Craven Park Derbies – A Timeline Continued

Category: Heritage

Craven Park Derbies – A Timeline Continued

The next notable Craven Park derby took place on Christmas Day 1968 – notable in two ways; firstly, because it was the last Christmas Day derby, and secondly, because it marked the end of the short Rovers career of Aussie legend Artie Beetson, who sustained a broken leg in the game, and, despite a heroic attempt to play on, had to succumb to the inevitable. A Cliff Wallis try and three goals from Terry Clawson did at least enable Rovers to win 9-0 and bring down the curtain in some style on a Christmas day tradition that lasted, bar a short period in the early 1960s, for best part of 50 years.

In October 1970, in a BBC2 Floodlit Trophy tie reminiscent of the Christmas 1923 game, a first half skirmish saw three players dismissed, including Rovers’ ‘Flash’ Flanagan and Colin Cooper. Despite the numerical handicap, as in 1923, Rovers went on to win, by 18-8, largely due to the goal-kicking of Clawson, who was successful five times. This was the second of the Robins’ two home derby wins between September 1967 and Boxing Day 1972. That 1972 game resulted in a 15-11 triumph for Rovers, largely thanks to their mercurial Aussie full-back, Bob Smithies, who scored two of their three tries, and it was the first of three successive home derby wins. There was no fixture in 1973/74, when the Black & Whites were in the newly-reformed second tier; but Rovers’ relegation at the end of that season meant that the two met again, this time in division two at Craven Park on Boxing Day 1974. Then, the second row pair of Paul Rose and Neil Fox scored all but three points in a 19-12 win. Rovers were promoted for the following season, and the two sides did not meet again until a second round Challenge Cup tie at Craven Park in February 1977. On that day, a second-half Phil Lowe try was the difference as Rovers edged home in a hard-fought game, that saw club legend Mike Smith made his first derby appearance.

Hull FC celebrated their promotion in 1977 with a 20-13 win at Craven Park in October that year, but even their victory in the return game at Easter was insufficient to prevent their immediate relegation. 1979/80 brought four meetings between the sides, most famously at Wembley of course, and only one was at Craven Park. This was in early April 1980, when both sides had already reached the Challenge Cup final, and resulted in a convincing 29-14 win for the Robins. In that game, Steve Hubbard kicked a Rovers derby record seven goals that was only equaled by Travis Burns in 2014. The league game at the Boulevard in October 1979, incidentally, was the last derby game to be drawn – 20-20. The sides met again at Craven Park during Rovers nine-match unbeaten start to 1980/81, with all six tries in the 25-10 win coming from the back division, as Rovers showed the free-flowing rugby that they had not been able to at Wembley. A 19-13 win in the Easter derby of 1982 was followed by a fourth successive win in the fixture, by 16-12 in September 1982. Six goals from George Fairbairn (including two drop-kicks) and two tries from Mike Smith gave Rovers a 16-12 win that day, in a game that featured the debut of Kiwi Gary Prohm, playing at loose-forward. The Easter 1984 game was meant to be a celebration of Rovers second championship in five years, secured at Leigh five days earlier, and indeed they led 10-8 at half-time; but skipper Len Casey was then sent off, and the exertions of playing five away games in the previous three weeks caught up with the Robins, and the Black & Whites romped to a 36-16 win.

The next Craven Park meeting, in October 1984, remains my favourite derby game. Despite being the better side in the first half, Rovers went in 16-2 down at half-time, as Hull FC soaked up all their pressure, before, in the last ten minutes of the half, scoring an interception try and capitalising on a Rovers’ error for a second. But in the second half, Rovers moved up a gear, and simply blew the Black & Whites away with a superb display of attacking football, with Kiwi scrum-half Gordon Smith pulling the strings. Just under a year later, Rovers won a very tight Yorkshire Cup tie at the famous old ground, back-rower Phil Hogan scoring both their tries in a 12-10 win. The league game at the end of the 1985/86 season will be remembered for different reasons, however, coming as it did at the end of an absurd run of 12 games in 25 days. Not a single player who played in the Challenge Cup final two games later featured in the 26-2 defeat – four of the players that day had only made their debuts in the few days before the game and never played for the Robins again. It was a tremendous achievement by the youngsters to hold a strong FC side to a 4-0 lead at the break.

In October 1986, Rovers won 29-6 at Craven Park, despite an indifferent start to the season in which they won only two of their first eight games. They had the game all but won by half-time, when they led 17-0, John Dorahy leading the way with 16 of the Robins’ points. That was to be Rovers’ last derby win at the old Craven Park – a 21-14 defeat the following Easter and a 15-12 reverse in January 1989 bringing the curtain down on derby games at the club’s ‘spiritual home’.


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