Published in Thirteen in 2005
by Gareth Hodgson
The 1980 Challenge Cup Final
Hull KR v Hull FC
“Can the last person to leave, please turn out the lights….”
2005 sees the Silver Anniversary of one of the most famous events in English rugby league history, when on the 3rd of May 1980 England’s capital city became over-run with men, women and children from East and West Hull. For the first time in the history of the Challenge Cup final, both Hull and Hull Kingston Rovers had battled their way through to rugby league’s showpiece event. With Wembley sold out for the occasion for only the second time in ten years, the streets of London were awash with Red and White, and Black and White colours, as what felt like the entire city of Hull converged on the Twin Towers.
This month Thirteen gazes back 25 years, as Gareth Hodgson reports on the day that made Humber history.
As if the fact that the two City of Hull sides were clashing in the final didn’t provide enough flavour to the game alone, several other factors added to the sense of occasion at Wembley that day. It had been over 15 years since either side had been involved in a Challenge Cup final, with Rovers experiencing a 13-5 defeat to Widnes in 1964, and Hull on the wrong side of a 38-5 drubbing by Wakefield Trinity in 1960. With little Wembley pedigree between the teams, there was very much a feeling of newness and nerves for both sides as Hull K.R. targeted their first ever Challenge Cup win, and Hull looking to take home their first since 1914.
Despite having limited Challenge Cup experience, neither side was a stranger to lifting trophies or cup finals. In the previous season, Roger Millward had guided the Robins to the First Division championship, and Hull had regained their position in the top flight as Second Division champions. Earlier on in the 1979/80 season the two sides had also clashed in another final, with Hull the 13-3 victors and lifting the BBC Floodlit Trophy. The sides had also met on two other occasions in the League earlier that year, battling out a 20-20 draw at the Boulevard, with Rovers gaining the spoils in a 29-14 win at Craven Park. Wembley was very much a decider in more ways than one.
Going into the game, there was a great deal of focus on injuries. Rovers second rower Phil Lowe had sprung a shoulder two weeks prior to the game and despite managing to get through a training session on the Wednesday before the final, there was a lot of speculation as to how fit and prepared Lowe was to play. There was also questions surrounding the Rovers captain-coach Roger Millward who had suffered a fractured jaw earlier in the season; the second time in a year he had done so. Despite a glittering career, the 32 year old was approaching his first ever Wembley Challenge Cup final. Although a training session in the days before the final sealed the green light for Lowe to play, a training session across the city spelled the end of the Wembley dream for Hull F.C.’s Graham Evans who tore a muscle in the back of his leg playing soccer two days before the game.
As well as Millward, another rugby league legend Clive Sullivan featured heavily in the build up. At the age of 37, it was also to be his first Challenge Cup final and it was felt that the occasion could be the last opportunities for Millward and Sullivan on the big stage. Sullivan had a different pressure having spent 13 years as a hero at the Boulevard, scoring 247 tries in the process.
Hull invited attention and controversy during their walkabout on the pitch the night before the game. Although not permitted to train on the pitch, several Hull players smuggled their boots out with them onto the hallowed turf allowing Paul Woods to practise a few kicks for touch and Sammy Lloyd to have “two or three” shots at goal. Lloyd admitted that his efforts had been unsuccessful, and hoped that he would be more accurate on the day.
Hull Kingston Rovers:
In his tenth season at the Craven Park side. A former Great Britain under 24 international utility player.
In his first full season with the Robins. Broke Neil Fox’s points in a season record.
21 year old Great Britain tourist and former England schoolboys captain.
Rugby league’s top try scorer the previous season with 35. Ten years at Rovers.
A rugby league legend who captained Great Britain to the 1972 World Cup and scored over 100 tries for both Hull clubs.
Captain-coach of Rovers. Another rugby league legend in 17th year with his home town club.
Won his second league title with Hull KR in 1978/79 having won with Dewsbury in 1973.
