HOW THE GAME CAME TO CUMBERLAND AND THE CUMBRIANS WHO STARTED IT ALL
IN 1895, controversy arose as to the payment of players for broken time, while playing Rugby Union Football.
History tells us that it was two sons of Cumberland who were at the centre of the controversy, namely, Frank Forsyth and George Boak, both members of the Cummersdale Hornets Rugby Union Club, they were persuaded to play for the Huddersfield Club, on the promise that they would be found regular employment in the area, and also be renumerated for any broken time.
The Rev. W. H. Marsh was a member of the Huddersfield Club Committee at that time, and he took exception to the procedure and exposed the situation through the press,, maintaining that this was veiled professionalism. The outcome of this announcement, after consideration by the governing body was a split in their ranks, and from that, clubs who were willing to pay players for broken time, were asked to attend a Special Meeting at Huddersfield on August 29th, 1895.
Twenty-two clubs from Lancashire, Yorkshire and Cheshire were represented and it was unanimously agreed they sever their connection with the Rugby Union, and a new Union was formed which was known as the Northern Rugby Football Union.
Cumberland at this stage, looked on from the outside, and it wasn't until 1898 when the split eventually came to the County - caused by an imaginary grievance arising through suspension of players connected with the Maryport Club. In June of that year, a meeting was convened, and from that meeting, the Northern Rugby Football Union came into being in Cumberland, with five clubs, Millom, Workington, Maryport, Wath Brow and Brookland Rovers and the following officials elected:-
President: Mr. J. Huntrods, Workington.
Hon. Treasurer: Mr. J. E. Howarth, Millom.
Hon. Secretary: Mr. J. Rich, Millom.
When the season of 1898-99 commenced, three more teams, Whitehaven, Whitehaven Recs and Seaton had also come over from Rugby Union.
Rapid progress was made in the early years of Northern Union in the County, at one time there being ten senior teams and twenty junior sides playing Northern Union Football.
The record entry for the Shield Competition (junior teams) was twenty-three. The Northern Rugby Football Union in 1898 very generously gave an handsome shield for annual competition amongst the Junior Clubs, and the first winners were Millom, with Seaton runners-up.In subsequent years, the Shield found a home in practically every town and village where Rugby League has been and is played, in the County.
By the turn of the century both Broughton Moor and Dearham had entered the ranks.
In 1901 the Northern Rugby Football Union presented another trophy to be held by the Cumberland League Champions and Maryport were the first winners.
Millom who had entered the Northern Union senior competition when the breakaway occurred was terminated as a professional club in 1906 after playing a total of 112 games, 49 of which were won, 7 games drawn and 56 defeats. In their last season Millom had finished 27th in a division of 31 clubs. It was also the season in which Whitehaven Recreation proposed a reduction from 15 to 12-a-side but this motion was defeated and an alternative proposal of 13 man teams was implemented.
In the 1909-10 the game reached a very low ebb, but gradually built up again, and when the 1914 War began it was once again a fertile competition.
During the period 1939-45 no competitive football was organised, but charity matches were played whenever the opportunity arose, and the Whitehaven Hospital Committee staged very attractive matches in the area.
Many charity competitions were inaugurated during the lifetime of the amateur game in the County of Cumberland, particular mention must be made of the Maryport Hospital Cup Competition which was commenced in 1911-12, for which the Northern Rugby Football Union again paid for a Challenge Cup. At no time in the history of this Competition was there any lack of enthusiasm on the part of the players or indeed the clubs to make it any other than the great success it always proved, and both the Maryport Victoria Cottage Hospital and District Nursing Association reaped great financial benefit from the proceeds of this Competition.
ERECTED GOAL POSTS BY MOONLIGHT!
RISEHOW & GILLHEAD, the Maryport Collieries team drawn to meet Keighley in the Rugby League Challenge Cup during 1947-48, were at the time the most successful junior team Cumberland had ever produced. During the war Mr J. H. Smith, manager of the Risehow and Gillhead Collieries, decided conditions were altogether too grim around the pits with no recreation of any kind. He consulted Mr J. Wallace, who would later become sports and social organiser. The result was a club for "Bevin Boys" in the Maryport Salvation Army Hall.
The club was not very successful, but when premises were rented from the County Council near the Colliery matters began to develop. The first thing formed was a Rugby League club followed by a Soccer club. In the suburbs of Risehow and Fothergill the out-look did not favour Soccer. When the younger pit lads went home and said they had been playing Soccer, father's caustic comment was: "What! A lad of mine playing Soccer ... Nivver." The Soccer team failed for lack of players - Rugby League thrived. So keen were the Rugby enthusiasts that they erected their goal posts by moonlight so that a match could be played next day
The Social Organisation grew to such an extent that most of the 800 pitmen contributed threepence per week; the Rugby League Club was by far its most successful branch. In 1944-45 there were only two challenge competitions in Cumberland - the Cumberland Cup and the Maryport Hospital Cup. Risehow and Gillhead won both. In 1945-46 the Cumberland League was re-established. The Colliery Club won the Championship Cup and again won the Cumberland Cup, but missed the Hospital Cup.
