played a total of 61 games and scored 18 tries.

Deryck Fox

Before he’d even played a game, he was described by that sage observer Keith Goulding as a “Nash-Millward-Agar all rolled into one” and the truth is that Deryck Fox’s glittering career lived up to expectations. Whilst Rovers were basking in Wembley glory in the summer of 1983, Fox was part of an astonishingly successful BARLA Youth team that toured New Zealand under the coaching of Ken Everson. In that tour squad alongside Fox were Garry Schofield, Mike Ford, Roy Powell, Gary Divorty (Ross’s dad) among others. Deryck came off that tour and went virtually straight into the Rovers line-up. He quickly became a model of consistency, in both attack and defence,  and missed very few games in next nine seasons at the club. In only his second year as a professional he won his first Great Britain cap against France, and later played the full series against the 1985 Kiwis and 1986 Kangaroos.
For Rovers, he was our attacking lynchpin, with nearly all of the team’s distribution and kicking done through him. He innovated a number of moves, and perfected the art of the reverse cross-field grubber. He was also a phenomenal tackler, regularly top of the count alongside much bigger front-row forwards. He may have lacked a little pace, but he was a fitness fanatic which helped his all round contribution. He spent the summer of 1986 guesting for Western Suburbs in Australia and despite persistent rumours of richer clubs trying to sign him, he stuck with Rovers, even during relegation in 1987. He was inexplicably missed off the 1988 tour down under, but won a belated place on the 1992 tour. That year Rovers had been relegated again, and Fox finally decided to move on and he made a big money move to Bradford where we won back his international jersey and enjoyed three successful seasons. By the end of his career he had won 14 caps, as well as a number of starring roles for Yorkshire in the ‘War of the Roses’.
With the advent of super league, Fox moved back to Featherstone and his organisation and vision helped the club through a difficult transition phase from 1995 to 1997, though by then he was at the veteran stage. After being released by Rovers he had a spell as player-coach at Rochdale before finishing back where he started in the amateur game at Shaw Cross Sharks and Thornhill Trojans.
In total Fox played 353 games for Rovers (14th on the all-time list), managed 84 tries and kicked 436 goals (10th on the all-time list) for a grand total of 1,145 points (7th on the all-time list). In 2010 Deryck became the fourth scrum-half in our history to be elected to the Hall of Fame, following Don Fox, Steve Nash and Carl Dooler.

Saturday, 13 August 2011

Terry Hudson

Terry Hudson’s time at Featherstone was divided into two separate parts. It began with a battle for the scrum-half berth with a young Steve Nash and finished with a similar tussle with a young Deryck Fox, two highly-decorated, worthy rivals and team-mates. Tex made his Rovers debut in April 1969, immediately endearing himself to fans by scoring a match-winning try against Castleford. Such was the quality and consistency of Nash’s play that it was to be August 1970 before Hudson got an extended run in the team following a knee ligament injury to Nash. Once fit again, Nash slotted back into the first team, now coached by Peter Fox.

As a keen young half-back, once he had been given the taste of the action, Terry Hudson was hungry for more. The only solution was a transfer and Rovers received a sizeable £7,500 from Hull KR for his services in 1971. Hudson followed in a long line of very good scrum-halves forced by the sheer volume of available talent to leave the club to find first team football. After four years at Craven Park, he moved on to Wakefield, but after Rovers’ relegation in 1979, Paul Daley called Tex back home in September 1979. He helped Rovers to the Second Division title and back into the top flight.
Always keen and committed on defence, he had an eye for the long cut-out pass, and was a hard worker on the field, marshalling the troops. He was appointed club captain in 1982. At this point Rovers splashed out good money on Batley scrum-half Neil Pickerill and Hudson was switched to loose forward where he continued to oversee operations. Pickerill never settled and as Rovers famous Cup-winning run started in February 1983 Hudson was back at number seven and revelling in Rovers’ Cup success. Man of the match in the semi-final, Hudson played a pivotal role in the final. His planned move sent Hobbs over for the only first-half try, and a typical all-action display (with a ten minute sin-bin visit included) really disrupted the Hull team.  Job done, a few pleasantries exchanged with Joe Gormley, and then Tex Hudson had his hands on the Challenge Cup at Wembley!
The arrival of Deryck Fox saw Terry switch back to loose forward the following season and after 218 first team games he left Rovers for a second time in November 1984 to play out his days at Hunslet. It was not the end of his involvement at Rovers for during the reign of Australian coach Steve martin, Terry Hudson was his able and well-respected assistant.

