Friday, 21 November 2014
Wednesday, 12 November 2014
Jimmy Bell, a stand-off, signed for Featherstone Rovers from junior rugby and made his debut against Hull KR in September 1937. With competition for the number six shirt from Ray Hamer and Bill Hughes, he was limited to just four appearances with the first team. Although his impact as a player wasn’t enormous, Jimmy’s lasting legacy to the Rovers’ cause came in the shape of his four sons, all of whom made the grade at Post Office Road. He was also club groundsman for a number of years.
Jimmy’s eldest son Roy, also a stand-off, was recruited from a fine vintage of junior players in 1957 at the same time as Terry Clawson and Malcolm Dixon. He made his debut against Doncaster in November that year, and marked the occasion with two tries. Over the next four seasons he challenged the incomparable Joe Mullaney for a place in the team, and managed 40 games and scored 15 tries. Inevitably he became frustrated with the lack of first team opportunities, and when he was sold to Wakefield in February 1961 Rovers received a then record fee of £3,000.
In March 1964 versatile half –back Peter Bell made his debut against Dewsbury, deputising for Ivor Lingard. He went on to play 23 games over the following four seasons. Two years later his brother John Bell, a centre, broke into the first team. John went on to play 20 senior games over five seasons from 1965 to 1970. Towards the end of the 1965/66 John and Peter played a few games together in the first team, with Peter at stand-off and John at centre.
In 1971, Jimmy’s youngest son Keith signed for Rovers. Initially a hooker, he was understudy to Keith Bridges, but he gradually established himself in a formidable pack as a ball-handling loose forward. Keith went on to become one of Rovers most faithful players, playing in an incredible 19 seasons. He was awarded a benefit season in 1984/5 which coincided unfortunately with the miners’ strike. His final tally of 417 games has been bettered by only three other players in the history of the club. With his crafty ball distribution, and useful drop goals (66 in his career)Keith played under a long succession of coaches, picking up Cup and championship winners medals along the way. After finishing at Rovers in 1990 he played a couple of years at Hunslet before hanging up his boots at the age of 39. Since then he has been involved with coaching at Featherstone Lions.
When Rovers became a senior club it was largely due to the depth and quality of the junior talent they had developed. Players such as Jim and Sid Denton, Jack Hirst and Jimmy Williams had helped the club sweep all before them in the years leading up to 1921. This continued as a senior club, and in their first season Rovers signed a resilient scrum-half called Joe Morgan. He made his debut on 7th December 1921 at Dewsbury and held the position 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 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 was alternating between stand-off and loose forward, and by the time of the famous championship final in 1928, Joe Morgan was Featherstone’s established number thirteen. 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, although unfortunately the records appear to show that he was never awarded the testimonial he obviously deserved.
In 1928, Rovers picked up Joe’s younger brother Tom, who made occasional first team appearances over three seasons (15 games in all), mostly deputising for his brother at loose forward. In 1929 youngest brother Luke also began his Featherstone career, making a name for himself as a tough scrummager in an uncompromising front row. And so it came to pass that all three brothers played together in the same Rovers line-up, the only brothers ever to achieve this feat. This happened for the first time on 8th of March 1930 at Huddersfield. Tommy Morgan was on the wing, Joe was at scrum-half filling in for the injured Charlie Annable, and Luke was at his preferred blindside prop position. They repeated this feat a few more times. After Joe had retired, Luke Morgan 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.
In the 1960s Arnie Morgan and Dennis Morgan played for Featherstone. In the 1970s we had front rower Mick Morgan, and more recently Jon Morgan, Dale Morgan and Gavin Morgan have all appeared in the blue and white. If you could help me establish what, if any, relationship these players had to each other, I’d be grateful.
Oliver Darlison was an uncompromising back-row forward who signed for Rovers in 1929, making his debut at home to Keighley in April 1929. In only his fourth senior game he took part in a memorable rout of Bradford Northern when Jack Hirst set a try scoring record for Rovers. The following year Darlison established himself in the first team, where he was a permanent fixture for four seasons until Rovers’ desperate financial situation forced him to be sold to Huddersfield. He made a total of 120 senior games for Featherstone, scoring eleven tries and kicking two goals, and formed part of a generation of locally produced talent that was sorely missed after being sold to rival clubs.
His younger brother Vic was give his first run out with the Rovers at loose forward towards the end of another poor year in 1935/36, when Rovers policy of selling players to survive really took a toll on the playing field. Vic Darlison was a hooker and though it appeared that Percy Morris had a mortgage on the number nine shirt it wasn’t long before young Darlison had ousted the old-timer and made it his. His Rovers career was all too brief spanning just 51 games, before being sold at the beginning of 1938/39. He went on to have a huge impact at Bradford Northern who were building a formidable team. They reached the war-time cup finals of 1944 and 1945 where Vic Darlison played alongside the likes of Eric Batten, Ernest Ward and prop Frank Whitcombe, all internationals. Vic had time in February 1945 to pop back to Featherstone to play a cheeky game for Rovers as a war-time guest player. He brought his mate Eric Batten with him who played on the wing and scored a try as Rovers beat Huddersfield 14-7. Well done lads! Two months later they were both running out for Bradford in the Cup final against Huddersfield, who had the last laugh and beat them. The seeds were sown then in 1944 for Eric Batten to come back to Featherstone more permanently after the war. Vic Darlison (and Eric) went to Wembley with the same Bradford team three years running from 1947 to 1949, where they were accompanied by another Featherstone born player Bill Leake, the Bradford fullback of the 1948 and 1949 finals. Five cup finals in all then for Darlison and three winners medals. After retiring, Vic kept in touch with his adopted club and was one of the former players on stage alongside Trevor Foster the night of an emotional meeting in March 1964 when Bradford Northern reformed after going bankrupt.