In 1946-47 the Hospital Cup was not played. Risehow and Gillhead were narrowly beaten in the Cumberland Cup, but they again won the League Championship Cup. Therefore in their first three seasons they won five of the possible seven premier junior Rugby League competitions in Cumberland. When season 1947-48 came around they began by qualifying for the first round of the Rugby League Challenge Cup. They had also produced two professional players in Stan Hayton, who was able to play anywhere from second-row to centre-threequarter and was a power in the Workington Town team until a severe illness put him out of the game in 1946, while the other was Dan Huddart.
The significant thing about this strong junior team, however, was that no fewer than six of them had been in the Flimby School team of the early 1930's, unbeaten in the Cumberland Schools' League and proud of their title of "the team who never kicked a ball." That part of their game was forgotten as men, and Risehow were rather partial to a kicking game. Four other players came from that other unbeaten Flimby School team of 1937-38.
This stressed the importance of the new re-established Cumberland Schools' League and the real loss caused by its absence during the war years. The first six players, aged 26 to 29 years, were R. Huddart, T. Park, T. Huddart, Pat Graham, W. Telford and W. Robley, and the second four aged 21 to 24 years were J.J. McKeown, T. Varty, E. Varty and Joe Huddart. The Huddart's and Varty's being cousins and not brothers. Tom Farish, the tallest forward in the Cumberland League, and the amateur international brothers, Joe and San Fearon, all three of whom were in Brookland Rovers team which met Warrington in the first round of the Challenge Cup the previous season, plus Alan Dover and ex-professional J. W. Inglesfield, two big forwards, and two young players 20 and 21 years, Stan Harrison and Sam Moore, made up the seventeen players on whom Risehow relied.
600 AMATEURS ARE NOW PLAYING RUGBY LEAGUE FOOTBALL
WHENEVER mention is made of the Rugby League code it is invariably associated with professionalism. Therefore it was with some surprise to many to learn that during 1946 in Cumberland no fewer than 600 amateur players had been signed by junior clubs. These signings ranged from mere striplings in their early teens to veterans of forty with thickening waistbands and thinning or greying hair. The only professionals in Cumberland at this time was the thirty of forty on the Workington Town books.
The code in Cumberland was on the crest of a wave of popularity comparable with the record breaking season of 1933. There were the Job's comforters who prophesied the previous season on the formation of the Workington Town Club, that it would sound the death-knell of junior football in the county. Vehemently they argued that if the Workington team had a run of success the spectators would flock to its home matches, leaving the junior clubs high and dry, bereft of all support.
Those fears thankfully proved groundless. It was true the Workington Club had a run of success and its home games attracted astonishing attendances, but where the pessimists went wrong was in underestimating the general enthusiasm for the game engendered by Workington's good displays. The enthusiasm was so widespread that when Workington were away from home gate receipts at junior matches were often treble the amounts taken at the games in 1939. Thus, there were a number of junior clubs in Cumberland with credit balances of well over 100, whereas in 1939 they were virtually living from hand to mouth.
The Cumberland Rugby League had as its secretary Mr George Plummer, who had held that post, with the solitary exception of the 1945 season, ever since 1920. Mr Plummer's association with the code had gone right back to the dim and distant year of 1898, and he vividly recalled the blackest year, 1909, when the number of junior clubs in this remote outpost was reduced to two, Brookland Rovers and Millom. How the game survived was a nature of a miracle. But the barometer gradually swung upwards until in 1933, there were fourteen senior amateur clubs in the county and eight junior clubs. In 1946 there were thirteen senior and eight junior clubs. Among the new or revived clubs were High Duty Alloys (Distington), Solway Colliery (Workington), Clifton and Seaton. Furthermore, there were fourteen entries for the Cumberland Shield, a record since before the 1914-18 war.
In the past Mr Plummer and others linked with the code in Cumberland often proclaimed the cardinal weakness to be the big gap between schoolboy football and the time when a youth developed sufficiently physically to take part in the Shield and other junior competitions. A determined effort to bridge that gap had now been made by launching a new competition for youths under eighteen, for which Mr T. Lindsay, of Workington, very kindly donated a trophy.
