Sportsnight #24: 1968, Rugby League Challenge Cup Final, Leeds v Wakefield Trinity

by Ray_North on October 31, 2013


Good Evening and welcome to Sportsnight. Tonight we’re at Wembley Stadium for the final of the Rugby League Challenge Cup, where 87,000 fans had converged to watch Leeds, nine times cup-winners who finished top of the Championship and five times winners Wakefield. A real clash of the giants – but who would prevail?

Back in 1968, Rugby League was a sport that belonged to Northern working class men, and hard Northern working class men at that – it was a sport of few words and little in the way of fanfare or ribbons and pom-poms; it was a sport where men would emerge from the pit to knock seven shades of Pennine shite out of eachother. It was a sport immortalised in David Storey’s brilliant This Sporting Life, where the superstars would be feted on the cobbled streets of smokey industrial towns like Halifax, Rochdale, Featherstone and Leigh. It was industrial and masculine and bloody mental – and the highlight of the year was the Challenge Cup Final which, if your team got there, meant the whole town would up-sticks, get on board a convoy of coaches and head down to ponsey London for the bright-lights and Wembley Stadium.

Things have changed since then – the game may still be loved most in the Northern heartlands of Yorkshire and North Lancashire, but, it is now played in the Summer, and is controlled by the Murdoch dollar. The pits have closed and the local lads who would work a shift, blow the coal dust off their shoulders, down a couple of pints, and get on with it, have been replaced by super-fit academy boys and south sea islanders who come over to bash the merry hell out of everyone who stands in their way.

It’s still a mental game though, indeed, perhaps, with the advent of better training, diet and fitness it could be argued that it is even harder now than it was back in the 1960s – you only have to watch the incredible pace and strength of the athletes on show in the current World Cup to see that.

Back in 1968, the two dominant teams were Leeds and Wakefield Trinity. They finished first and second in the championship and, not surprisingly made it to the Challenge Cup Final. Leeds were marginal favourites, with a team of stars such as former Rugby Union Lion, Bev Risman, the mercurial Jack Fairbank and Great Britain wing, Bryan Shaw in the backs, and a strong pack; but Wakefield were no pushovers, and could boast their own superstars in the likes of brothers Neil and Don Fox and Harry Poynton and South African Gert Coetzer.

After seventy nine pulsating minutes of Rugby in torrential conditions Leeds led Wakefield 11 – 7, when Wakefield scored under the posts – with only three points for a try, it brought the score to 11-10, the easiest of conversions would win it for Wakefield. Up stepped Don Fox to take it. Don Fox was one of the greatest kickers of his era, he had toured with the British Lions in 1963 and had had a fantastic match winning the Lance Todd, Man of the Match award – he couldn’t miss. Surely. He couldn’t miss?

He put it wide. From in front of the posts.

Leeds won. Wakefield lost.

Whether it was weather or tiredness or just the occasion that got to Don, he never really recovered from the game and retired shortly after to take up a job in the pit (honestly). Sadly, Don Fox – who played well of 500 games in a seventeen year career as a professional rugby player and scored 162 tries for Featherstone Rovers (still a club record), as well as playing for England Great Britain, is forever remembered for that miss, rather than the other parts of his brilliant career; and, as is often the case in Sport, that is partly because of the wonderful commentary that accompanied his great sporting moment. Eddie Waring, was the voice of Rugby League, and his wonderful, spontaneous comment of ‘oh, the poor lad’ as Fox’s face disintegrates in anguish at the tragedy of his failure is pure genius.

Poor Don. Poor lad.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Eddie Kaye November 1, 2013 at 12:04 am

Really glad to see the once monumental sport of Rugby Football League so honoured Ray. My love for the game has diminished. As a Yorkie, it is no longer ‘our game’. The media juggernaut that is Super League put paid to that. An annoyance to the establishment, !a curiosity to outsiders, the lifeblood of communities. As Thatcherism killed those communities the sport needed a new hook. It has become a feeder system for Southern Hemisphere RL and the fifteen man game. Nice to see one of its iconic moments none the less.

Reply

Ray_North November 1, 2013 at 7:29 am

Eddie, I sent you an e-mail inviting you to write a Sportsnight Special for us – I think it must have gone to your trash! Would you like to do one?

Reply

Eddie Kaye November 1, 2013 at 8:47 am

It would be a pleasure Ray, I have just emailed you back 🙂

Reply

Paul Charman November 1, 2013 at 6:26 pm

I remember Eddie Waring (I think) being interviewed years later about this incident.

On the Monday morning after the Cup Final Don Fox took the interviewer out onto his home pitch at Wakefield, put the ball down in the identical position to the missed kick on Saturday.

He only had on a pair of trainers on and put the ball over the post 10 out of 10 times!!!

Just goes to show what pressure can do

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: