Nostalgia: Dewsbury’s Challenge Cup tie echoes 1929

Players and officials of Dewsbury Rugby League Football Club pictured at Dewsbury Railway Station before setting off for the historic Challenge Cup Final, the first to be played on the hallowed Wembley turf in 1929.
Players and officials of Dewsbury Rugby League Football Club pictured at Dewsbury Railway Station before setting off for the historic Challenge Cup Final, the first to be played on the hallowed Wembley turf in 1929.

It is not often I write about sport on these pages but I have been moved to do so by the fact that Dewsbury has been drawn at home to Wigan in the fourth round of the Challenge Cup next month.

Inevitably, in the coming months, people will be recalling that these clubs met in the first cup final to be played at Wembley on May 4 1929.

This has spurred me to look back on this occasion which was certainly the greatest day in the history of Dewsbury Rugby League Football Club.

This was the day when the defiant young men from Crown Flatt took on the full might of the strongest and most prosperous team in the league - Wigan - in front of 41,000 spectators.

But it was the warriors from Wigan who were destined to take home the coveted Challenge Cup Trophy.

Unfortunately, Dewsbury failed to play anything like as well as in previous rounds, and the final score was a disappointing 13-2

Dewsbury gave credit to Wigan, who they said had played better, but they always believed the score could have been very different if it had not been for a last minute change to their usual style of play.

Many years later, Henry Coates, one of the smallest and fastest wingers in the game, recalled the disastrous dressing-room ‘pep talk’ given by the Crown Flatt committee, which virtually ensured their defeat.

He revealed that the Dewsbury officials were very aware that this was the first occasion the final had been played down south.

They wanted their players to impress the southerners with exhibition football, something they weren’t used to.

Another shock came when they told their players they were only paying them a straight £5 - win, draw, or lose. No bonuses and no incentives.

They had received £11 for winning in the semi-finals and were expecting at least £20.

Henry recalled: “That really knocked the wind out of our sails. We tried to compromise by asking for £20 for a win and nothing if we lost, but they wouldn’t.

“We all said at the time we’d have got more if we’d gone out and played with the band.”

The Dewsbury players had not been used to playing open football, and although conceding that Wigan were the better side, they believed the game could have gone better if their morale had not been so badly shaken by the sudden change in tactics.

The team had wanted to play the kind of football they were used to - head-down tactics, and not open football as the committee had ordered.

Henry, who had dropped a goal in one of the early rounds which had ensured Dewsbury’s trip to Wembley, said playing at Wembley had been for all of them one of the greatest and proudest experiences of their lives.

He said the elation they felt as they stood on the pitch listening to the Band of His Majesty’s Welsh Guards play the National Anthem had been impossible to describe.

Hundreds of thousands of people who could not get to the game were able to hear a Rugby League broadcast for the first time on radio.

The BBC had previously ignored Rugby League as a sport, and it was not until 1932 that they had even started broadcasting the results of matches.

The broadcast description of the game was heard at the Majestic Cinema in Dewsbury and also in clubs, shops and at cricket matches and other sporting events throughout the district.

This meant that within a second or two of any event of importance taking place on the field, it was known throughout the district

The success of the broadcast was largely due to the fact that the description of the game was given by the Rev F H Chambers, a former player and well known referee of the game.

Mr Chambers commenced with an instructive address on the difference between the Rugby League game and the Rugby Union game for the benefit of the southerners and those who were unfamiliar with the Rugby League code

Listeners also had the privilege of hearing the community singing and the band selection as well as the singing of Abide with Me which came through particularly well.

The announcement that Dewsbury’s captain, Joe Lyman, had won the toss, and had the first use of the wind, came as welcome news to supporters.

The encouragement the Dewsbury players received, particularly with the well-known call “Now Dews!”, fanned the fires of enthusiasm of Dewsbury supporters.

The cry “Now Dews!”, kept echoing through the loudspeakers, and groans of dismay could clearly be heard. Other cries included; “Come on Dews!, “Good old Dews!”, and “Waaken up Dews!”.

Listeners to the game at home, with the aid of marked charts, were able to follow the position of the games, and when Wigan scored their first try, there was a wave of depression throughout Dewsbury.

In London, hundreds of people from the Heavy Woollen District made a special point of being in Whitehall by 9.45am on the morning of the game to watch the laying of wreaths on the Cenotaph by representatives of the two clubs.

Hats were removed, and except for the noise of passing traffic, there were periods of impressive silence.

The Dewsbury wreath was laid on the cenotaph by Joe Lyman, captain, and bore the inscription “A token of remembrance from the Dewsbury Rugby League football Club, May 1929.”

Among those who witnessed the ceremony was local hero, Sgt Major J W Ormsby VC.

From the Cenotaph, the Dewsbury party went with MP Ben Riley to the Houses of Parliament, and they returned to their hotel at 11.15am for lunch. They then left for Wembley.

The team came home on the Monday night and judging by their reception they might have been the victors instead of the vanquished.

A great cheer went up from a crowd of about 3,000 who had gathered outside the railways station, and the players then made their way to the Scarborough Hotel where they had tea.

A window was opened and Lyman was among those who spoke to the crowd. Referring to the enthusiastic reception, he said he didn’t know what it would have been like if they had brought home the cup.

Recalling Dewsbury’s proud moments on this page over the years has always been a great privilege for me and I hope that they inspire local people to also keep records of them.

Tomorrow there will be an exhibition in Dewsbury Town Hall by Dewsbury’s local history group, Dewsbury Matters, which will also be recalling proud moments in the town’s history.

The event will highlight the new blue plaque recently erected at the Fletcher Homes and there will also be a presentation of all Dewsbury Heritage buildings which display blue plaques.

It is hoped that the plaques from the old Dewsbury Hospital, reported on last week, will also be on display.

The event, in the Council Chamber, starts at 11am and is in conjunction with Dewsbury Townscape Heritage Initiative.

Please try to be there. Local history is important to all of us.