Another new competition being run for amateurs at this time was by the Workington Town Supporters' Club. Teams taking part in this were restricted to three registered Cumberland League players. Sixteen teams entered. A feature of this competition which particularly appealed to the Cumberland Rugby League Commissioners was that most of the players came from Workington, a town which in the past had always been more a Soccer than a Rugby stronghold - the real hot-beds of Rugby in the county were the Maryport and Whitehaven districts.
To the under-21 League the Commissioners allocated the old Junior League trophy. Mr N. Whitwarm, of Seaton, was elected secretary of the competition.
At one period of the previous season, Cumberland was in a desperate plight for referees; there was not enough to go round. An appeal during the close season met with a satisfactory response and the ten referees on the active list increased to twenty-two.
THERE was a big gathering of all the Commissioners, Cumberland Rugby League officials, club representatives and other organisations associated with the junior code in Cumberland, at the Royal Oak Hotel, Keswick, on July 10th, 1948, to celebrate the jubilee of Rugby League football in Cumberland. Mr Tom Banks (Whitehaven) presided at both the Commissioners meeting before high tea and the Cumberland Rugby League meeting afterwards.
A feature of the meeting was the proposal by Mr Frank Stevenson, Workington Town Rugby League Council representative, that some tangible recognition be made of Mr George Plummer's official connection with the game from the beginning fifty years ago as Brookland Rovers committee-man until the present day as secretary to the Cumberland Commissioners. It was immediately taken up and carried unanimously.
Mr Plummer gave a brief resume of the fifty years history of the code in Cumberland and said the late Rev. Ewbank forecast its early death at the very birth. In 1909-10 they were down to two clubs - Brookland Rovers and Millom; in 1919 to five junior clubs; but they never gave up. Now in the coming season (1948-49), they would begin with two professional clubs and a Cumberland League of fourteen clubs, nearly as strong as it had ever been. "I was in at the birth," concluded Mr Plummer, "but I am pretty sure I shall not be there at the death!" Mr Plummer also stated that Mr W. J. Rich, Millom, first secretary of the Cumberland League, was the only founder still alive.
It was announced that Mr Jack Barnes (Maryport), President of the Cumberland Commissioners, and Mr J. W. Tyson (Whitehaven), West side clubs' Commissioner, had been appointed permanently to the Commission. The ballot for the clubs' Commissioners saw Mr J. Lister (Harrington), re-elected for the East and Mr T. Stewart, the old Kells wing forward and Solway Colliery nominee, elected for the West, after a four cornered contest requiring three elimination votes. The decision of the Maryport Benevolent Cup committee to use the Wharton Shield for an under 16 challenge competition, completed all the steps in the ladder in Cumberland - schools, under 16, under 18, under 21, the Cumberland Rugby League "A" team senior football, and first class professional.
At the Cumberland Rugby League meeting Mr W. L. Addison (Maryport), honorary treasurer, submitted a statement showing a balance in hand of 65 against one of 34 brought forward. Hensingham were unanimously re-elected to the League; Whitehaven "A" were admitted on a non-competitive basis by eleven votes to two; and Gilcrux sent a letter deferring their entry a year because they had a practice site but could not yet obtain an adequate ground.
Mr Plummer also used all his skill to try and draw the Workington Town Supporters' Club representatives on their financial policy regarding junior football for the forthcoming season. Last year they generously donated 95 to pay the insurance premiums to cover the Cumberland Rugby League players of all fourteen clubs against injury. He failed in his effort, but so far as insurance cover was concerned an inspired Press "guess" was that the Supporters' Club did not intend to commit itself to an annual donation, but the door would remain open for financial aid to juniors should a special non-recurring need arise.
Mr Plummer also announced that grounds were being acquired in Lancashire and Yorkshire for Amateur Rugby League football through the British Playing Fields Society. If any Cumberland club could get a chance at a reasonable figure to purchase a ground he thought the money would be advanced. They had plans to try for grants for improving Maryport Athletic ground and Solway Park (Glasson Rangers), but a ground like the new one Hensingham had rented would be well worth buying - the turf was "made" for Rugby football.
Mr Frank Stevenson said one of the features of the Rugby Football League's annual meeting in Leeds was that Lancashire and Yorkshire amateur organisations had both to go cap in hand for grants to carry on. By comparison Cumberland were in a strong financial position right on their own feet.
Special congratulations were offered all round to Mr Syd Nixon and Mr Elliot Crellin, secretary and treasurer respectively of Risehow and Gillhead. Risehow won the Cumberland Cup for the third year in succession, the Cumberland Challenge Cup for the third time in four seasons, qualified to meet Keighley in the first round proper of the Rugby League Challenge Cup, were the the first Cumberland League team to beat an existing professional club when they won 10-2 in the second game of their tie with Keighley at Derwent Park, Workington, during February. They lost the tie 13-10 on an 11-0 defeat at Keighley, but were unbeaten in Cumberland, making another new record.
