Remembering Wilf Spaven

Category: Heritage

Remembering Wilf Spaven

Wilf Spaven was the main driving force behind the rise of Hull Kingston Rovers from being perpetual strugglers in the 1950s to becoming a genuinely competitive side in the 1960s and 1970s, and laying the foundations for the club’s most successful era thereafter.

Spaven, a Hull bookmaker, was born in the city in 1911, and was a Rovers director for 26 years – most of which time he was the club’s chairman. He was first elected to the board in 1949, and served two years as chairman between 1950 and 1952. He then lost his seat on the board, but was re-elected a year later. Spaven was then vice-chairman to A.J. Snelling for five years and when Snelling died during the 1957/58 season, he took over as chairman again. Spaven was confirmed in the role at the 1958 AGM and remained in the job until he died.

As vice-chairman in 1957, Spaven was instrumental in bringing Colin Hutton to the club as coach; then, as chairman, he pushed forward a policy of bringing in the best players if the price was right. Under his leadership, Rovers recruited Harry Poole, Frank Foster, Bill Holliday, Clive Sullivan, Len Casey and, his best signing of all, Roger Millward. Spaven’s great strength was that he listened to the views of those he respected before putting forward his own ideas and coming to the considered decisions that he always took for the good of the club as a whole. He hardly ever missed a Rovers game unless unavoidably involved in other rugby league business.

In addition to all Spaven’s work for Rovers, he also worked tirelessly for the game itself. A longstanding member of the Rugby League Council, serving as its chairman in 1962/63, he was at various times chairman of the international and disciplinary committees, chairman of the England and Great Britain selectors, and three times Great Britain team manager on tour to Australasia.

Wilf died in office on 23 March 1976 aged just 65. On his death, his vice-chairman Percy Johnson referred to him as, “a great leader – always understanding and never dogmatic.” RFL secretary David Oxley paid tribute, saying, “Few men have served the game of rugby league so continuously and in so many capacities as Wilf Spaven. Wilf brought to his devoted work for the game a massive sense of proportion and ever-cheerful humour that the fluctuating fortunes of the game never shook.”

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