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

Thursday, 18 April 2013

The Story of Wembley 1983. Part XI

There has been a lot of positive feedback to this series, both on facebook and the Rovers forum. Many fans have shared their own experience and memories of this great occasion, a selection of which are reproduced here:

Terry Mullaney
I was lucky enough to be involved back in 83 and we left Fev on the Wednesday for team HQ in Watford at a Police Training College which had superb facilities for the players. There were many great memories from those few days leading up to the final but the one which sticks in my mind more than any other was from the eve of the big game. The players had gone to bed early and there were just a few of us left in the bar anticipating the mammoth task facing the Rovers. If I'm honest I didn't think we'd a chance of winning and I remember saying to Sammy Windmill, our assistant coach..... 'How can we possibly win tomorrow Sam?' His response was... 'if we don't win I'll show my backside all the way up Station Lane' I was totally taken aback at his absolute positivity on what appeared to be a no hope situation. How right Sam was proved to be and the phenomenal achievement of the following day will live forever in the memories of all RL fans who were lucky enough to witness the greatest RL Cup Final upset of all time. What a fantastic group of players, all from the Featherstone area except our adopted son, Steve Quinn and what a coaching team of Sammy, Keith Goulding and head coach, Allan Agar. To this day Allan remains a good friend but much more than that he's a true Rovers legend in my eyes for what he achieved that famous day. Once in a lifetime stuff.

Mick Bourke
Peter Smith, tackled Norton out of the match stopped everything in a black n white shirt. He was my M.O.M.

Andy Knight
My first season supporting Fev - lived in Kendal at the time and my dad arranged for the whole family to go to Wembley to see the game; we went down Friday so I got a day off school which was a bonus. Memories are of the journey down; loads of cars and coaches with blue and white & black and white; stopping at Watford Gap services and buying a fev scarf and blue and white peaked hat - still got the scarf but looked like honkey tonk from Dick Emery show in the hat so got rid of that soon after! Being stood on the terraces at the tunnel end as the players came out and being amazed by the noise the fans generated - since watched it back on TV and can hardly hear us but when you were in the middle of it then sounded very loud. Remember Dave Hobbs try in the corner, John Gilbert getting taken off after a late tackle and the ginger wizard Tex Hudson bossing the show; and finally, that kick by Stevie Quinn to make it Fev 14 - Hull 12. What a day and what a journey back up North. As I say my first year of supporting Fev so I thought we got to Wembley every year and certainly did not comprehend the enormity of what this little pit village team had achieved against the big spending city club. And from there my 30 year love affair with the Rovers began.

Janet Jennings
We were such underdogs nobody gave us a chance in the media."It will be a nice day out for the Fev fans" they said. Little did they know that I dreamt the week before Wembley that Pete Smith held up the Challenge Cup to the cheers and shouts of the Fev faithfull. What a day we had, going down on the train and then the next day going to welcome the team back crowds lining the streets all the way from Pontefract. It absolutely howled it down with rain but nobody cared...... Such amazing memories.

John Dyson
Well done Mark this blog has taken me back to such a wonderful cup run I remember the Hull supporters giving us congratulations as we came out of Wembley what good sports we even ended up staying in the same hotel as the players needless to say a good night was had by all.

Joanne Fitzpatrick
That day was one of the best and most memorable days of my life!

Alan Bedworth
This was the first and only time my Dad had been to Wembley, we had one great day.

Nigel Harper
I was gutted cos I couldn’t see em off in Station lane as I was delivering in Ponte, but I was on my way up Ackworth rd in Ponte and the team bus went by me and I couldn’t believe it, players waving (cos we knew them ALL in those days) - I just knew there and then we’d win, what memories !

Andrew Vause.
I was 16 and my mate was 15. He'd only started going about 2 months earlier and at that point had never seen Rovers lose. So he was a bit of a lucky charm. I stopped at his house the night before and I remember not daring to sleep too heavily (not that that was going to be possible anyway with the impending excitement) and setting 3 alarm clocks such that we didn't sleep in and miss Mrs. Thorpe's bus from Ponte. Sure enough we were up in time and waiting for the bus at Stringer's petrol station in Pontefract. 8.00 am already a fag and a can of bitter on, although me and my mate decided to take it steady as we wanted to savour every moment of the day. I remember we'd just got to Newark and one of the supporters Kersh, with his halved Blue and White face asking Ann if we could stop. We did and it was about 20 privates on parade on the hard shoulder as the Bitter etc had kicked in. I remember getting to Leicester Forest and there was a coach full of Derby County fans who'd wished us well until my mate, whose only available blue and white scarf was a Leicester City one showing it to them as our coach left, the well wishing turning to two digit salutes. The grey weather turning to sunshine as we got toward Peterborough. Then the unthinkable happened!!!! Gearbox crunch. We were broken down, we were going to miss the final after all. As luck would have it we got a replacement coach and thankfully we made it with about half an hour to go. Seeing Wembley for my first and only time. Thinking it was a bit scruffier than I'd have imagined on the exterior. On entering the field the green hallowed turf. The band and Todd Carty who played Tucker Jenkins in Grange Hill coming to our end with his thumbs up. Going wild when Hobbsy scored after a few minutes, thinking this is beyond our wildest dreams. Lee Crooks missing a straightforward penalty just in front of us. Going to the toilet and hearing a huge boo, only on returning to learn that Gilbert our star man had been carried off. Seeing all the cameras in the Hull crowd flashing as Lee Crooks took a conversion. Thinking, as Mark said at 12-5 down that that was it. I still had my Catholic faith in those days and I remember saying a prayer, though you shouldn't really pray for gain. Quinny, we thought at the time unbelievably taking 'two' when we were seven down and needing a miracle. I think at 12-5 down there was a point, though I have never seen the playback, when I remember Kenny Kellett or Paul Lyman having a chance and bombing it. David Hobbs or whoever I can't remember had a drop goal attempt that soared over but also remembering Mr.Whitfield not allowing it as Trevor Skerrett or Mick Crane had indicated that I think Gary Kemble had touched it in flight. Quinny's winning kick. me and lad I knew actually started to cry as Mr.Whitfield turned his back to us and signalled what would become utopia. Still tears as the ball soared over, unbelievable emotion. But it wasn't over, I remember James Leuluai their New Zealand test centre kicking the ball through and having a foot race with Quinn himself, surely Leuluai their star man would break our hearts, but Quinn unbelievable beat him on the foot race and dived on the ball. Everyone now whistling, even though we were listening for an electronic beep. Loads of us not hearing the bleep but seeing Gary Siddall jumping up and down like a mad man signalling to us that that meant the game was over. Loads of us just collapsing in a heap of tears of joy and disbelief. 15000 Rovers singing ' ee i adio' and 'We shall not be moved' as Terry Hudson lifted the trophy. Finding the coach eventually after the game a lot if Hull fans magnanimous in defeat. After about two hours of the homeward Journey we stopped at this country pub for 30 mins. I remember having a skin full in these 30 mins, now was the time to celebrate. Getting of the coach and making last orders at the Blackmore Head, feeling so proud to have the Rovers colours on. And final, getting home about half eleven expecting seeing my dad Jubilant ( he'd stayed at home) only for him to tell me to get to bed cos in his mind I was drunk. He was ok in the morning though ( which is more than I was) he'd just been a bit dejected at having to work and missing going.

I'd been to all games leading up to the final, apart from Salford away...can't remember why I didn't make that one. I was 12 years old in May 1983, my big brother (Gary Siddall) was playing. I remember being disappointed that he was on the sub's bench, but had been struggling with an injury in the lead up to the final. At least he was in the 15 though. In the days before the final we trimmed our house on Eastbourne Avenue up with blue and white crepe paper; cutting a cardboard cut-out of the cup and covering it with foil, putting twisty blue and white crepe paper 'ribbons' on it- that was our window display. Every house around us trimmed up too, and all the shops on Station Lane were decorated; they looked fabulous. On the day I remember parking up near the ground with my mum and dad, meeting my pregnant sister and husband, and walking along Wembley Way, it seeming really long and full of the excitement of loads of fans and different colours. Once inside the stadium, I'd never seen so many fans in one place before and the noise was immense! I just remember not being able to believe that we were leading against the might of Hull; thinking the drop goal was over without being touched; wondering when Gary was going to get on the field and being proud when he did; and then not hardly bearing to breathe whilst Steve Quinn was taking that penalty kick, but going crazy when it went over! And as Andrew says, seeing my brother jumping up and down in the air when the final hooter went...that was when I started crying (and I'm not a crying person!). Watching Terry Hudson lifting the cup to our right with those blue and white ribbons on it. Coming out of the ground and Hull KR fans coming up and shaking our hands; but also the Hull fans being gracious in defeat and saying we deserved the win. Going back up the M1 and waving to every car and coach that had Fev fans in it and feeling so proud. And then in the week following, seeing Station Lane packed as the lads brought the cup back home, even the rain couldn't stop me smiling! Also, I couldn't wait to get back to school to brag to my schoolfriends (as I went to St Wilfrids they were mainly Cas and Leeds fans!) This is one of the best days of my life, and one that will stay with me forever.

