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Historic Wigan RL Moments: 1929 Challenge Cup Final
Posted by Bilko on October 10 2010 - 14:50

Wigan v Dewsbury - 1928-1929 Challenge Cup Final.
Saturday 4th May 1929 at Wembley Stadium, London.

Prior to 1929 the Rugby League Challenge Cup Final had always been played at normal club grounds. The first Cup Final in 1897 was played at Headingley with other finals being held at Fallowfield (in Manchester), Athletic Grounds (Rochdale), The Willows, Wheater's Field (Broughton), Fartown, Thrum Hall, Watersheddings, Belle Vue and our very own Central Park.

In this season though the sport wanted to move the cup final to London and members of the Rugby League council visited two potential venues in the capital.

The new "Empire Stadium" at Wembley had opened in 1923 with a massive 127,000 terraced capacity. This had become the home of the football FA Cup Final so was a clear first choice.

The other venue the Rugby League council visited was at Crystal Palace (which is now an athletics venue). It had hosted football FA Cup finals between 1895 and 1914 before being taken over by the military in 1915 for World War 1 efforts.

At an emergency meeting in October that season, the council opted overwhelmingly for Wembley and the tie was set for 4th May 1929.

Wigan's route to the final started off simply enough with them seeing off Batley 25-0 and Hunslet 12-0 in Rounds 1 & 2 at Central Park.

The Quarter Final draw saw Wigan travel to St Helens away and they have to earn a replay in a tryless 2-2 draw. Four days later at Central Park, Wigan progressed the semis with a 25-5 win.

In those days St Helens hosted two professional Rugby League teams, as did Wigan for that fact, and the semi final saw us meet St Helens Recreation. They today are known as the amateur team Pilkington Recs.

The match was played at Station Road, Swinton and Wigan looked doomed when Recs had built up a 7-0 lead in front of 24,728 spectators.  But a converted try from Lou Brown got Wigan back into the game at 7-5 before a Jim Sullivan penalty goal secured a draw.

So a replay was needed again, this time being played at Leigh's old Mather Lane ground. This time it was Wigan who, thanks to tries from Arthur Binks and Johnny Ring, had built up a good 8-0 lead. A try from Roy Kinnear early in the second half, which made it 13-0, looked to have secured the win but a red card for Wigan's Len Mason turned the contest.

With 7 minutes to go Recs had closed that lead down to just 13-12 and Wigan suffered an anxious last few minutes hanging on, daring not to concede a penalty that could have lost them the game. Thankfully they did survive in front of a 21,940 crowd.

I'm using the archives of the Manchester Guardian in researching this article and just searching "Wigan" around the date of the cup final brought up a great story of an attempt to rescue a cat after "mewing" had been heard from inside an old mine shaft. Certain ironies when you see the current attempts of rescuing those poor blokes stuck 100 metres under in Chile. A police constable was lowered into the shaft by rope (no health and safety crap in those days then?) but couldn't find the cat down there.

Good news though a day later - "a second and successful attempt to rescue a cat from a disused pit shaft was made yesterday by Police Constable Garstang." A pulley was fastened round two strong planks and he was lowered down 60 feet in search of the cat. "When Garstang began to poke about the floating refuse a great stench arose from dead dogs". Nice! "After 50 minutes search he saw the cat peering at him and he caught it and sent it to the top in a bag".

Another article that comes up simply headlines "head severed in crash with car". A motorcyclist had crashed with a car and the victims head was found "twenty yards" from the body. It really was a different world in those days wasn't it?

Anyway back to Rugby League and the pre cup final news was Wigan's "remarkable" failure to secure a top 4 Championship Final Play Off place. "They had looked certain" to finish well in the top 4 after being St Helens on Good Friday but lost all of their last five league games, either side of the Challenge Cup Semi Final, that dropped them from clear first to fifth. So form going into the final was dire to say the least. The exit did give Wigan two weeks to prepare for Wembley though instead of one.

In the final the opponents were Dewsbury who finished the season in mid table having won 17 and lost 17 games during the campaign, so despite the poor form Wigan were still clear favourites.

On the day of the match the Manchester Guardian writes that Rugby League authorities were seeking "publicity rather than monetary gain" from taking the final to London. It notes that Wigan's team consisted of five Welshmen, three Lancastrians, two New Zealanders, a Scot, a Yorkshireman and a Cumbrian whilst Dewsbury were all Yorkshire lads bar one. The contrast was why Wigan were known as "the league of all nations" by pundits of that era.

Not only was this the first cup final to be held at Wembley but it was also the first time the BBC covered a Rugby League game in full. The BBC's "wireless service" broadcast "running commentary" on the match from 2:30pm to 4:35pm that afternoon in the Manchester and London regions.

Some previous cup finals had been covered by BBC Radio using "Eye Witness Account". This basically was a 20 minute narrated summary broadcast in the evening after the game. "Running commentary" was eventually launched after a successful trial commentary of the university Boat Race in 1927.

The BBC's commentator on that day in 1929 was the "Reverend Frank H. Chambers", a former player who also went on to become a predominant referee. In fact he had officiated Wigan's Cup Final victory over Oldham in 1924. The broadcast began with an explanation of the difference of rules between Union and League and in those days they always made clear the the broadcast would include that all important "community singing".

