Batley Bulldogs chairman Kevin Nicholas hopes 1895 Cup final appearance at Wembley will be picture perfect for the club

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By the entrance to the changing rooms at Mount Pleasant lies an imposing billboard. You cannot miss it.

A giant team photo of Batley’s Challenge Cup winners of 1897. The adorned heroes, the first ever victors of the-now prestigious trophy, forever remembered, looking down the famous slope and over the picturesque rolling green hills of West Yorkshire.

Of course, that final against St Helens, 126 years ago, was played approximately 12 miles away in Leeds, at Headingley.

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So was the next one in 1898, with Batley successfully retaining their Challenge Cup crown thanks to a 7-0 triumph over Bradford FC.

Batley chairman Kevin Nicholas. Photo: Neville WrightBatley chairman Kevin Nicholas. Photo: Neville Wright
Batley chairman Kevin Nicholas. Photo: Neville Wright

They only had to wait three more years to get their hands on the trophy for the hat-trick. A 6-0 win against Warrington. At Headingley. Again.

Major cup success has eluded Batley since. However, they remain the only rugby league side to have appeared in three or more Challenge Cup finals and still maintain an unblemished 100 per cent record.

The one thing that was spectacularly missing from their fascinating history? An appearance at Wembley.

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That long, agonising wait though is over after their stunning 22-8 victory at York Knights in the semi-finals of the 1895 Cup.

Batley Bulldogs' players and coaching staff ready for their first ever trip to Wembley. Photo: Paul ButterfieldBatley Bulldogs' players and coaching staff ready for their first ever trip to Wembley. Photo: Paul Butterfield
Batley Bulldogs' players and coaching staff ready for their first ever trip to Wembley. Photo: Paul Butterfield

Could these undoubted heroes of 2023 be plastered alongside the undisputed legends of 1897 at the Fox’s Biscuits Stadium?

Chairman Kevin Nicholas, a superfan of Wembley and the Challenge Cup, believes so.

He said: “I look at the Challenge Cup winners’ photo on the wall and that is significant.

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"We’re getting a team photo done before Wembley in a special kit. Will that team photo be the equivalent of that? That’s how significant it is.

"Could we get that on a wall? Maybe on the Glen Tomlinson Stand.”

He added: “I have always loved Wembley, especially the old Wembley. I used to watch England football all the time.

"When I was young and silly, I actually said that I wouldn’t go to Wembley until Batley got there.

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“So for a number of years, even though I was desperate to go to a Challenge Cup final, I never went.

"But after seeing Great Britain beat Australia there in 1992, I realised I was being silly and I have been to most Challenge Cup finals since then.

“Wembley is big for me, in the history of sport, football, rugby, it is a significant stadium, the national stadium.

"It’s a dream. An absolute dream to get there.”

Craig Lingard has led the Bulldogs’ charge to the historic showpiece occasion against Halifax Panthers in what is his final season with the club before he makes his assistant coach role at Castleford Tigers a permanent one.

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Nicholas, who has been at the helm throughout Lingard’s three stints, over two decades, at the club as a record-breaking player, assistant and now head coach, has nothing but praise for the former full-back.

“Every coach that we’ve had at Batley has left the club, in my view, in a better place and has left the club on good terms,” the chairman revealed.

“We have never sacked a coach in my 26 years. But for Craig to leave on good terms and get his ambition of a full-time position in coaching is brilliant for him.

“As far as his involvement with Batley is concerned, clearly as the record holder for tries, that speaks for itself, and the fact he was here for so long as a player, that speaks volumes.

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“But my worry about appointing Craig was, at some point, if things didn’t go well on the pitch, which might not be anything to do with him, injuries, anything, I just didn’t want him to be criticised and his legacy to be tarnished. That was my only reservation.

“But, obviously, I needn’t have had that reservation. His period as a coach has been absolutely phenomenal.

"I am very happy for him and what he has achieved at the club as a player and a coach. It is beyond good. It has worked out well for everybody.”

And while Lingard’s tenure with the Bulldogs could end with an unforgettable triumph, all Nicholas wants is for the players to “perform their best”.

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He said: “Whether we win at Wembley, lose at Wembley, lose in the play-offs or don’t even get in the plays-offs, we have had a brilliant season, no matter what.

“We will just perform the best we can. If that’s good enough, brilliant. If it isn’t and we’ve given everything, then what more can you ask?

"That’s the ethos at the club and it’s paid dividends.

“If you give your all, that’s it. If the results follow, that’s a bonus.

"But if you give your all for the club, we’ll be happy and it’s worked.”

Whatever happens, there might just be room for another colossal team photo to be hung up at Mount Pleasant - for the future generations to revere and remember Lingard’s warriors of 2023.