I was only 11 years old but I can remember the semi final and the final, one of my favourite memories was stood on a wall near some traffic lights outside the ground with my whole family waving at all the coaches going past , Hull KR fans with blue and white scarfs on and cas fans with black and white on. I can remember walking down Wembley way seeing the Twin Towers and Fev fans singing along, as usual we were well outnumbered but all the neutrals were on our side and helping us drown out the Hull masses. The atmosphere was unrivalled in the ground throughout the game and at the final whistle everyone was deliriously happy. Really enjoyed the blog Mark, it's brought back some great memories. Cheers. Let's hope we can return one day soon and do it all again in the new Wembley so a new generation can experience the magic of a final experience.

Maureen T-k
I travelled down to London on the train with my 3 kids, ages 10, 7 and 18 months and hubby, we went on the Friday morning as we were staying with relatives down in Lambeth till the Monday. My Dad travelled down on the supporters coach on the Saturday and I along with the 2 eldest kids met him there. We were sat down at Wembley as standing was still an option at that time, sat behind us were St. Helens fans who were routing for us on the day, there were also Hull fans sat amongst us as well. Everything was good natured and the banter flowed. I remember closing my eyes when Steve Quinn went to kick that last goal, so never saw it till I watched the recording, but what I did witness was all the Fev fans and the neutrals going absolutely mental after that. After the final whistle the Saints fans were hugging us and the Hull fans were shaking our hands saying the best team won. I missed the team bringing the cup back due to still being in London, but that game, the atmosphere and the spirit of the fans and the team will live with me forever.
Glory days!!!

Sharon Jordan
I remember my dad had to work 2 overtime shifts to pay for me and my 2 sister to have new outfits for the day, we also took Peter smiths daughter Karen with us on bus, Peter wasn't too happy we put blue spay in her hair, he forgave us in end.... Was an amazing day

Paul Gibbins
My dad spotting me in the crowd when he did his lap of honour and pushing the steward away so he could climb the tall fence to see us with his medal

Al Jefferson
I remember the banner “Hull have the kiwis, Fev have the polish.”

Mark Butler
I remember missing Hobbsy’s last try because my dad had to take me to the toilet, we heard a huge roar and my dad said " well it looks like Hull have scored " we got out of toilets and all the Cappers were jumping up and down, I think he was a tad pissed off but he never said owt to me bless him, and the rest is history as they say !

Sunday, 14 April 2013

The Story of Wembley 1983. Part X

Heroes! All the players involved throughout our 1983 Cup campaign.

Nigel Barker: 5 games, 2 tries. Solid as a rock full-back, Nigel contributed a couple of vital tries on the way to Wembley.
John Marsden: 5 games, 2 tries. Two priceless tries from John in the quarter and semi-finals sent Rovers through.
Steve Quinn: 5 games, 13 goals. Rovers greatest ever goals and points scorer, Steve enjoyed his finest hour at Wembley, kicking four goals from five shots.
John Gilbert: 5 games, 4 tries. In magnificent form during Rovers Cup run John was cynically removed from the final by a head-high tackle.
Ken Kellett: 5 games. Consistent wing-man who formed a bridge back to the 1973 final, Ken retired after the final.
Alan Banks: 5 games (1 as sub). Teenage sensation who grabbed the headlines, thrown in against mighty opposition and coped with it all.
Terry Hudson: 5 games, 3 tries. The master of ceremonies, club captain and on-field general who revelled in this Cup run.
Mick Gibbins: 5 games. Veteran tireless prop who enjoyed his benefit season during the amazing Cup run.
Ray Handscombe: 4 games. Vital ball-winner, Ray, like Ken Kellett, retired after the final.
Steve Hankins: 5 games. Hard man who alternated between prop and second-row throughout the Cup run to good effect.
David Hobbs: 5 games, 4 tries. Two tries in the first round, and two tries in the last from this strong running back-rower.
Tim Slatter: 3 games (2 as sub). Signed from Wakefield, straight into the team and plenty of aggression from this young forward.
Peter Smith: 5 games. Pack leader and exemplary player, Peter added real class to the side.
Paul Lyman: 1 game (1 as sub). A surprise choice of another talented teenager, Paul filled in at centre at Wembley off the bench.
Gary Siddall: 4 games (2 as sub). Likeable prop who started both quarter and semi-finals, Gary was on the bench for the final.
Neil Pickerill: 4 games (2 as sub). Played in every game except the final, Neil was kept out by Hudson’s switch to scrum-half.
Keith Bell: 3 games (2 as sub). Veteran forward who filled in at hooker and back-row during the Cup run, but missed out at Wembley.
Phil Johnson: 1 game, 1 try. Stand-off in the first round where an injury put paid to most of the rest of Phil’s season.

In five Cup games Rovers scored 74 points, made up of 16 tries and 13 goals.

The coaching and backroom staff were Allan Agar, Keith Goulding, Sam Windmill, Jimmy Williams and Trevor Walker.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Story of Wembley 1983. Part IX

Thirty Years On.....