In their four seasons existence Risehow had figured in seven of the possible nine Cup finals in Cumberland, and won all seven. In the same period they had had Stan Hayton, Dan Huddart and Willie Telford signed by Workington Town, and of the team which had served them in the season just ended Joe and Sanny Fearon, Alan Dover, John McKeown and Edwin Varty had now gone to Whitehaven. Glasson Rangers twice won three Cups (1930 and 1936), but no club had ever had shown results like Risehow in four seasons.
It was recalled with amusement that Mr T. Holmes, a member of the Keighley Club, dare not watch the last ten minutes of the second game at Workington, so hotly were Risehow pressing and so near success. He was so pleased to here the final whistle that he subsequently visited Maryport specially to watch Risehow beat Kells 21-5 in the Cumberland League Championship final and gave them 2 to fill the Cup.
A SEA OF TROUBLES
IN season 1949-50 Rugby League football in Cumberland certainly had a chequered term.
A surperlative Maryport side, playing fast, open football drew by far the best attendances and won both the Cumberland Challenge and the Cumberland League Cups for the first time in the club's history. Broughton Moor qualified for the Rugby League Challenge Cup and met Wakefield Trinity in the first round proper only to lose 101-8 on aggregate.
The team of the season, however, was Brookland Rovers Under-18 team. The Rovers failed to win a League Cup, or Shield game, but Ellenborough chins went up again and eyes had a new proud light when these lads won the Maryport Benevolent Cup with an all-time Cumberland record of 167 points to nil in five matches. Workington Town had already signed Jack Akitt (centre) and Joseph Vickers (full-back), and in all, eight of the sixteen players who assisted the team attracted professional club inquiries.
Those were the best things in the season, but there were also some bad ones. First of all the Cumberland representatives agreed, reluctantly, at an Amateur meeting, to accept permit players on the Lancashire and Yorkshire basis. The Cumberland League rule, crystal clear was that a professional had to be struck off a professional register before he could play for a Cumberland Junior club. There were no "ifs" and "buts" about it; he was either on or off and the rule had stood every test for forty years.
The situation arose on a test protest where the Rugby Football League Secretary authorised Maryport to play W. McKendry (Liverpool Stanley) on permit and the Cumberland League committee, which was composed of the secretaries of the clubs, refused to accept the authorisation, fined Maryport, and deducted two points. The Cumberland Commissioners quashed the fine and points deduction, but such was the deadlock on the issue that Maryport finally agreed to withdraw McKendry rather than see the League fold.
That they still won both Cups was moot justice; the only sufferer was McKendry, a grand, little, gritty player of the finest type, who could easily have been struck off the list with no loss to Liverpool Stanley.
The Cumberland club representatives still refused to accept the dictation they must allow permit players. The near presence of Workington Town and Whitehaven "A" teams made it unlikely that they would, and a further knotty point was likely to arise with the application by Workington Town to enter a "B" team in the Cumberland League.
Egremont Rangers caused a sensation by committing "hari-kari." Egremont spent a lot of money - nearly 30 it was said - paying the fares of players from the Forces to play in the Cumberland Shield (under 21) Final at Maryport on Good Friday.
They also had two motor coaches full of supporters making the day of it. About thirty minutes before the start, too late to stop the teams travelling, the wind and rain became really bad and the Commissioners postponed the match. It would have been an endurance test but the ground was fit for play - anyone could see that, Seaton were prepared to play.
Egremont's allegation that the match was postponed for financial reasons was probably right on the head of the nail. They had much popular sympathy, when they told the Commissioners more or less to "keep the Shield" and refused to play the postponed match at Whitehaven thereby denying the Commissioners the receipts they wanted. Had they left it there no one would have grumbled, but Egremont, with eleven wins and no defeats, withdrew from the League, which was run by the clubs and not the Commissioners, and also from the Maryport Benevolent under-18 Competition, which was an entirely separate organisation. Those withdrawals were greatly regretted by the committees concerned, caused difficulties for them which were acute in the League re-arrangement, and lost the Egremont club the sympathy they had won on their Shield decision.
The season also ended on a wrong note. Five minutes from the end of the League Cup Final at Solway Park, Maryport. Banton scored a try for Maryport, which gave them a 5-2 lead. Referee J. B. McWalters, of Workington, ordered off J. W. Irving, Broughton Moor's Amateur County hooker, for the way he disputed the try. When the players lined out for the restart Irving was still there, and Referee McWalters terminated the game forthwith and left the field at the double. He also left Mr. W. Tyson (League Secretary), Mr G. Plummer (Commissioners Secretary) and Mr T. H. Stokoe (President of Glasson Rangers) with a situation that was tense and could have become very awkward on an open field in the press of a big crowd.