Dale Fennell

Like many other players before and after him, Dale Fennell joined Featherstone Rovers with  an extra burden of responsibility on his shoulders. As the son of legendary full-back Jackie, his famous surname guaranteed that unfair comparisons would be made with his father. Nevertheless, Dale was quite a different player, and went on to make the most of his chances in a career that spanned five seasons and just under 100 games for the Rovers. Oh, and he won the Rugby League Championship too.
    Fennell made his debut as a teenager in August 1975 at St. Helens following an injury to Butler on the opening day of the season. When Peter Banner was signed as cover, Fennell went back to the reserves to bide his time. Within a year, Banner had left for Leeds and with Butler still injury plagued, Fennell grabbed his chance and stepped up. He played in the 1976 Yorkshire Cup final when Rovers lost a tight but entertaining game to Leeds 16-12. Fennell was up against his erstwhile team-mate Peter Banner on that day and came off second best, but as the season continued Rovers’ confidence grew and Fennell played a full part in that. A vital win over St. Helens in March gave league leaders Rovers the belief that they could hold on and win the title. Fennell was named man of the match as he scored one try and set up two others. In their final home game of the season, as Rovers paraded the Championship around Post Office Road, Dale started on the bench, but came on in the second half. The famous after-match photo shows Fennell wearing the base of the Championship trophy as a hat, as the team celebrated their amazing achievement. The following season he won representative honours when he was selected alongside team-mates Peter Smith and Steve Evans to play for Great Britain Under 24s against the 1978 Australian tourists.
    As that Championship team broke up with the likes of Thompson, Bridges, Newlove and Stone sold to other clubs, Fennell was left alongside players such as Smith, Box, Bell and Coventry to try and maintain the form shown in previous years. It wasn’t possible, but it was still a surprise to see Rovers relegated in 1979 just two seasons after being crowned Champions. Fennell started the season in the second division, but the signing of Terry Hudson indicated that he no longer figured in the club’s plans. He was snapped up by Wakefield where he spent two seasons before moving on to Bradford Northern. In 1986 Fennell moved back to Featherstone for a short spell to help out with the reserve team before retiring.

Phil Butler

Featherstone Rovers sold star scrum-half Steve Nash to glamour club Salford (those were the days!) in 1975 and needed a new number seven. They of course explored their junior options, but in the end felt the need to break their own transfer fee record in an attempt to find an adequate replacement. A nuggety style halfback and local lad, Phil Butler had made his debut for Rovers in October 1974, during a prolonged period of injury for Steve Nash. His pugnacious spirit and never-say-die attitude won Butler the respect of fans by now accustomed to the very best standards of half-back play. Phil played a total of 20 games in his first season. Once Nash had left, Butler was able to step up, but in the very first game of the new season a cruel shoulder injury put him out of action and put Rovers in a quandary. The shoulder was to plague Butler throughout his career, but in September 1975 Featherstone needed a solution to their problem.

The money received from Salford left Rovers relatively cashed up, an almost unique situation in the club’s history. Some of the money was therefore spent on Welsh international scrum-half Peter Banner, Salford’s erstwhile number seven before Nash’s arrival. Banner had played for Wales in the same 1975 World Cup tournament where Nash had played for England, and was undoubtedly talented. Eyebrows were raised at Rovers’ need, indeed one journalist described the idea of Featherstone Rovers buying in a scrum-half as ‘like carrying coals to Newcastle’. Club historian Irvin Saxton remarked that in the club’s entire history only Joe Kirkham (from Dewsbury in 1921) and Cyril Gilbertson (also from Dewsbury in 1948) had been brought in by the club from outside to play at seven. Banner never really settled at Post Office Road managing just 20 appearances in 1975/76 before transferring to Leeds. The main reason he never settled was Phil Butler regaining his fitness.

