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Dave Fleming's Blast from the Past

17th March 2017, 13:47

Dave Fleming's Blast from the Past

It’s challenge cup time again, 30 years since Halifax last won rugby league’s oldest and most venerable knock-out competition.

Hunslet are the visitors to the Shay on Sunday, another famous Yorkshire club with cup exploits of their own in the past.

When these two teams met at Odsal in the semi-final in April 1954 for eample the game attracted no fewer than 46961 spectators as Fax won 14-3 to reach Wembley.

That final against Warrington was drawn of course and the replay (also at Odsal) attracted a world record crowd.

The 1950’s were a golden era for attendances.

The ground attendance at Thrum Hall was set in the club’s final challenge cuptie of that decade, a quarter-final clash with Wigan on Saturday 21st March 1959, by a happy coincidence 58 years ago this weekend.

People who were there recall a foggy afternoon with a late winter chill in the air as the game wore on but there should have been plenty of body warmth from the 29153 people wedged, crammed and shoehorned onto the terraces and in the grandstand.

A weakened Halifax side (without skipper and winger Alan Snowden and fullback Garfield Owen) lost 26-0 to a Wigan side for whom Billy Boston scored a hat-trick of tries in his personal duel with old pal Johnny Freeman, a parochial battle between the lads from Tiger Bay.

It also has to be said that this wasn’t the same Halifax team which had dominated the landscape of the early to mid-1950’s.

Stalwarts such as Alvin Ackerley, Stan Kielty, Albert Fearnley, Derrick Schofield, Tommy Lynch, Les Pearce and Arthur Daniels had all moved on.

The Fax side that afternoon was Briers, Williams, Burnett, Palmer, Freeman, Dean, Pratt, Thorley, Shaw, Fairbank, Wilkinson, Sparks and Renilson.

How did Wigan keep that team scoreless?

Congratulations to Ken Dean by the way, 90 years young earlier this month.

Snowden had actually played in that 1954 semifinal for Hunslet before moving to Thrum Hall for £2000 on transfer deadline day in January 1958. He later became production manager at the Courier.

In a bid to replace Kielty Halifax went out and signed scrumhalf Alan Marchant from Featherstone, perhaps with some of the receipts of £4452 from that cuptie. He did a good job for several years and started the 1964/65 season as Fax captain but was soon transferred to Hunslet  for £3500 as Paul Daley was keeping him out of the team. Marchant, as a result of Daley being preferred, was the first ever Halifax substitute in the opening day of that season before leaving.

There are plenty of links between Halifax and Hunslet.

Tony and Anderson and Martin Bella for example both made debuts in a 32-18 victory over them in 1984.

And Bruce Burton certainly enjoyed one game against them on Tuesday 27th August 1972. He lives in Nottingham now but still follows the game. Hunslet were really in the doldrums by then, a rapid fall from grace after that wonderful 1965 challenge cup final against Wigan. Fax won 76-8 in a Yorkshire Cup first round tie that evening and Burton scored 31 of those points via a try and 14 goals. No Halifax player has subsequently matched or surpassed that goals in a game record although John Schuster and Steve Tyrer have both beaten the points in a match tally. Burton would have had 32 points as well but a try was only worth three points at that time.

One man who moved in the opposite direction was George Standidge, such a cult figure at Thrum Hall in the early 1980’s. He moved for £6000 in the October of 1980 after Halifax had just been promoted to replace Alan Wood. The Scratchin’ Shed certainly loved him!