After what seemed like months of anxious waiting, but was in fact only six weeks after our semi-final triumph over Bradford, Rovers stepped onto the hallowed Wembley turf (the old Wembley Stadium had no grass of course, only hallowed turf). What happened over the next eighty minutes has been written about many times, but really needed to be seen to be believed. Those of us who were there will never forget what happened, and each person has their own precious memories of that day. For those that weren’t, beg, borrow or buy a copy of the game on DVD to try and capture the flavour of Featherstone’s finest hour.

My own highlights of the day were a mixture of all kinds of different incidents:
  • Stopping off at Leicester Forest East service station for a greasy breakfast on the drive down the M1.
  • Buying a flag outside the stadium, and realising that our small town club was going to be playing on the biggest stage.
  • Reading the home-made banners of the fans on the terraces as the stadium filled up. Ours were better than Hull’s. “Hull have the kiwis, Rovers have the polish” was my favourite.
  • Dave Hobbs’ try and what a great start we had. Even if we weren’t going to win, we’d given Hull a bloody nose.
  • John Gilbert looking like he’s in Disneyland as he gets carried off after an assassination attempt by Paul Rose.
  • The injustice of the penalty try to Hull which looked as if Hobbs was fully committed to the tackle on Lee Crooks.
  • The Hull comeback with a neat try from the dangerous Leuluai and Rovers going seven points down.
  • That sinking feeling that things weren’t going our way as Tex Hudson was sin-binned, and we looked down and out.
  • Cool Steve Quinn slotting a penalty to bring us to within five points and steadying the ship at a dangerous moment.
  • “Get out of my way, son!” David Hobbs hands off Keith Bridges and I couldn’t see anything else for all the jumping up and down.
  • ‘We’ll settle for a draw’ I said to my cousin who looked at me as if I was mad and said back ‘It’s now or never’.
  • The drop-goal winner goes sailing over and we’ve won the Cup, but what’s that?!? The referee rules it out as it was touched in flight.
  • Charlie’s head-butt couldn’t have been more obvious and there’s the blood running down Pete Smith’s cheek.
  • The late penalty, the final hooter, the Cup is lifted, it’s all a blur, some fans are crying and no-one can quite believe it.
  • As we reluctantly leave the stadium some time later, there’s Terry Hudson leaving the ground to get on the team bus with the Cup nonchalantly tucked under one arm and the smile on his face is of a man with a job well done.

Friday, 12 April 2013

The Story of Wembley 1983. Part VIII

Thirty Years On.....

 It would be very difficult to convey all the emotions of the day in one short blogspot, but here is how the game was described in “The Rugby League Challenge Cup Final: An Illustrated History”, by Les Hoole. The homecoming photos are by Eric Lorriman.

"In one of the most incident packed Wembley finals for years, Featherstone Rovers produced a display of such authority that they achieved the seemingly impossible and beat firm favourites Hull. Before the game Hull had 99 percent of the rugby league world tipping them not just to win, but to do so by a wide margin. Outside the little mining village of Featherstone – and, if they had dared to say it, even in the village itself - Rovers were given no chance. However the clever and confident play which Hull had used so well throughout the season simply evaporated at Wembley.
In complete contrast to Hull, Featherstone were a strong self-assured side who had planned and prepared for their victory with military-like precision. They knew from the outset that they had to prevent the Airlie Birds from spreading the ball out wide to their talented backs, and to do this they had to concentrate on their defensive work, especially their tackling.
Rovers struck first in the 7th minute when David Hobbs surged through James Leuluai’s attempted tackle and plunged over the line near the corner. Quinn failed with the conversion, but added a later penalty. In an eventful first half Hull lost Kevin Harkin after a collision with Terry Hudson, and John Gilbert was carried off when Paul Rose tackled him high. Rose’s crude tackle earned him a sin-binning, the first player ever to receive such treatment at Wembley.
Hull shuffled their backs around, and finally showed their capabilities in a brief spell at the start of the second half. The referee awarded Hull a penalty try when he adjudged that Rovers’ Hobbs had unfairly stopped Lee Crooks’ attempt to re-gather a kick through on the line. Crooks added the conversion to level the scores. Ten minutes later Hull swept into a 12-5 lead when Leuluai scored and Crooks kicked two more goals.
Rovers stuck to their game plan and a try from Hobbs and two goals from Quinn saw Rovers level again. With just three minutes remaining Steve Quinn landed a 20 yard penalty shot at goal and Featherstone were worthy 14-12 winners."

The game had an impact throughout the whole rugby league world, and reactions and congratulations came from many quarters, including from sports organisations outside rugby league too. People recognised a triumph of determination and self-belief that transcended the boundaries of sport. It was a truly marvellous occasion.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

The Story of Wembley 1983. Part VII

Thirty Years On.....