After tussling with Banner, it was youngster Dale Fennell who Butler faced as a rival for his place. Over the next three seasons they shared the honours, Butler’s chances being consistently hit by a series of injuries. After almost two full years out, he came back in 1981/82 to regain his first team spot from Terry Hudson, a real comeback tale. Inevitably though, injury struck again and he was forced to quit in 1982. In total he made 71 starts at scrum-half and played 78 games in total.

Undoubtedly Phil Butler’s finest hour was our Challenge Cup quarter-final against Leeds in 1976. Playing behind an awesome pack, Butler cut Leeds to shreds with a superb display. Rovers won a memorable encounter 33-7. The semi-final was well on the way to being another historic occasion for Rovers, 9-0 up at half-time against Widnes and Butler in fine fettle. A recurrence of that wretched shoulder injury forced him off, and a second-half collapse saw Rovers beaten 14-9 and denied Wembley in cruel fashion.

Wednesday, 6 July 2011

Steve Nash

How did they do it? Rovers went from having Don Fox at scrum-half, to Carl Dooler, and when Dooler was about to leave, yet another world-class scrum-half rolled straight off the production line. Whereas Fox and Dooler never received the international recognition their undoubted talents deserved, Steve Nash managed to establish himself as the top scrum-half in Britain for a number of seasons. His tally of 24 Great Britain caps at number seven is bettered only by Alex Murphy and Andy Gregory. Born in Post Office Road itself, Nash actually started out at stand-off in March 1967, but within a year was first choice scrum-half, a position he held until his transfer to Salford in the summer of 1975.

    If God was going to design the perfect scrum-half he might come up with somebody who looks a lot like Steve Nash. A little short in stature at 5ft 7ins, but deceptively strong, with real pace off the mark, a good passer and organiser, an excellent kicking game and that little bit of cheek that all scrum-halves should have. Steve Nash had the lot. His rise to the top of the game was rapid, gaining county and international honours for the first time in 1971. The 72/73 season was his best at Featherstone. In October he helped Great Britain to win the World Cup in France, thus becoming only the second ever Featherstone player (after Jimmy Thompson) to appear in a World Cup final. Then he took Rovers to second place in the league and to win the Challenge Cup final at Wembley, where he scooped the Lance Todd trophy (following in the footsteps of Carl Dooler, Don Fox and Billy Stott). His Wembley performance was vintage Nash, linking well with a skilful pack of forwards, always dangerous with the ball in hand, beating numerous men and putting team-mates into gaps. He chipped over a trademark drop-goal for good measure too.

The following year he played against the Kangaroo tourists, helped Rovers back to Wembley and starred on the 1974 GB Lions tour of Australia. His final year was somewhat injury hit, and after the World Cup in Australia and New Zealand in the summer of 1975 he was reluctantly sold to Salford. The £15,000 Rovers received may not sound much now, but at the time represented a world record fee! He had made 201 appearances for Rovers scoring 52 tries and 299 points. At Salford he played a further 271 games and wrote himself into the record books there, winning the Championship in his first season and playing in another World Cup final in 1977. He made his second Lions tour in 1979, and finally finished playing after a serious eye injury in 1984.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Carl Dooler

The tremendous conveyor belt of talent that had produced scrum-halves of the quality of Ray Evans, Tommy Smales and Don Fox in the fifties continued into the sixties. When Carl Dooler made his debut as a fresh-faced teenager in December 1960 he had ahead of him in the pecking order the international star Don Fox, a living legend at the club, who had over 200 first team games under his belt. Within three seasons Dooler had made the scrum-half jersey his own and Don Fox was operating at loose-forward.

A product of the prolific Sharlston nursery, Carl Dooler was limited in his first two years of senior rugby to filling in when Fox was injured. Despite this, he still did enough to impress the county selectors. In September 1962, with Fox sidelined, Dooler was picked as Yorkshire scrum-half against both Cumberland and Lancashire. This meant effectively that Rovers had the best two number sevens in Yorkshire on their books. When Fox was at full fitness he was still first choice though, and so Dooler played a few games at stand-off, although Ivor Lingard was competing for that position too. It was not until the arrival of Johnny Malpass as coach in 1963 that a solution to the problem of an abundance of half-backs was neatly resolved. Dooler was now the main man, Don slotted in at 13, and Carl enjoyed five unbroken seasons as the lynchpin of Rovers team. He suffered a setback in 1965 when the club sold both Don Fox and Terry Ramshaw which caused Carl to question the club’s ambition. An ensuing disagreement was settled and Carl was rewarded by being selected to tour Australia with Great Britain in the summer of 1966. Despite an exemplary tour, playing 15 matches, a test cap eluded him. He was a non-playing substitute for one test, but that was as close as he got.

The following domestic season Dooler played in two finals, and his fortunes in each couldn’t have been more contrasting. In the 1966 Yorkshire Cup final against Hull KR Dooler was unjustly sent-off for tripping and Rovers went down to a disappointing 25-12 defeat. Being found not guilty by the disciplinary panel was no consolation. However, a few months later at Wembley Dooler carried all before him with a lively display in the Challenge Cup final. Rovers won the Cup for the first time and Dooler landed the Lance Todd trophy.  By December though Carl was on the transfer list, unhappy with his terms. This gave a chance to another promising youngster called Steve Nash. Dooler meanwhile played his final game for Rovers in August 1968 and eventually got a transfer to Hull KR in January 1969, where his appearances were restricted by a back injury. He also played the odd game for both York and Batley before retiring in 1973. In all, he played 199 games for Featherstone and scored 62 tries.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Don Fox

Among the many distinguished players who have graced the number seven shirt, inevitably some names stand out above others. Don Fox achieved enough during his career at Featherstone to have a whole book about him, written by former club secretary Ron Bailey. As such, it would be difficult to do justice to his glittering career in one short article. By the time he left Post Office Road for Wakefield in 1965 Don was the club’s leading try, goal and points scorer. Over forty five years later, his try scoring record still stands today, and his points-scoring has been beaten only by Steve Quinn and Stuart Dickens.

Out of the wealth of scrum-half talent that Rovers produced at the beginning of the 1950s it was no surprise that Don Fox was to have the longest lasting impact on the club, given the amount of natural talent he was blessed with. He quickly struck up a famous partnership with Joe Mullaney, and the period in which they reigned supreme as Rovers’ half-backs was one of unparalleled and consistent success for the club. The great mystery was, of course, how that Harold-Moxon-coached team missed out on major honours, managing to lose an incredible five Challenge Cup semi-finals without ever reaching Wembley. Within three years of signing for Wakefield, Don achieved this dream, by which time he was no longer a scrum half, but had converted himself into a wily front-row forward, the most unlikely of positional switches, it has to be said.

Fox’s outstanding talent is not reflected in the representative honours he won. He was capped three times by Yorkshire, played twice for Great Britain in unofficial tests against France, but otherwise he was unluckily overlooked throughout the fifties, with club politics among the selection committee perhaps playing a part in his exclusion. Finally he was rewarded with a place on the 1962 Great Britain tour of Australia. Competing for the scrum-half berth with Alex Murphy, Fox was impressive enough in the warm-up games for the tour managers to consider putting Murphy to stand-off and starting with Don at seven. In the last match before the first Test, Fox injured his shoulder, missed the Test, and after another injury came home early, having played just five matches. It was to be another year before Don Fox made his belated Great Britain debut against the 1963 Australian tourists, in a dead rubber third Test of a series that Britain had already lost. Ironically Don was selected at loose-forward with the scrum-half slot going to another Featherstone lad, Tommy Smales, who had left Rovers some eight years earlier, having been unable to shift Don from the Rovers first team. Tommy and Don inspired Britain to victory that day, but it was to be Don's one and only test cap.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Max Greseque

