200 club – No 14 – Alan Burwell

Category: Heritage

200 club – No 14 – Alan Burwell

Alan Burwell was born in Hull in December 1942. As a boy, he was a Hull FC supporter, but it was Rovers who approached him when he was playing for East Hull ARLC in 1962, and he followed in the footsteps of his elder brother, Brian, in signing for the Robins.

Burwell made his Rovers first team debut at off-half in a 10-9 win at Featherstone on 7 April 1962, making a further four more appearances before the end of the season. With Dave Elliott the regular off-half, and Graham Paul, Terry Major, Mike Blackmore and Bob Harris an accomplished three-quarter line, Burwell had to be patient, but in 1962/63 he made 16 more appearances, mainly at off-half, and scored his first tries – two against Keighley in a 36-5 win at Craven Park in September. In fact, despite playing in only a third of that season’s games, only Paul and Harris scored more tries than Burwell’s tally of 12. He did not have to wait long before picking up a trophy either, as he deputised for Elliott in the 13-10 Eastern Division final success that ended the Robins’ 47-year trophy drought. In his early years, Burwell believed that he was too small to play at centre, and was prepared to play as off-half in the ‘A’ team to try and gain first team selection in that position.

In 1963/64, Burwell played in just over two-thirds of the Robins’ 48 games – the majority being at off-half, and Elliott was moved to centre in the latter part of the season. Burwell was Rovers’ top try scorer with 17, including a brilliant individual effort in the Robins’ first ever Wembley appearance, albeit in a 13-5 defeat to Widnes. In the following season, Burwell and Elliott competed for the no 6 jersey, with the senior man edging the battle, and Burwell found himself covering on the right wing for the now-departed Graham Paul in a quarter of the games.

Burwell then missed the entire 1965/66 season whilst at University, studying for his qualifications as a chemical technician, but he returned to the club in 1966. By then, Rovers had signed Roger Millward to play in his favoured off-half position, and Burwell said that he was happy to play wherever the club wanted, and he played mainly at centre thereafter. With Chris Young as his right-wing partner, the pair scored over 50 tries between them in 1966/67, when both were scorers in a 25-12 Yorkshire Cup final success over Featherstone. Rovers retained that trophy in 1967/68, when Burwell finished a brilliant flowing move with six minutes to go, that gave Rovers an 8-7 success over neighbours Hull FC in the final at Headingley. Later that season, Burwell played one of his finest games for the Robins, scoring two tries in a 23-10 Championship semi-final win over St Helens at Craven Park. Unfortunately, there was to be no happy ending, as Rovers were beaten 17-10 by Wakefield Trinity in the final.

By this time, Burwell had gained international honours, and was one of four Rovers representatives in the Great Britain party that went to Australia for the 1968 World Cup. Liking what he saw ‘down under’, he started to consider the possibilities of emigrating. At the time, the Australian government operated an assisted passage scheme to provide workers for their booming industries, and being professionally qualified, Burwell took advantage of this. On his arrival in Australia in the autumn of 1969, he was, effectively, ‘up for auction’ and, as a current international player, Canterbury Bankstown soon snapped him up to play for them in the 1970 season. Canterbury paid Rovers a nominal fee of £4,500, an absolute bargain for a player of his quality. But, after a couple of successful seasons with Canterbury, Burwell retired due to a hand tendon injury.

On returning to the UK in 1974, he was persuaded by Rovers’ then coach Arthur Bunting to come out of retirement and pass on his experience to promising young centres David Hall and Mike Smith. Burwell marked his return with a try in a 56-5 annihilation of New Hunslet in February 1975, and made 38 more appearances for Rovers before finally retiring. His last act in a Rovers jersey was to score his 106th try for the club against Huddersfield at Craven Park in March 1976. As he scored, he felt something go in his leg, and by the time he reached the dugout, he had decided to retire for good.

In all, Burwell made 226 appearances in his two spells with the Robins; playing 124 games at centre, 71 at off-half, 27 on the wing, and four from the bench. In addition to numerous appearances for Yorkshire, he also won eight Great Britain caps. He was a mercurial attacking talent – a very stylish and pacy player who was a real match-winner and a great fans’ favourite.

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