It was May 22nd (Monday evening), there could be no replay, and it was a strong and right decision to present the Cup. Broughton Moor had been concerned in a similar incident at Risehow earlier and were allowed a replay. This time with three minutes to play and Maryport on top it would have been wrong.
That Irving and Broughton Moor were in the wrong there is no doubt, but there were many who thought Referee McWalters, fresh back from the line at Wembley, was too hasty. He could have demanded the cooperation of the Moor captain, or he could have stood with his watch and timed out the three minutes. Actually the issue could have arisen whether a player ordered off goes to the nearest point on the touchline or takes the shortest way to the dressing room exit. In the latter case Irving could have walked the length of the field of play.
ALE AND BITTER IN THIS CUP!
ONE of the most humorous tales relating to Cumberland Amateur Rugby League refers to a Cup filling at the end of 1950 and was told after the presentation of the Cumberland League Cup that season to Joe Shearman, Maryport's captain, by Mr T. H. Stokoe (Maryport). Mr Stokoe had been President of Glasson Rangers for more than twenty-five years, and twice during that period the Rangers won all three principal Cups in Cumberland, (League, Challenge and Hospital) in the same season.
The first occasion was in 1929-30 and Mr Stokoe recalled that he had duly filled the Cumberland Cup and Hospital Cup with tasty mixtures of the beverages such occasions demanded. He was preparing to do the same with the League Cup when a Glasson official of long experience whispered: "Ne wine nor spirits in this 'un. Mr Stokoe. Ale and bitter will do." He was left with the thought, considered it, and bowed to experience. How wise the words were he understood later when he ordered ale and bitter to fill and refill the League Cup - it held nearly fourteen pints!
BIGGEST CROWD SINCE THE WAR - SEES ROVERS STEAL THE FRUIT
TRADITION was such in Cumberland Rugby League that in 1947-48 that when Brookland Rovers contested a final it wasn't very often they looked into there after match pint with losers medals stuffed into waistcoat pockets. On the other side of the fence the opposite could be levelled at Gt. Clifton, who with Kells competed as the clubs most frequently beaten at the final hurdle. Although both those clubs had enjoyed considerable success in qualifying in the Rugby League Challenge Cup - the county trophies had generally slipped from them.
Clifton, it has to be said, up to that season held the distinction of being the only club to play in and lose each of the premier cup finals in one season, when Glasson beat them in all three back in 1929-30.
Tactics and tackling combined brought a traditional result on Good Friday 1948, when the biggest at any amateur game (other than on Workington Reds, Borough Park) since the war saw Brookland snatch the Shield from Great Clifton by the narrowest of margins 10-8. There is no gain saying that on the day Great Clifton were by far the superior football team in the finer arts of the game. From a spectators point of view, most agreed that Clifton had provided the cream in a rugby sense, with Jackie Ackerley's try the proverbial cherry on the top. Nevertheless, it was eventually Brookland who went away with the fruit.
Brookland, it has to be said, were blessed with a nicely balanced pack, a front row trio and wing forward who were as good as any other combination throughout Cumberland League football, and a smaller but well matched and lively second row pair. After losing the first half dozen scrums Clifton countered by putting Cooper in for Cameron as hooker. Cameron earned full marks subsequently in the back row and Clifton also did better in the scrums; but in those vital scrums, five to ten yards out at either end, when every ounce of effort goes in for possession, it was two two to one that Rovers would win it.
They also discovered in the first few minutes that, on the day, Clifton had a weakness. In a hazy sun, with a light ball, and just enough sea breeze to set it curling, "up and under" football troubled the Great Clifton defence. It was not long until the older Ellenborough heads on the touchline were signalling the tactics. It was "up and Under," cleverly exploited by Southward in its several variations, which proved the downfall of Clifton. It was instrumental in producing the last try after Clifton had gone ahead 8-5 and seemingly heading for victory.
The Rovers' tactics, it seems, could only be faulted in one respect. Scrum-half Ivison's ferret-like darts were a big factor in the success of the side. While Brookland had the lead he played to the book of orders. However, there was a spell in the second period when they trailed. It was during this segment of pressure before regaining the initiative that Ivison indulged in individualistic play. Clifton immediately seized on the fact, and knowing what to expect closed the 'gap' which had cost them five points. Had Ivison suddenly swung the ball wide once or twice it might have caught Clifton by surprise and would at the very least have set them the problem of wondering what he would do and left those "ferret holes" little wider the next time. Brookland's threequarters were largely employed tackling and following up, but with the few chances they had they showed they could go forward and handle quite well. That was the stage of the game to bring them in as an extra variation in attack.