Featherstone made a slow start to the 2004 season under coach Gary Price, and were outside the playoffs when champions-elect Leigh came to Post Office Road in July and inflicted an astonishing 75-20 defeat on the shell-shocked Rovers. The half-back situation was just one of a number of problems that Leigh exposed that afternoon. Having started the season with veteran Carl Briggs at seven and young Jon Presley at six, Price moved Presley to scrum-half and was using back-rower Richard Blakeway as a makeshift stand-off. Something needed to be done to salvage the season and with a two week break before the next fixture, Rovers took the bold step of bringing in promising French scrum-half Max Greseque. He was a young player who was attracting a lot of attention from top clubs despite never having played outside the domestic French competition. He was born in Perpignan and played for UTC where his father Ivan had also made a name for himself as an international scrum-half, and then as head coach and national coach after finishing playing. When Ivan left the coaching staff at UTC, Max moved to Pia Donkeys.

 Pia finished their season in June, and Greseque was free to join Featherstone. The signing immediately created a buzz about the town, following on from the tremendous impact Fred Banquet and Danny Divet had at the club in the early 1990s.  Max made his debut off the bench at Rochdale in July, but Rovers only managed a draw. His first start, which came the week after, brought two tries in a big win against Keighley, and set up the rest of the season. Rovers qualified for the playoffs in fifth place, and with Max calling the shots, we pulled off notable victories, 33-28 at Oldham and 19-18 at Hull KR, before falling one game short of the grand-final at Whitehaven. Greseque played 11 games in total , scoring three tries, and kicking 17 goals and 3 drop-goals, including the match-winner at Hull KR.

 His eye-catching performances turned Max into a hot property. The club tried hard to secure his services longer term, but with University studies to finish in France, his return was never likely to happen. Widely regarded as France’s number one scrum-half, many people assumed that the formation of the Catalan Dragons, who entered Super League in 2006, would lead to Max playing at the top level in England. It just never happened. Instead he played just a couple of games for Wakefield in 2007 without settling. In the domestic French competition he won successive League and Cup doubles for Pia in 2006 and 2007, and won 28 international caps for France.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

Tommy Smales

In the history of any club there are stories of players bought and sold, some bargains, some solid buys, some wastes of cash, and some filed under ‘the one that got away’. In the latter group Rovers still look back on the failure to capture the youngest Fox brother Neil as perhaps our biggest oversight, but there can be no doubt that the departure of young Tommy Smales, understandable though it was at the time, also turned out to be a serious misjudgement. Released by Rovers at 22, he went on to captain Great Britain, and was a major figure in world rugby league in the early sixties.

Tommy started out at Rovers in 1951 when Ray Evans held the number seven shirt, and it was Tommy’s aim to take it off him. Smales’ task was complicated by the presence of a goal-kicking young half-back by the name of Don Fox and by a hernia operation which set him back. By 1955 it became clear that the scrum-half berth was Fox’s and Tommy was limited to A team rugby, filling in when Fox had tonsillitis, and even playing as Fox’s half-back partner when Joe Mullaney was injured. At Christmas 1955 Smales reluctantly moved on to Huddersfield for a fee of £1,000, having played 35 first team games in four seasons at Post Office Road. At Fartown he won the Yorkshire Cup in 1957, but the zenith of his career was the year 1962. First, he captained Huddersfield at Wembley, scoring a try against a Neil-Fox-inspired Wakefield Trinity. Although Huddersfield lost, a week later the same two sides met in the Championship final, and this time Tommy led his side to victory. That Autumn he made his Great Britain debut at scrum-half against France, the first of his eight caps. In November 1963 Tommy Smales captained Great Britain against Australia, himself at scrum-half and his erstwhile nemesis Don Fox at loose-forward. Britain won 16-5 with a try from Fox.