Peter Smith, photo courtesy of Eric Lorriman
Having beaten Batley, Salford, St. Helens and Bradford, Featherstone Rovers had qualified for the final of the 1983 Challenge Cup. The players had also then extricated themselves from a precarious league position and managed to stave off relegation on the final day of the season. Although Rovers lost to Bradford in a semi-final re-match 24-13, Hull FC had done us a favour by beating Barrow 31-13. Barrow went down and Hull took the title.

 With the Championship done and dusted, the State Express Challenge Cup could now take centre stage and a town that had seemed pretty excited ever since the semi-final win was now reaching fever pitch. In the weeks leading up to the final, the tension gradually mounted as supporters bought tickets and organised accommodation and travel arrangements for the big weekend. The same was true for the players and committee, as the squad was fitted out for suits, hotels were booked and places finalised for the Wembley line up.

The team line-up had been fairly consistent throughout the second half of the season, but there were a couple of selection posers for coach Allan Agar to consider. The battle for the number six shirt had been more of less won by teenager Alan Banks over Phil Johnson who had spent a part of the season injured. The rest of the backs picked themselves, so there was no place for back up scrum-half Neil Pickerill, nor for promising youngster Richard Marsh who had plenty of game time in the lead up to the final. Agar sprung a surprise by naming another 17 year old, Paul Lyman, on the subs bench. The Cup final would be only the 9th appearance of Paul’s nascent career.

Ray Handscombe, photo courtesy of Eric Lorriman
In the forwards, with Mick Gibbins, Ray Handscombe, Steve Hankins, David Hobbs and Peter Smith as fixtures in the team, there was one spot up for grabs which in the end went to recent recruit Tim Slatter, which was a bit of a surprise too. Gary Siddall, favoured in the quarter and semi-finals, earned a spot on the bench, and veteran Keith Bell, who had filled in various positions in the course of the season also disappointingly missed out.

Rovers’ opponents Hull FC made their own preparations for the final, with the Rugby League First Division Championship safely on the sideboard. Having won the Challenge Cup in 1982 on a replay against Widnes, they were also the holders of the Cup. One game away then from a notable double, an achievement not often seen in rugby league (until Wigan managed it six years running in the early nineties). Needless to say, everybody who was anybody in rugby league, as well as every bookmaker in the country, had Hull down as the overwhelming favourites to win, and quite rightly so. A fearless bunch of lads in blue and white jerseys had other ideas.

Mick Gibbins, photo courtesy of Eric Lorriman

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

The Story of Wembley 1983. Part VI

Thirty Years On.....

After the euphoria of beating Bradford in an epic semi-final of the State Express Challenge Cup, Rovers had to face up to a very different challenge before heading off to Wembley to meet Hull. Rovers had five league fixtures left to fulfil, and were still short of the necessary points required for survival in the First Division. The town was buzzing with expectation and talk of the trip to London, but an inability to secure top flight status would be a disaster.

First up then was a home fixture against Leigh. These were the glory days for today’s visitors, who were reigning champions having won the title in 1982. The following season found them lying mid-table, but with a very good set of players. With John Marsden, Ray Handscombe and Gary Siddall all missing, Leigh would be doing us no favours. Rovers hung on however for a grim, but vital, 13-10 win with a try from winger Peter Muscroft, a recent loan signing from Hull KR.

Rovers then travelled on the Thursday night to Halifax who themselves were losing the battle against the dreaded drop. A convincing 29-7 win allayed our relegation fears greatly. Rovers ran in seven tries, and another loanee from Hull KR, Paul Harkin, ran the show from scrum-half. With three games left Rovers now had 23 points and sat 11th in the table. Just below them were Barrow, Rovers next opponents, and below them Bradford who had games in hand on both Rovers and the Cumbrians. Workington, Halifax and Carlisle were already relegated, but who would join them?

Rovers could have virtually guaranteed their safety with a win at Barrow, which is never an easy place to get a result. So it proved as Rovers went down in a tight game 6-0. It was the third time that year the side had failed to score, and left us with two points still required from our final two home games against Wigan and Bradford to be safe.

On the Wednesday night we faced Wigan, who were just a point behind leaders Hull in the race for the Championship. Rovers dug deep and put in a splendid show securing a 9-all draw with a David Hobbs try and three Steve Quinn goals. This precious point took us clear of Barrow. However Bradford had already saved themselves with a tremendous run beating Leeds, Saints, Workington and Carlisle to move up the table.

On the Sunday, the final day of the season, we faced Bradford, while Hull were playing Barrow and could do us a huge favour by beating our rivals for the drop. A Barrow victory and a Rovers defeat would see us relegated. In reality with Hull FC poised to clinch the Championship, there was no way they would allow Barrow any chances and so it proved with Hull triumphing 31-13. This was just as well as Rovers were unable to repeat their semi-final victory over Bradford and we were beaten 24-13 at home. With Nigel Barker, Alan Banks, Terry Hudson and Mick Gibbins all missing Rovers had taken a risk, but in the end it had worked. First Division football would continue at Post Office Road in 1983/84.