Although he never played for Featherstone, Billy Batten was quite simply one of the greatest three-quarters of all time. Born into mining stock at Kinsey, he became one of the first big stars of the Northern Union alongside such names as Albert Goldthorpe and Harold Wagstaff. Batten signed for Hunslet in 1906, and within two years had won every honour in the game. He was capped by Great Britain in the first ever Test series in 1908 as rugby league was being established in New Zealand and Australia, the very birth of international football. At the height of his powers Batten was a fearsome competitor, and a ferocious tackler who knew no fear. He was also an accomplished ball-handler and break-maker at centre, and a lethal finisher on the wing. Among his many talents was his trademark of hurdling over would-be tacklers. Well aware of his own worth, he was involved in the game’s first high profile transfer when he left Hunslet for Hull in 1913 for a record £600. Despite World War One interrupting his career, he won ten Great Britain caps, before playing out his days at Wakefield, then Castleford in 1927. He was an automatic entrant in the RFL’s Hall of Fame. His brothers Jim and Eddie also played the game.
Billy’s three sons, Eric, Bob, and Billy Jnr. all played RL professionally, but by far the most successful was Eric Batten. He signed professionally for Wakefield Trinity in 1933, and enjoyed fame and honours at Hunslet and Bradford, before in 1951 the Featherstone committee had the great foresight to appoint this thirty-six year old as player-coach. He nothing short of revolutionised the club. Previously Rovers had struggled along in the early post-war years in much the same way they had throughout the 1930s. Batten brought about a change in fortunes that would last well beyond the six years he spent as head coach. He was a fitness fanatic who quickly knocked a keen young Rovers team into shape. His finest hour at Featherstone was of course playing, and scoring a well-taken try, in the 1952 Challenge Cup final. It was incredibly the eighth cup final of Eric’s illustrious career, but Featherstone’s first. Batten played a total of 101 games for Featherstone, notching a prolific 60 tries, setting the tries in a season record in 1953. His career total of 443 tries has been bettered by only four men in the whole history of the sport (Brian Bevan, Billy Boston, Martin Offiah and Alf Ellaby). His name lived on at Post Office Road for many years in the form of the Eric Batten Suite in the clubhouse.
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 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 Bill Sherwood. By the time the war ended, Arthur Street had made the number thirteen shirt his own, with rugged defence and creative handling. Soon after the war was over, Arthur Street was sold to Dewsbury, having played 106 games for Featherstone Rovers and scored a very respectable 25 tries. It was to be far from his final contact with the club. After success at Dewsbury he moved to Doncaster for their first ever season as a senior club. Later he came back to Featherstone to be Harold Moxon’s assistant coach for six seasons between 1957 and 1963. He then joined the Rovers committee and served the club there for a number of years.
With his older brother at loose forward, Billy Street made his debut on 24th October 1942 at stand-off at Hull in a game Rovers lost 8-0. It was the third successive game in which Rovers had failed to score. The following week, with Billy at centre, we lost 3-0 to York, and then we lost 8-0 the week after that. Five straight games without a single point! It was with some relief that Rovers beat Oldham on 21 November 18-10 and Billy Street scored his first try for the club. He went on a total of 18 games for Featherstone and scored three tries, without ever fully establishing himself in the first team.
Rovers missed out on signing the youngest Street brother, despite him playing for Rovers junior side at the same time as his brothers were in the senior team. Harry Street was spotted by St. Helens scouts whilst playing in the Army, and signed for them in 1947. He moved to Dewsbury and linked up with his older sibling, Harry at loose forward and Arthur in the second-row. He was selected for the GB tour of Australia in 1950 and won four GB caps down under. He then starred for Wigan and Leeds before finally arriving at Post Office Road in February 1958 on a free transfer. He played just 12 games at Featherstone before retiring at the end of the season, but was involved in a great cup run that almost took Rovers back to Wembley. We lost an epic semi-final 8-2 to Workington. Harry, like Arthur, then went into coaching, enjoying success at Castleford among other clubs.
More than a few eyebrows were raised when, in the summer of 1983, the newly crowned Cup holders moved into the transfer market to fill the hole caused by a career-threatening injury to Ray Handscombe by signing veteran Castleford hooker Bob Spurr. We could have been excused for thinking that this would be nothing more than a stop-gap buy, but how wrong we were. He had had a long and successful career at our rivals, playing over 320 games and enjoying a benefit year. Bob then made his Rovers debut against his old club Castleford on 21st August 1983, and began an unbroken run in the number nine shirt that lasted until November 1984. He appeared in every single game in his first season, and his trademark ten yard dash from acting half-back and his tireless tackling soon became a feature. He played in 98 of Rovers 105 fixtures from 1983 to 1986. His total number of 108 appearances (5 off the bench) was testimony to his fitness and durability. He also managed to score 14 tries. His final game was at Fulham in October 1987.
Bob then moved to Bradford for a short time, where his retired after just two appearances. He then began coaching at local amateur level, and also Rovers’ own Academy team. It was from that team that his son Chris emerged through the ranks. Chris Spurr made his first team debut off the bench on 3rd October 1998 in France. That same game against Limoux in the Treize Tournoi saw the debut of Jamie Rooney. Chris’s first full game was on the wing in the return fixture against Limoux, an occasion he marked with two tries in a big 54-10 win. It wasn’t until 2002 however that Chris finally established himself in the first team, making one of the centre spots his own. At the end of that season he was surprisingly released. He moved on to Batley, York, and finally Doncaster where he has been for a number of years. He played a career total of 47 games for Featherstone, including nine as a sub, and managed a very reasonable 21 tries in that time.
Although he never played for Featherstone, Bob’s younger son Mark has also played rugby professionally at Castleford, and won representative honours at student level.