Today every fan of Rugby League will have heard of the "Lance Todd Trophy" but why is that man given such an honour you may ask? Well, for a good as player as he was, it wasn't for his playing career at Wigan between 1908 and 1913. It wasn't really for his superb work as team manager at Salford in which he led them to three league titles, four Lancashire Cups and a Challenge Cup in the 1930s.......

No, it was because in 1933 he eventually became the BBC Radio Commentator for Rugby League. "Mr Lance B. Todd brings running commentary on....." the rugby league game of the day was common in the Radio listings during the 1930s. This continued until his death on November 14th 1942 when, on returning home from home guard war duty in Oldham, a car he was driving crashed after reportedly trying to avoid a collision with a tram. Todd is buried in Wigan Cemetery.

The Manchester Guardian's report on the game by a "special correspondent" described the game as pretty dull saying "a hard ground from which dust flew did not assist the players". It added that Dewsbury adhered "more to the old Rugby Union method of hard scrummaging and grim tackling" whilst Wigan always tried to play expansive through the three-quarters but more often than not they failed to succeed in "realising their desires".

Jim Sullivan kicked an early penalty goal, after an offside, to give Wigan a 2-0 lead but with the wind advantage it was Dewsbury who had the better of play in the first half but the report says they lacked "finishing power" and "method to their play". Wigan had fewer chances but took one of them in the 14th minute when Johnny Ring, Len Mason and Frank Stephens combined to send stand off Syd Abram on a 45 yard charge for a try in the 14th minute. Sullivan failed to convert so the lead was 5-0 (it was three points per try). All Dewsbury could show for their efforts was a drop goal from Jack Davies that narrowed the lead to 5-2 before half time.

Into the second half the game remained tight and tense until a game breaking try on the hour mark. Wigan went left and Lou Brown managed to keep hold of "not an easy pass" and squeezed over in the corner. Sullivan's conversion attempt was carried wide by the wind, but an 8-2 lead, with 19 minutes to go, was looking an healthy lead.

Even more so when Dewsbury began to start suffering with injuries. Forward Joe Malkin was "shaken up" and Herbert Hirst was carried off the field with what later turned out to be a fractured rib. No substitutes in those days so Dewsbury had to plow on with 12 men.

Wigan were looking like the only side who would score again and they sealed the contest in the 70th minute. Scrum Half Arthur Binks "dribbled" the ball forward which gave Roy Kinnear "fortunate possession" and "being far too speedy for all who wished to stop him" he scored the try that, together with Sullivan's conversion, sealed the 13-2 victory.

The article sums up that the "sound defence of Sullivan" and the "untiring aggressiveness" of Binks in attack was too much for Dewsbury. The official attendance was 41,500 with most fans having travelled down from the north. The gate receipts of £5,600 were £2,150 more than any previous Challenge Cup Final, so the Wembley move was deemed a huge success even though the contest on the pitch wasn't the best.

An opinion piece on the final, in the same Manchester Guardian, describes how the final had "speed that amazed southerners" and "made the average southern (union) club look weak and watery". Interesting how the articles all had to compare the game of League to that of Union.

Another article describes how "20,000 welcome Wigan home" back to Wigan on the Monday after the final. They arrived back by train and then "boarded a gaily decorated motor-coach" in which Sullivan and Binks held the trophy aloft. Back then they wouldn't have had a clue about what an institution the annual Wembley trip would become and how much history that had made in winning the first cup final there. They had to enjoy it while it lasted because Wigan didn't go back to Wembley until 1946.

Team Sheets

- Wigan Position Dewsbury -
1 Jim Sullivan Full Back Jack Davies 1
2 Johnny Ring Winger Tommy Bailey 2
3 Tom Parker Centre Clifford Smith 3
4 Roy Kinnear Centre Herbert Hirst 4
5 Lou Brown Winger Henry Coates 5
6 Syd Abram Stand Off John Woolmore 6
7 Arthur Binks Scrum Half Jim Rudd 7
8 Wilf Hodder Prop James Hobson 8
9 Jack Bennett Hooker Percy Brown 9
10 Tom Beetham Prop William Rhodes 10
11 Frank Stephens 2nd Row Harry Bland 11
12 Len Mason 2nd Row Joe Malkin 12
13 John Sherrington L.Forward Joe Lyman 13

Score Sheet

Wigan 13 --- Dewsbury 2
Tries (3):
Syd Abram
Lou Brown
Roy Kinnear
- Tries (0):
Jim Sullivan 2


Drop Goals:
Jack Davies 1

Scoring and Incident Pattern

3rd Minute Wigan 02 Dewsbury 00 Penalty Goal: Jim Sullivan
14th Minute Wigan 05 Dewsbury 00 Try: Syd Abram
33rd Minute Wigan 05 Dewsbury 02 Drop Goal: Jack Davies
Half Time Wigan 05 Dewsbury 02
60th Minute Wigan 08 Dewsbury 02 Try: Lou Brown
70th Minute Wigan 11 Dewsbury 02 Try: Roy Kinnear
70th Minute Wigan 13 Dewsbury 02 Conversion: Jim Sullivan
Full Time Wigan 13 Dewsbury 02

Other Information

Referee: Bob Robinson (Bradford)
Attendance: 41,500
Weather: Overcast.

Additional Information

Try = 3 points. Goals = 2 Points. Drop Goal = 2 Points.

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