In 1964 Smales moved to Odsal after eight years at Fartown, and won the 1965 Yorkshire Cup with Bradford. He finished playing in 1967 with a season in Australia for the North Sydney Bears. He had two spells as head coach of Rovers; from February to May 1976 taking over from Keith Goulding, and again from November 1978 to May 1979.

After playing and coaching, Tommy gained an excellent reputation as a physical conditioner and many international footballers, including Ellery Hanley, were regulars at the gym over the Travellers’ Rest pub where Tommy was landlord. In his entertaining autobiography ex-GB international prop and SKY pundit Barrie McDermott played tribute to the Tommy’s skills as a masseur and physiotherapist calling him “one of the greatest characters in the game”, and after naming him as the physio to his all-time Dream Time called him “a really nice bloke and a true rugby league man”.

Ray Evans

By the summer of 1951 Rovers had been in the top flight of Rugby League for some thirty years. They were no longer the ‘babes of the league’ and having struggled through the great depression of the thirties and the Second World War, they were looking to make a lasting impact at the top end of the table. The effects of the coaching regime of Eric Batten were beginning to be felt and a new breed of player was emerging at the club; young, fit and eager for success. Batten’s squad-building included the signings of Ray Cording and Willis Fawley (1950), Don Metcalfe and Ray Evans (1951), Jackie Fennell and Mick Clamp (1952), Don Fox and Joe Mullaney (1953).

Once his national service was over, young scrum-half Ray Evans was free to concentrate on his rugby. Born into the game like so many, Evans’ family connections were however more extensive than most. He was the youngest brother of Wilf and Joe Evans two famous names from Rovers’ teams of the 1930s. He was also the father of Barry Evans and grandfather of Danny Evans. Ray made a winning first team debut in August 1951 against Rochdale, an occasion he marked with a try. The incumbent scrum-half at the time was stalwart Jimmy Russell, but Batten’s insistence on youth and agility gave Evans his chance and how he took it. With victories over Rochdale, Batley, Wigan and Leigh the club went all the way to the Cup final at Wembley. There, with Evans directing traffic at number seven, Rovers came off second best to a classy Workington side, but Evans had the satisfaction of notching Rovers’ second try, becoming one of only ten players in the history of the club to have scored a try at Wembley. A shame then that the tremendous Pathe News clip of the game available to watch on Youtube doesn’t cover Evans’ late consolation effort. The clip is worth checking out anyway, wonderful images of a bygone era.

Having hit the heights at Wembley it may have appeared to young Ray that a long and successful career at Rovers awaited him. He could hardly have imagined the fierce competition that he was to face in the seasons ahead from future giants of the game such as Don Fox and Tommy Smales. In the summer of 1953 coach Batten had quite a dilemma on his hands. The 22 year old Evans was playing as well as ever, but the claims of Fox (aged 18) and Smales (21) were hard to ignore.  Evans found it increasingly difficult to maintain his first team slot and in September 1954 he bowed to the inevitable and accepted a transfer to Rochdale for the sum of £1,500. He later also served Hull K.R. with distinction. In total he played 73 games for Featherstone and scored 22 tries in three seasons.