Robins’ player of the year who won first full international cap this season.
1979 tourist but injured on tour. Returned to Rovers side in the semi-final.
Wembley winner with Castleford in 1969 and 1970. He was the 1979 England captain and a Great Britain tourist.
Four times Great Britain capped second rower in his testimonial year at Rovers.
Tenth year with Robins interspersed with a three year spell at Manly. 12 Great Britain caps.
World’s most expensive player, returning to Craven Park for £38,000 from Bradford.
Subs: Phil Hogan
Cumbrian born International forward. Signed from Barrow, for a then world record.
An England capped, local born forward who was in his tenth year with Rovers.
Hull player of the year in his first full season. A rugby union convert and a Welsh rugby league cap.
A semi-final try-scorer who signed from Featherstone in 76-77.
In his first season with Hull converting from rugby union. Already a Welsh international.
£8,000 early season signing from Leeds which ends in a Wembley appearance.
Another Welsh convert, in his second season. 25 tries in 27 games in his first year.
Third Wembley appearance after winning and losing with Featherstone Rovers
A 1978 £20,000 signing from Castleford who dropped a vital goal at Odsal in the third Round.
Capped by England and an ex-Great Britain amateur international.
Start of season signing from York. Match winning semi-final try-scorer.
A 1979 Great Britain tourist. Third Wembley appearance after winning and losing with Featherstone. Rovers.
Ex-Keighley and Castleford man was an early season bargain buy from Rochdale.
First player to score more than 1,000 points in First Division. A deadly goal-kicker…
A multiple international tourist, second division player of year in the 1978/79 promotion season.
Subs: Vince Farrar
Club captain who led Hull to promotion in 1978/79. Great Britain capped prop.
Captain in 1976/77 promotion season. On the bench due to Graham Evans injury.
Although going down in history for many reasons, the game itself will not be remembered as a Wembley classic. The aggression of the local derby was the most significant factor in the early exchanges, with a series of penalties and errors interrupting the play.
Rovers did however open the scoring with an extremely well worked try after seven minutes. Thirty five yards out from the Hull line, Rovers worked a move involving Roy Holdstock and Allan Agar, before Brian Lockwood deftly placed a delayed pass into the hands of winger Steve Hubbard who shot through a gap and arced past Pickerall, Woods and Bray to the line. The early aggression continued however as Hull were penalised for a late tackle and swinging arm on Hubbard as he touched down, leading to referee Lindop awarding Hull K.R. a penalty in front of the posts, and an opportunity for a seven point try. Hubbard missed the conversion, but slotted the penalty over to give Rovers an early 5-0 lead.
Almost immediately, Hull were again on the back foot after they were penalised for being offside. After drives from Holdstock and Lockwood, Agar combined with Millward who fed it on to Phil Lowe. Seconds after Millward released the ball however, Ron Wileman flew at him with a high shot, and Hull were again penalised. A groggy Millward continued in pain, with it later emerging that he had suffered a third broken jaw in a year. Hubbard again was successful with the penalty, and after less than a quarter of the game, Rovers led by a 7-0 score-line that Hull would never surpass.
As the half developed, Hull started to build momentum which resulted in Tim Wilby crossing from close-range to bring Hull closer at 7-3. Sammy Lloyd continued his Wembley kicking form of the previous day, floating his kick wide. Rovers capitalised and extended their lead on half-time as Millward dropped a goal from dummy half to take his side back to the dressing rooms 8-3 up.
The second half was even tighter, as the sides battled out territory and possession. Lloyd added a penalty to bring Hull closer at 8-5 after 51 minutes, but despite Hull’s seemingly relentless pressure on the Rovers line, the second half remained try-less. With five minutes to go, Hull were again penalised in kicking range and Steve Hubbard made no mistake taking the score to 10-5, a match winning score-line that would forever go down in Rovers folklore.