On reflection, an example in reverse of the above comes to mind when the bull strong Ted Hodgson, some years earlier had returned back to Cumberland after service with Bramley and the type of pass mentioned earlier would unleash 15 stones of solid muscle hurtling forward at electrifying speed. On one such occasion Glasson were leading Brookland 3-0. Time was fast running out and Brookland were staging an all-out siege at Solway Park. Ted moved to outside half, and at scrum half was Herbert 'Nelsonic Eye' Stamper, one of the cleverest but slowest running half-backs ever to play the game in Cumberland. "Give it to Ted" was Herbert's orders from the sidelines. Glasson drew out a forward, Brookland went all out for possession, and time after time Herbert duly gave it to Ted, only to see him stopped and heaved back by a stone-wall defence. Then with the clock showing only three minutes to go, Herbert "gave it to Ted" again, but in theory only. Ted went down, submerged by the converging Rangers' defence and there was Herbert literally strolling (legend says he WALKED the last 15 yards) in between the posts still with the ball. Tom Garner, breaking from the pack dived full length to get an ankle grip and Herbert fell reaching the ball forward towards the line. Rovers' supporters claimed the ball touched the line and it was a try, Glasson said it was inches short. The referee took the latter view and Glasson won 3-0. Had Herbert Stamper not been so slow nothing could have prevented Brookland winning 5-3 - but then, had he not been slow, he would not have been playing for Brookland Rovers - or any other amateur team.
The moral of this, especially for the younger element is that intelligent touches in variation of tactics and sometimes even a "Nelsonic" eye are the order of the day, when circumstances offer the chance, are the hallmark of an outstanding player in any class. Failure, of course, has its consequences.
AN OUTSTANDING SEASON
THERE had been few seasons in the history of Cumberland Rugby League football with as many outstanding features than season 1947-48. Placing them in their correct order the two most significant to emerge was the re-formation of the Schools' League and the conversion of the highly successful former senior Maryport Hospital Cup into the Maryport Benevolent Cup for club teams of youths under 18 years of age.
The Schools' League in the past had been the foundation on which the standards and sportsmanship of junior Rugby League in the County had began to improve. It was strongly felt that the benefit of the seasons schools' football would be felt in due course if the abilities of some of the boys concerned grew with them. The Benevolent Cup competition had put in the missing link for young players: giving them facilities at school to fifteen, in the mentioned cup to eighteen, in the Shield to 21, and finally into the Cumberland League itself. The one-time Junior League for "A" teams and new clubs was the only further training asset that could be introduced: but with professional football now a regular feature of the county scene it was felt unlikely that this option would be implemented.
The Benevolent Cup itself was a major success. Most of the ties and the semi-finals and final drew attendances far in excess of the ordinary league fixtures and helped in no small way to improve club balance sheets as well as being a good money-spinner for the new fund. Play in the rounds proved very entertaining, but the very keen tackling in the last four and final reduced the scoring to the bare minimum and therefore the matches as a spectacle suffered. Nevertheless they were all exciting, with one semi-final and the final being won by Egremont by a single point in each case. In the Benevolent Cup final and the Cumberland Shield final Maryport and Great Clifton respectively produced the football which should have enabled them to win, but Egremont in the first and Brookland Rovers in the second produced the football tactics to snatch the trophies against what were really superior football teams.
Without a shadow of doubt the team which stood head and shoulders above the rest was a fine Risehow team. They took all three senior honours during the season - League, League Championship and Cumberland Cup. Their greatest honour, however, was the conquest of Keighley at Derwent Park in the second-leg of the first round tie of the Rugby League Challenge Cup; the first Cumberland League team to beat a modern-day professional thirteen, although the narrowly lost the tie 13-10 over two-legs.
Excluding Risehow, until losses due to injury reduced their strength late in the season, it was an accepted opinion that the standard of Cumberland Rugby League teams generally was not as high compared with some pre-war periods. The seven years war break, plus recruitment by Workington Town had been the two main factors; but an offsetting advantage to the players Town had taken was the wave of interest their success as a club had created.
To illustrate that interest, it was a little known statistic that Mr. J. Goodfellow, as secretary of the Maryport Benevolent Cup, had to handle more than 300 registration names for the eleven teams which entered the competition.
One other feature of the season which caused much interest was that Cumberland contributed five of the English under-21 team beaten by France at Bordeaux - W. Southward, full-back, Brookland Rovers; S. Poole, winger, Millom; H. Parkinson, centre, Great Clifton; J. Ackerley, stand-off, Broughton Moor and J. N. Davison, second-row, Millom. Cumberland had a disappointment in the fact that only half-back, Jack Collins of Maryport was originally included in the England for the return at Borough Park, however, on the day Kells back-rower, Jack Graham also played.