Jimmy Russell

Shortly after the end of World War Two, Rovers lost a pair of fine scrum-halves in Harold Moxon and Jack Higgins. The former retired after being badly affected by a fatal accident to an opposing player, and the latter could no longer continue after being plagued by injuries. As so often seemed to happen though, a ready-made replacement was waiting in the wings. Larger than life, cocky and irrepressible, a slightly comic figure with his bow-legged gait, Jimmy Russell had all the ingredients that a scrum-half needs, and a cracking hairstyle to boot. Jimmy actually started out at the Rovers around the same time as both Moxon and Higgins. He made his debut in April 1939 but within months the war had started and his nascent career was put on hold for a full six years when he joined the Army. Once the war was over, Moxon and Higgins were well established at half-back and it was 1948 before Jimmy got an extended run in the first team. He made the number seven shirt his own for five years, despite a strong challenge from another talented scrum-half Cyril Gilbertson. He helped the team through a couple of very difficult seasons, with Rovers near the bottom of the league. The arrival of Eric Batten in the summer of 1951 changed the club’s fortunes, but it also proved to be the beginning of the end for Jimmy Russell. It was in fact Jimmy’s benefit year, an honour he shared with Jack Blackburn. Batten began to transform a team of also-rans into a very useful unit, and Russell started most games in the early part of the season. As the year wore on, Batten turned to an up and coming youngster fresh out of national service by the name of Ray Evans. It was Evans who got the nod on Rovers’ run to Wembley, and when he deputised for Evans in a midweek game before the final, Jimmy Russell was playing his final game for Featherstone Rovers.
As a player Jimmy was never afraid of trying something different and would often make individual plays capable of bamboozling both opponents and team-mates alike. With his unpredictability, great leg strength and unique running style he was a real handful for defences. His 128 games yielded a respectable return of 28 tries.

Harold Moxon

On the whole the 1930s were dark days for the Rovers, full of struggle for survival in harsh economic times between two world wars, but honest hard-workers such as Allen Ward and Ray Hamer did their best to hold the side together. Early in 1938 the club had the great fortune to pick up another local lad from the Girnhill Lane juniors. He also happened to be the local cobbler. Within two years of his debut, Moxon achieved what no scrum-half at the club had done before, helping Featherstone Rovers to win their first ever silverware as a senior club. In a hard fought Yorkshire Cup final, Moxon was up against the well-respected Herbert Goodfellow, Sharlston born and star of the Wakefield team. Tenacious defence, inspiring teamwork and flashes of ball-handling brilliance, the hallmarks of many famous Rovers victories, brought the Cup to Featherstone for the first of only two such wins in our history. The second time we won it in 1959, Harold Moxon was our coach.

Harold went on to play a total of 112 games for the club in a career which was curtailed first by the war (he missed three years), and then by a broken ankle he got from crashing into the railings surrounding the pitch. He finished playing not long after witnessing at close quarters a serious accident on the field involving Wakefield player Frank Townsend who tragically died hours after the game. Harold was understandably badly affected by the incident and quit playing just weeks later. He was replaced at scrum-half by Jack Higgins, another talented footballer who had started his career in the early 1940’s when Moxon was absent. With Jimmy Russell in the reserves waiting for his chance, Rovers really were blessed with talent at that time.
Of course, Moxon’s contribution to the club ended up going way beyond a stint as the club’s scrum-half. He will be remembered as one of our greatest ever coaches, taking charge of the side from  1957 to 1963. His 264 games in charge was bettered only by Peter Fox, and his winning percentage of 63.83% is the fourth best in the club’s history. It’s a great shame that such consistency and hard work was never rewarded with a visit to Wembley. In six seasons Rovers lost four Challenge Cup semi-finals and one quarter-final. It’s still a mystery how that team never made it to the final.

With his cobbler’s shop that he ran with his brother on George Street, Moxon was part of another long tradition of links between the club’s players and local businesses. The whole story started with ale wholesaler George Johnson setting up Featherstone Rovers in 1902. Later, former wingman Ralph Asquith had a butcher’s shop on Station Lane for many years, as did Joe Hoyle. Another scrum-half Tommy Smales ran the Traveller’s Rest pub for many years and former chairman Bob Jackson had a radio rental shop.

Charlie Annable

When Rovers first joined the Northern Union in 1921 experienced campaigner Joe Kirkham was signed from Dewsbury to fill the vital scrum-half role. It would only be a matter of time however before Rovers began to develop their own talent in this position.