Hull K.R.’s Brian Lockwood was awarded the Lance Todd Trophy for an outstanding performance in defence and attack but in terms of individuals, the game is more likely to be remembered as ‘a tale of two kickers’. Many had tipped Hull’s Sammy Lloyd to be a match winner after his kicking performance in the semi-final and over the course of the season, but he could only manage one successful effort from five. Rovers’ Steve Hubbard however landed nine points on the day, including Rover’s early try. Minutes from full-time, Hubbard sprained his ankle and was stretchered from the field, but he limped his way up the famous steps and joined Millward and his successful Robins on a well deserved lap of honour.
MEMORIES FROM THE PITCH
The Hull Daily Mail recently caught up with several players from the 1980 final, and Thirteen is able to re-produce these interviews with the kind permission of the newspaper.
Speaking at the recent reunion of the 1980 side, Roger Millward considered the reunion of the famous 1980 Challenge Cup winners “was almost as marvellous as winning the Cup itself”. Most of the players came together again for the 25-year reunion in May when Roger dramatically led the players through the curtains to take their place at the tables. “It was a joy to meet up again with my old team-mates, many of whom I’d not seen for years, there were certainly a few grey hairs on view. It was a marvellous reunion and they even re-ran the video of the game, but I must be honest, though, I never watched it again. In fact I can’t remember ever watching it all the way through. I prefer to have my own memory of the final.”
Millward remembers the game itself, “It was never a classic, it was a bit scrappy, and strangely enough it was the culmination of my professional career. All my career I’d wanted to play at Wembley and when I achieved that aim I broke my jaw, and although I played through to the final whistle but I never played first-team rugby again. I knew it was broken straight away, but my adrenalin was running so high I just carried on. Not long afterwards I was accidentally kicked in the face by ‘Knocker’ Norton and amazingly this put the jaw back in place.
Millward still managed a beaming smile as the Queen Mother presented him with the trophy. “That has obviously got to be the highlight of my 25 years with Rovers,” said Millward, “not only the game but also all the camaraderie of the rival sets of fans. And I loved that sign ‘would the last one out of Hull turn off the lights’.”
Sammy Lloyd still has nightmares about the defeat. “I’ll never live it down,” admits Lloyd, as he looks back on the devastating 10-5 defeat. “I’d been kicking goals from all angles all season without a worry but nothing went right for me on the day.” Ironically, after the 95,000 crowd had gone home, Lloyd and the Mail’s Hull FC reporter Richard Tingle went back on the pitch and he sent over all the kicks he had missed.
“I vaguely remember that happening, but to be honest I was so gutted all I remember is sinking a few beers in the dressing room and feeling so sorry for myself. It was a bitter pill to swallow for me, the team and those marvellous fans we had. That game was the lowest point of my time with Hull but it was more than compensated for by the high points.”
Match winner Steve Hubbard still has to endure good-natured banter from frustrated Hull FC fans, “Hull FC’s fans never forgave me, I’ve been called everything from a pig to a dog,” laughs Hubbard, who is now 49.
“I’ve had things thrown at me on building sites, but I think it’s all been in good humour. That game has provided me with 25 years of wonderful memories. It’s certainly helped break the ice in my business career, people love coming up to me and discussing that match. It’s amazing how many lives that game touched. Everybody who was around at the time obviously remembers it but it’s gone down in Hull and Rovers’ folklore with even the youngsters of today asking me about it.”
Hubbard recalls his part in the win. “That Wembley game was obviously the highlight, but it flashed by in such a short space of time. Scoring my try was a tremendous moment. It all came about following a plan that Brian Lockwood had brought over from Australia but we’d tried it many times in training and each time I dropped the ball, so we’d just about given up on that movement. All of a sudden I was on the halfway line and Brian gave me the ‘special’ ball. I was stunned I had actually caught it and then a great gap opened up and I was away. No one was going to catch me.”