It is interesting to note how the league was structured in those days: The competition had 14 clubs which were split into two sections, and made up as follows -
Glasson, Risehow, Broughton Moor, Maryport, Brookland Rovers, Aspatria and Broughton.
Clifton, Kells, Egremont, Workington Marsh Hornets, Seaton, Millom and Solway Colliery.
Despite Risheow dominating the three main competitions, The Cumberland Shield was won by Brookland; and the Maryport Benevolent Cup found a home at Egremont. Dearham won the Cumberland Schools' League with 29 points from a possible 32, while runners-up were Ellenborough one point adrift.
BROOKLAND ROVERS - CUMBERLAND'S FINEST EVER?
OF all the many clubs associated with the amateur game in Cumberland/Cumbria, perhaps the best known name is that of Brookland Rovers. And it is fair to say that due to the passage of time little is now remembered of their sterling deeds and the great players which the club produced.
The Rovers had the finest club history in Cumberland, and it is questionable whether any junior club in the three northern counties has ever had a comparable record.
The club was founded in Rugby Union days in 1882, in the village of Ellenborough, now a suburb of Maryport. Their choice of name was peculiar. Mr Joseph Falcon, the first secretary, and his committee, canvassing for subscriptions, received the then amazing sum of 5 from Mr Peter de Colin, of Brookland House. It solved all their immediate financial problems in those days and in honour of the donation the club called itself "Brookland Rovers" instead of "Ellenborough," and it was never changed. The 300 or 400 ardent supporters of the Rovers, however, seldom used the name. Their encouragement was always invariably "cum on Elbra."
The club lapsed in 1887 after reaching the Cumberland Cup final, but two years later it was revived with Mr John Barnes as secretary, and it had an unbroken history from 1889 until its demise in the early 60s.
No fixtures were played for two five-year periods in the two wars, but the officials carried on. Even in the "black year" for Northern Union in Cumberland - 1909-10 - when only two clubs registered, they were Brookland Rovers and Millom. Although their grounds were sixty miles apart they kept the flag flying, and a revival soon followed.
Brookland Rovers were always a power in Cumberland Rugby. In 1893-94 they won the Cumberland Championship and in that season scoring 394 points, and conceded a mere twelve points.
In 1898 they changed to the Northern Union, and later their officials and players "bought" the first Cumberland Cup.
That transaction happened in a bizarre way. In the final of 1902-03 the Rovers beat a powerful Seaton fifteen (it was still fifteen-a-side until season 1906-07). The cup was on order but had not arrived. Unable to go back to Maryport and Ellenborough without a "pot to fill." Secretary George Plummer, committee and players bought one of those large plant pots designed for the family aspidistra. Draped in blue and white, it was paraded around the district in a wagonette drawn by a team of three horses and followed by Sam Hutton and his six sons forming a one-family drum and fife band playing "Cock o' the North." Two of the Hutton sons, John and Sam junior, had played a hard game in the forwards that day but father Sam insisted on them marching and playing in the family band while the other thirteen players rode.
Brookland made an amazing eight appearances In the Rugby League Challenge Cup first round proper. Their first, 1899-1900, was a dismal financial failure. Tyldesely beat them 12-0 at Tyldesely before a meagre turn-out which yielded just 12. All the points were scored in the last twenty minutes when the long journey began to tell on the Cumberland team.
In 1903-04 they had better luck. Drawn at home against Salford, they accepted 60 and half the "gate" to travel, and went down smiling by 55-0 to a Salford side captained by that famous son of Maryport, Jim Lomas, who scored more than 20 points himself. Salford made it all the way to the final that year only to be beaten by Halifax.
The following season Maryport beat the Rovers in the final qualifying round, but Brooklannd protested and won the replay. Again they were lucky. Hull Kingston Rovers gave them 80 and half the "gate" to travel to Hull. "Elbra" lost 73-5, and "Tich" West, the Hull Kingston Rovers wing threequarter, scored 11 tries and kicked 10 goals (53 points) which still stands as a Rugby League record.
In 1905-06 Brookland were unlucky. They were drawn at Featherstone. A more attractive game at Ponterfract reduced the receipts to 8, and the Cumberland team's expenses came to 30. They travelled from 5am to reach Featherstone forty-five minutes before they were due to play. Nevertheless they were leading by 5-2 after sixty minutes. Then the journey told. Featherstone took the lead and ran in three more tries to win 16-5. Had Brookland been drawn at home and Featherstone compelled to make the long journey to Cumberland. Brookland always maintained they would have won - and before a "gate" of not less than 100, too.
