MATCH OF MY LIFE with Steve Hampson, published in Rugby League World, 2010
The 1989 Challenge Cup Final
Wigan 27-0 St Helens
Saturday 29 April 1989, Wembley
Steve Hampson had already missed three Wembley finals as a Wigan player – in 1984, 1985 and 1988. Eventually he stepped out onto the hallowed turf for the Riversiders to face bitter enemies St Helens in 1989 and played his part in a wonderful team performance as Saints were ruthlessly swept aside. He told me about the game for Rugby League World in 2009.
We may have beaten St Helens 27-0 at Wembley in 1989 but a lot of people forget that just six days earlier Saints came to Central Park and turned us over in a tight Premiership game, winning 4-2. I even missed a kick at goal that would have tied things up.
And if you bear in mind that we’d lost the league title decider to Widnes at Naughton Park in mid-April, things weren’t going too well for us. Martin Offiah went round me for a try that day and I always get reminded about it every time I’m in Widnes!
We just weren’t clicking but we knew that anything can change in just one day. And so it proved in the 1989 Challenge Cup final against St Helens.
We had a great team, as the number of trophies we won indicates. There was Ellery – more on him soon. Dean Bell was the ultimate pro who played with his heart on his sleeve. In the middle Andy Gregory and Shaun Edwards controlled everything and gave us our orders. We did what they said!
Having got the better of us in that Premiership game, Saints surprised a few people by bringing Michael O’Connor and Paul Vautin, who had flown over from Australia, into their team for Wembley. Maybe breaking up a confident and winning team was a mistake. All I know is I’d have been desperately unhappy to be one of the two players to make way for them.
As for me, I was just concentrating on the fact that this was my first game of Rugby League at Wembley. I was desperate for it to go well.
I’d missed out on three Wembley finals which wasn’t easy. I could accept the first two in 1984 and 1985 but it started to hurt by the time I missed the 1988 final, when the lads beat Halifax. I wondered if I’d ever make it onto that pitch and had to put with the inevitable criticism about my injuries. I was the brittle-bone kid as far as some people were concerned.
The fact that I waited so long to play at Wembley made me even more nervous than I usually got. I was frightened to death as I walked up that tunnel, desperate to just get a foot onto the pitch. That walk was a really long one and people used to say that it could make or break players. It was uphill too!
But the best way to calm your nerves is with some early points and we got off to a dream start when Kevin Iro scored after just three minutes. The Beast was always a handful and he had a great record in Challenge Cup finals.
Joe Lydon kicked a penalty midway through the half before Ellery Hanley scored to put us 12 points ahead. Ellery had a blinder that day, deservedly winning the Lance Todd trophy. The guy was awesome, a good captain and a good player.
There was no stopping him on his day, he was a freak of nature. He always seemed to take in the first ball and the sixth, then be one of the first leading the chase down field after a kick. He was and still is a legend.
We were 12-0 up at half-time and the message from our coach Graham Lowe was to go back out and enjoy it – keep doing the same things. But there was so much professionalism in the camp that we didn’t need to be told that.
I remember the most pleasing part of the scoreline was the nil. They hadn’t scored and we were desperate to nil them. They had a decent side and we knew that would be a great achievement.
The difference had been that we’d made the breaks and finished them off and we knew we had to do the same again – and we did. Within seven minutes of the restart, a Greg drop goal and another Kevin Iro try pushed the score out to 17-0 and the game was as good as over.
Greg then got a try for himself before my big moment with just a few minutes left. Joe was through but he knew he’d been there and got the t-shirt so he unselfishly gave me the ball and I scored in the corner with a huge grin on my face.
27-0 it finished – they got the nil we wanted them to.
Gary Connolly – just 17 then – played fullback for Saints that day and we absolutely bombarded him. He played the game still registered as an amateur so he could still go on a BARLA tour that summer. Either way, it was great to see him put that afternoon behind him by going on to win plenty of medals in a great career.
As for us, it was a great win and a great night. Every game against Saints was a battle, even this one – despite the margin of victory. We knew we’d been in a game.
There was a big rivalry between the clubs and on the field we were enemies. But away from the club we were mates – that’s what the sport’s all about.
Wigan: Steve Hampson; Tony Iro, Kevin Iro, Dean Bell, Joe Lydon; Shaun Edwards, Andy Gregory; Ian Lucas, Nicky Kiss, Wayne Shelford, Andy Platt, Ian Potter, Ellery Hanley. Subs: Denis Betts & Andy Goodway
St Helens: Gary Connolly; Michael O’Connor, Phil Veivers, Paul Loughlin, Les Quirk; Shane Cooper, Neil Holding; Tony Burke, Paul Groves, Paul Forber, Bernard Dwyer, Roy Haggerty, Paul Vautin. Subs: Darren Bloor & Stuart Evans