Tuesday, 9 April 2013

The Story of Wembley 1983. Part V

Thirty Years On.....

 We look today at the semi-finals of the 1983 Challenge Cup competition. After beating St. Helens on their own patch in an epic quarter-final, now only Bradford Northern stood between Rovers and Wembley. Despite some pretty mediocre league form, the town was now gripped by Cup fever. The win at Saints had given the players the belief that they could beat anyone and confidence was high.

The week following the Saints game, which was the week before the Bradford match, Rovers played and lost a vital league game at home to Hull KR. First Division survival would have to wait then, as on Saturday 26th March 1983 screened by the BBC on Grandstand, Rovers faced Bradford in front of 10,784 fans at Headingley. Allan Agar selected exactly the same fifteen who had beaten Saints (and why not?) so Gary Siddall stayed in the team, with Alan Banks and Tex Hudson at half-back. Neil Pickerill and Keith Bell were on the bench. There was no place for Dickie Marsh or Tim Slatter. 

Northern were formidable opponents and went into the tie as favourites. They had Mumby at full-back, a tough pack (what else could you expect with Peter Fox as coach?) led by Grayshon, Van Bellen and Rathbone, and a talented young lad by the name of Ellery Hanley lurking in the centres. Just like in the quarter-final Rovers struck first, in the form of John Marsden, squeezing over in the corner. Van Bellen crossed for Bradford and the game was locked at 3-all as the forwards of both sides stood up to be counted. As half-time approached Rovers suffered a hammer blow. They fumbled the ball in the Bradford 25, who recovered and whipped the ball to Hanley. He handed off John Gilbert,  arced out to the touchline and promptly sprinted the length of the field for a truly brilliant try. It won Hanley the try of the season award and was talked about for years after. In truth, Rovers could have had him but Gilbert crashed into Kenny Kellett as he attempted a tackle, Nigel Barker went uncharacteristically high and was fended off, and with Hanley in the clear Steve Quinn didn’t have the legs to catch him.

Lesser sides would have folded but these boys knew what they were doing. Hanley’s run was the last scoring that Bradford would do. Rovers re-grouped in the dressing rooms, came out and executed Allan Agar’s gameplan perfectly. Quick hands in possession saw Gilbert step through and the tie was level again. Terrier like defence kept Bradford out, and the match winning try, though lacking Hanley’s individual brilliance, deserved to take us to Wembley. Steve Hankins spun a pass out to Barker, who sent Quinn clear, and he fed Marsden, who was held, but popped the ball up on the outside for skipper Terry Hudson to romp over. Quinn’s conversion was the only goal of the entire game, and some spirited tackling in the last ten minutes sent the Blue & Whites to Wembley.

The team was: Nigel Barker, John Marsden (try), Steve Quinn (1 goal), John Gilbert (try), Ken Kellett, Alan Banks, Terry Hudson (try), Gary Siddall, Ray Handscombe, Mick Gibbins, David Hobbs, Steve Hankins, Peter Smith. Subs: Neil Pickerill, Keith Bell.

In the other semi-final Hull FC accounted for Castleford, so Rovers would face the star-studded Cup holders and league leaders at Wembley.

Monday, 8 April 2013

The Story of Wembley 1983. Part IV

Thirty Years On.....

Rovers had been handed the toughest of ties, away to St. Helens in the quarter-finals of the Challenge Cup.  The BBC chose this game to be their televised match of the round, so the game was switched from Sunday to Saturday. After losing the previous weekend in the league at Warrington, Allan Agar made a couple of significant changes for the trip to Saints. Terry Hudson, who had been operating at loose-forward all season, switched to scrum-half in place of Neil Pickerill. His place in the pack was taken by Gary Siddall who came in at prop with Steve Hankins moving to the second-row. Ray Handscombe was also back from injury. St. Helens, with Neil Holding and Harry Pinner directing operations, looked formidable opponents and had won nine of their last ten fixtures, but had only narrowly beaten Rovers 13-10 in the corresponding league fixture in December. A decent crowd of 6,125 assembled to see a cracking game of rugby league.

Rovers started like a house on fire, playing Saints at their own game with expansive rugby, good off-loading and moving the ball wide. It soon paid dividends when swift passing put John Marsden in. Then John Gilbert left defenders grasping at thin air as he raced over. Rovers 8-0 up. The sight of Gilbert fist raised celebrating prematurely (a coach’s nightmare but who could blame him?) with the Rovers fans going absolutely wild on the terraces behind him was an abiding image of our 1983 Cup run. Saints hit back through Harry Pinner and at half-time Rovers led 8-5. Saints took over at the beginning of the second half and soon Haggerty was over and Saints held the lead. As they had done in every round Rovers would now have to come from behind to win. And how they did! Quinn crashed onto Hobbs’ pass out of the tackle and broke clear, feeding inside to Marsden who fed it outside to John Gilbert to romp over unopposed. What a try, and what a moment to score it. A perfectly executed team move which deserved to win a match of this calibre. Quinn couldn’t add the conversion, and with the slenderest of advantages Rovers held out for a famous win.

The Rovers team was: Nigel Barker, John Marsden (try), Steve Quinn (1 goal), John Gilbert (2 tries), Ken Kellett, Alan Banks, Terry Hudson, Gary Siddall, Ray Handscombe, Mick Gibbins, David Hobbs, Steve Hankins, Peter Smith. Subs: Neil Pickerill, Keith Bell.

In the other three quarter finals, Castleford and Bradford both accounted for lower league opposition in the shape of Hunslet and Workington and holders Hull FC beat Warrington. That meant that all four quarter-finals had ended in away wins and all four semi-finalists were Yorkshire teams. When the draw came out Featherstone drew Bradford Northern and Hull FC drew Castleford. Once again Rovers had just two weeks to prepare for their semi-final with a vital league fixture against Hull KR sandwiched in between. The club was still in trouble in the league, but, one step from Wembley, now had their sights firmly fixed on the State Express Challenge Cup.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

The Story of Wembley 1983. Part III

Thirty Years On.....

 Within ten days of negotiating a straightforward triumph over Batley at the first hurdle, Rovers faced the altogether more complicated task of beating Salford on their own patch in the second round of the Challenge Cup, played on Sunday 27th February 1983. In between the two Cup ties, Rovers had drawn 17-all against Castleford in a league match.

Rovers had been forced into a couple of changes to the line up that faced Batley. With Phil Johnson injured, Alan Banks slotted in at stand-off. Both players had been vying for the number six shirt all season and now the teenager had a chance to claim it as his own. Ray Handscombe was also out injured, so Keith Bell filled in at hooker. Despite being in the Second Division, Salford had no fear of Rovers having already accounted for top flight Leigh in the first round. In their team there was no Steve Nash who was battling against a career-threatening eye injury, but still contained such wily campaigners such as George Nicholls and player-coach Mal Aspey.

First blood went to the Rovers. Nigel Barker, in one of his trademark link-ups from fullback, created the extra man and scored. Salford hit back with prolific wingman Keith Fielding going over. When Mal Aspey crossed soon after, Rovers were 8-5 down and had a real struggle on their hands. A score before half-time was vital and it was that man Nigel Barker who again provided the goods, racing past the Salford full-back with a 40 yard burst to the line. Steve Quinn’s conversion sent Rovers in 10-8 up and in good spirits. Despite having plenty of possession in the second-half Salford failed to make any headway against committed Rovers defence, and the visitors were always on top. Skipper Terry Hudson nipped in for a try after selling a dummy and Rovers were through. A late consolation try to Salford didn’t affect the outcome.
The Rovers team was: Nigel Barker (2 tries), John Marsden, Steve Quinn (4 goals), John Gilbert, Ken Kellett, Alan Banks, Neil Pickerill, Mick Gibbins, Keith Bell, Steve Hankins, David Hobbs, Peter Smith, Terry Hudson (try). Subs: Tim Slatter, Gary Siddall.

In the other second round fixtures St. Helens notched an impressive victory at Headingley against Leeds, holders Hull FC accounted for Wakefield, Bradford won at new boys Fulham, and Castleford got a creditable win up in Barrow. When the quarter-final draw was made, Rovers were out of luck completely. Whilst Castleford got a trip to Hunslet, and Bradford had to travel to Workington, Rovers were given the massive task of facing St. Helens at Knowsley Road. In the other tie, Warrington faced Hull. Rovers had two weeks to prepare for this game with a tough league fixture away to Warrington sandwiched in between the Cup fixtures.

Difficult though it may be for young fans to believe, back in the early 1980s Rovers would enter the Challenge Cup knowing that a bit of luck and a bit of form could see it become “our” year. After a relatively quiet start, the quarter-final, however daunting it looked, was be the first time fans started to think that 1983 could be our year.

Saturday, 6 April 2013

The Story of Wembley 1983. Part II

Thirty Years On.....
With the Post Office Road pitch snow covered and frost bound, our first round tie versus Batley was postponed, but played the following Wednesday night at Wakefield’s ground due to our own lack of floodlights.