Because of their previous success, Brookland were exempted in season 1906-07. They went to Keighley, played in a downpour before a crowd which paid a grand total of 16 for the privilege and lost by 18-0, and heavily financially.
In 1909-10, four games with Millom were necessary before Millom qualified to represent Cumberland.
Brookland had no more success in the competition until 1919-20. Drawn at home to Halifax, Secretary George Plummer negotiated a record guarantee of 125 and half the "gate" to travel. Half the takings turned out to be 200. Brookland chased phantoms and lost 54-0, but they returned home with a record junior club profit of 325, and promptly renamed their old ground (now a housing estate) "Bradbury Avenue," after the name on the Treasury notes then in currency.
They had to wait until season 1930-31 for their next crack at the competition. Again they did well from a journey to Huddersfield, where the profit compensated for a sixty points defeat.
Brookland Rovers record as a nursery for senior clubs was equal to their record as a club. They produced three international forwards in the persons of Joe Ferguson (Oldham), the imortal, Douglas Clark (Huddersfield), and Ned Hodgson who was later in his career to give yeoman service to those new young upstarts at Workington Town - or so viewed by the rest of the Northern Rugby League. Dapper Joe Coulthard (St. Helens and Wigan) was another Brookland product. Later as headmaster of an Oldham school he was chairman of a League which produced players like Egan, Bradshaw, Gee, and others. Jim Coulthard, brother of Joe, was the first Brookland player to turn professional. He went to Hull. Years later he was elected Mayor of Birkenhead. Then their was Bob Falcon and Robert Ferguson (both with Halifax), and later, through the years Faragher Stamper (Huddersfield), Joe Stamper and Faragher Southward (Salford), Ted Hodgson (Bramley), Buddy McEwan (York), Ted Reed (Bradford Northern) and Jont. Irving (Halifax) - the list is endless.
In 1929-30 Brookland won the Cumberland Challenge Shield (for players under twenty-one years) for the third season in succession. Of that thirteen, no fewer than six became professionals, and one, Joe Todhunter, refused several offers. The six were Ned Hodgson, the youngster of the team (Oldham, Broughton Rangers and Workington Town); Hudson Irving (Halifax); and W. Mossom (Salford), forwards; George Irving (Barrow) and I. Bell (Barrow and Hunslet), half-backs; and Harry Fletcher (Barrow), centre.
Some of the last players from those great Brookland sides to join the professional ranks were Stan Inglesfield (Huddersfield and Oldham), and Joe 'Pop' Shearman and Billy Jackson (Workington Town). Some who could have gone to professional sides but preferred to stay at home and were considered good enough to play for their county included Dick Petre, Humphrey Nixon, Sam and Albert Hutton, Sam Connor, Tom Stanger, Syd Burnett and 'San' Fearon.
The last named was the father of three of the Brookland side which faced Warrington in 1947, Joseph (centre) John (forward) an Sanderson (who would later play for Whitehaven), scrum-half. In their time that trio attracted the attention of Halifax, Barrow, Workington Town and Oldham. Amongst them they scored 16 of Cumberland Amateur's 18 points against Yorkshire Amateurs at Keighley in season 1946-47. In three generations covering ten Fearon's, seven refused to sign - Sanny's spell at Whitehaven breaking the sequence. Of the others, Barker (second-row) had been on trial with Hunslet and Thompson (half-back) was formerly at Oldham.
The above mentioned tie with Warrington was the last occasion in which Brookland Rovers featured in the first round of the Challenge Cup. And it caused some controversy around the Ellenborough area. With a profit of about 600 spread over two games against the 'wirepullers,' and around 100 from the Cup pool. Brookland broke all financial records for a junior club. But they had to endure severe criticism, and even talk of a boycott among some of their supporters because they "sold their birth-right" by failing to stage one of the games in Cumberland (both legs took place at Wilderspool), but as events turned out, it would have been impossible because of the weather to have played the second "leg" at Workington.
It wasn't the first time that a junior club had travelled away "for a consideration," and it was not the first time the word "boycott" had been mentioned either, but usually those type of agitations were only nine days' wonders.
So it would prove, for within a short space of time a giant shadow was cast over the Rugby League world and the Brookland club were united in grief at the untimely death of one of its finest exports. During the course of the Halifax v Dewsbury game at Thrum Hall, forward Hudson Irving collapsed and died, he was 34 years of age, and was due to have had a benefit later that season.
At the inquest a verdict of "Death from natural causes" was recorded. Irving left a wife and two young children.
Maybe it was just coincidence, or something much deeper, but whatever it was, Brookland Rovers were never the same after that event. In a few short years the greatest junior club side Cumberland had ever produced was no more!
..... more to follow .....