What would you say is the sign of a club’s most popular player in this day and age? Perhaps the number of replica jerseys you can spot amongst the crowd with his name or number on the back? Or the number of times he appears on the front cover of the matchday magazine? Back in the 1920s there was no club shop selling shirts and programmes were no more than flimsy team-sheets, but the fans’ idol would undoubtedly appear on a cigarette card. These stylish and highly collectable cards usually featured one player from every club in a set. Kids would trade and collect them, presumably at the expense of the health of their dads and uncles. Lord only knows how much damage they had to do to their lungs to get the full set. In 1926, Ogden’s cards picked out young scrum-half Charlie Annable in only his third season as a professional as our top player, and therefore cigarette card model. The boyish good looks and the rakish side parting were quite the fashion at the time. The pen portrait on the back of the card reads: “Charlie Annable has demonstrated to his club the value of local talent. He was born at Alverthorpe in Yorkshire, and as a youth he has time for development. He is an unorthodox worker of a scrum, for he is not merely content to get the ball but he kicks to touch to advantage, and at other times bursts round to receive a reverse pass. Though on the small side everything points to his receiving county honours.” Prophetic words indeed as Charlie went on to face the 1929 Australian tourists in Yorkshire’s colours, one of two county caps he won. He was unlucky not to win more representative honours, but at that time Wakefield Trinity had Sharlston-born superstar Jonty Parkin in their ranks.

Having arrived in 1924, Annable quickly set about making the scrum-half role his own for a number of years. In seven seasons in Rovers’ first team he played 196 games, though perhaps his biggest disappointment was breaking his collarbone in November 1927 which kept him out of the side’s marvellous run all the way to the Championship final. Jimmy Rudd filled in at ably scrum-half while Charlie was on the sidelines.

As so often happened throughout the club’s history there came a time when the committee felt they had to cash in on their talent and Annable was sold to Castleford for £400 in 1931. It was left to Wilf Evans and William Hayes to fill in the number seven shirt,  before the emergence in the mid 1930s of Allen Ward.

Joe Kirkham

Perhaps more than for any other position in the team, Featherstone Rovers has enjoyed an outstanding reputation for scrum-half talent throughout the history of Rugby League. On the 6th of June 1921, George Johnson local off-licence owners and chairman of the junior rugby team Featherstone Rovers went off to a meeting of the Northern Union (as it was then still called) in Manchester, accompanied by the club secretary George Brearley and Ackton Hall Colliery manager JW McTrusty, to apply to join the big boys. Rovers' application was based on an outstanding record in junior rugby, winning numerous cups and leagues every year since the end of the war in 1918. The club feared they would stagnate unless they had the chance to test themselves against the best. Rovers were duly voted in unanimously and played their first ever senior game against Bradford on 27th of August 1921. Hopefully the 90th anniversary of those two famous dates will be marked by the club later this year.

As befits a club who would become famous throughout the league for its production of players, it was largely local lads who turned out for Rovers in their first year, but the couple of signings they chose to make were telling. Prop John Willie Higson, a local lad who had played for Rovers way back in 1906 came back in the twilight of his illustrious career to add much needed nous to the pack. The committee then decided the precious little money they had would be spent on a scrum half and splashed out on experienced campaigner Joe Kirkham from Dewsbury. That first match at Odsal saw Kirkham paired at half-back with Jimmy Williams. Kirkham grabbed a debut try, Rovers won 17-3 and life in the Northern Union was off to a great start.

Later in that inaugural season Rovers tried out local new boy Joe Morgan at scrum half, with Kirkham shipped out to the wing, where he finished the year top try scorer with 11 of Rovers’ 64 tries. Kirkham was moved back to scrum half in 1922 and ended up with a career total of 69 games, scoring a very respectable 30 tries. His final match in 1923 coincided with the arrival of another promising local half-back Jimmy Rudd, who went on to enjoy lasting fame with Dewsbury. Rudd though played much of his Featherstone rugby at stand-off and the club had to look again for new scrum-half talent. Sure enough they found it in the shape of next time’s “Number Seven Dream”, Charlie Annable.