Inevitably the crowd figure was hit with just 1,374 fans making the trip over to Belle Vue on a chilly evening to see what looked on paper to be an uncomplicated task. Given the way the campaign progressed in the coming months, it was a real feather in the caps of those loyal fans who attended to be able to say “I was there!” when the whole run started. By this stage of the season, Rovers had established a relatively settled pack, with plenty of experience and talent including Peter Smith, who had just been selected to play for Great Britain against France. Half-back though had been a problem with Neil Pickerill in and out of form and fitness at scrum-half, and neither Phil Johnson nor teenager Alan Banks fully established at stand-off. The outside backs had a settled look, spearheaded by John Gilbert and Steve Quinn. In Batley’s side, some recognisable faces included player-coach Terry Crook, future GB international and Rovers favourite Carl Gibson, future Rovers coach George Pieniazek and future referee Steve Presley.

Batley started the better and were soon 5-0 up through a Mick Wilson try. With no sense of urgency Rovers got back into the match, and gradually took control. Phil Johnson scored the equalising try, unfortunately injuring himself in the process and he took no further part in the game. Featherstone wasted a number of chances before David Hobbs sealed the win, and Rovers superiority, with a brace of tries. Terry Hudson, operating at loose forward and John Gilbert also grabbed tries, with Steve Quinn managing three conversions to make the final score Featherstone 21 Batley 6. It was a satisfactory though unspectacular performance due to Batley’s defensive perseverance and Rovers’ profligacy.

The Rovers team was: Nigel Barker, John Marsden, Steve Quinn (3 goals), John Gilbert (try), Ken Kellett, Phil Johnson (try), Neil Pickerill, Mick Gibbins, Ray Handscombe, Steve Hankins, David Hobbs (2 tries), Peter Smith, Terry Hudson (try). Subs: Alan Banks, Tim Slatter.

In other first round ties, Cup kings Widnes were knocked straight out at home by Leeds, Castleford triumphed at Wigan and most other big sides moved comfortably through to round two, except Hull KR who were shocked by lowly Hunslet. When the draw was made,  the pick of the round looked to be Leeds v St. Helens. Holders Hull FC were handed a home tie against Wakefield Trinity, and Castleford, after disposing of Wigan, faced another tricky away test at Barrow.

Rovers themselves faced an awkward-looking tie away to Salford, led by our old friend Steve Nash who would be doing us no favours. Although they were in the lower league having been relegated the previous year, they had a side full of experience who were well-placed for promotion.

Friday, 5 April 2013

The Story of Wembley 1983. Part I

Thirty Years On.....

Today we begin a new blog series commemorating the 30th anniversary of what was quite simply the most famous hour (and a half) in the history of our club, the 1983 Challenge Cup final at Wembley. We will look at the key moments of that whole season and how we progressed round by round to that remarkable finish.

The draw for the first round proper of the State Express Challenge Cup, as it was then called, took place live in the studios of BBC Look North, and the tie of the round was undoubtedly Widnes v Leeds as two of the tournament’s favourites clashed at the first hurdle. Holders Hull FC faced a trip to Blackpool and Castleford faced a tough trip to Wigan. Rovers were given what looked like a relatively straightforward and definitely winnable tie at home to lower league Batley, with the match due to be played on Sunday 13th of February.

In all honesty it was not shaping up to be a particularly promising season for Rovers. Now in their third season back in the First Division since winning the Second Division Championship in 1980, they were hoping to make an impact after two years of consolidation. League form had been very hard to find however, and in November it cost coach Vince Farrar his job. Allan Agar was appointed, but Rovers continued to hover around the relegation zone until a Christmas and New Year double over Carlisle (Agar’s old club) gave the side a bit of breathing space. It was to be hoped that the Cup might provide a bit of relief from the weekly grind of the battle for survival in the league.

As the Cup transfer deadline approached Rovers snapped up fiery forward Tim Slatter from Wakefield Trinity to boost their pack. Home programmes from 1982/83 offered fans regular bulletins on progress of the Floodlight fund as supporters worked towards raising the £7,000 required to final purchase lights.

Come the 13th of February the Post Office Road pitch was covered in snow, and the pitch on the Bullock stand side too hard to play. With the schedule tight for the fulfilment of fixtures, the club had two possibilities. They could either play Batley on the Wednesday at Featherstone where they would have to kick off at 3pm due to the lack of floodlights. This would obviously deprive most fans of the opportunity of seeing the game. The other option, of switching the game to Wakefield Trinity’s ground, was accepted. The crowd of 1,374 which was well down on that season’s average showed just how important that floodlight fund was.

Strangely enough, the night before our game, St,. Helens had played Carlisle at home and duly thrashed them 52-0. With the Cumbrians desperately short of numbers due to injuries and unavailability they had put in a call to Rovers coach Allan Agar asking him to play for them. Carlisle still held Agar’ playing registration from his time as their player-coach the previous season, so Agar duly played his final professional match in unusual, if not unique, circumstances. It was of course far from being the end of his involvement in the 1983 Challenge Cup competition.