After his 40-yard dash, Hubbard dived over the line only to be tackled by Graham Bray. “I got kicked on the nose and also twisted my ankle. All the reports said I’d been tackled by Paul Woods, but it was actually Graham Bray, who later came into our dressing room and apologised.”
The tackle meant Rovers were also awarded a penalty. “It would have meant the first seven-point try,” says Hubbard. “But I missed the conversion and kicked the penalty. God certainly smiled on us that day, though I still think I was denied another perfectly good try, but the referee thought differently. If it had counted I would have earned £1,000 as the top goal-kicker in Britain.” He continued, “You won’t believe this but at Christmas it was the first time I had sat down to watch the complete video of the game. It was very emotional for me and my family.”
“Where have the years gone? It was a magical period, and that was highlighted by us winning the trophy with a bunch of local lads. That game will never be repeated.” “Cast Iron” Casey who now runs a hotel in Bowness in the Lake District returned to Hull for the team’s 25 year reunion dinner in May. “That Challenge Cup final will live with me forever,” he recalls. “It was a marvellous occasion and I’ll never forget the atmosphere in Hull leading up to the final – the whole city was buzzing.”
Rugby league has now changed beyond all recognition, and nothing highlights that more than Rovers’ pre-match routine the night before their big final … they went to the pub for a few drinks. “Our coach Roger Millward said he was taking us for a walk into nearby Windsor where we happened to pass a pub,” explains Casey. “So Roger said ‘Okay, if you want a couple of pints so be it – but two, no more’. And that’s all we had, but even then a couple of the lads struggled to force them down. Phil Lowe and Clive Sullivan were suffering badly from nerves and hardly touched their drinks. I had to share a room with Clive and it’s a wonder I slept at all, he snored throughout the entire night.”
And then came Wembley. “I’d been suffering with an Achilles problem and the doctor stuck a six inch needle into my heel to kill the pain. I wasn’t going to miss this game. Everyone knows we won 10-5 but the match was by no means a classic. In fact, it was a dull bore because the tension was too much, especially in the last few minutes when the referee gave a penalty against me. Fortunately, Sammy Lloyd missed it, but to me, we were by far the better side. We should have scored 30 points but Hull’s defence was superb. I have to say, though, that Ron Wileman was lucky to stay on the pitch. he should have been sent off for breaking Roger Millward’s jaw. But despite his injury, Roger carried on – he was a miracle man.”
MEMORIES FROM THE TERRACES
IanP, a Hull fan from the Hull RLFans.com forum provided his account of the occasion from a fans point of view.
“What a day. I took my girlfriend to Wembley for the first time (the first mistake of the day). We went into Five Ways at 6:00am for a pre- coach drink (several actually) and she asked me if I was going to start drinking at that time in the morning. Why are women so stupid at times? We then got on the bus outside and guess what, out come the tinnies, ‘you’re not going to have that now are you…’
Several four-packs later we arrived in London and yes where do we head, straight for a pub. ‘Not more beer,’ she said. ‘I thought I might get somewhere to do some shopping!’ Now at this point I was well oiled up to say the least so I pointed her and her mate in the direction of the nearest shop. Spar. Yes, we had run low on tinnies for the return journey! We went into the pub to find we had been beaten to it by a coach load of Robins. The landlord had a duck fit when we burst in I can tell you. Of course someone spotted a ‘rogue’ mate or family member and the banter and singing followed along with lots of flat southern beer.
Walking down Wembley way was awesome, bumping into friends and neighbours you have not seen for ages, queuing for the toilets, getting out of the toilets and then rejoining the queue again. We went into the old stadium as soon as we could. We were packed in like sardines, singing and having a laugh with the local police officers who could not believe how good humoured we all where despite being the worse for beer.
The match itself was full of ‘Ifs’:
‘If only Sammy had landed those kicks in the match and not alone in an empty stadium later’
‘If only Ronnie had finished the job off on the dodger.’
‘If only we had played Heppy instead of Pickerill.’
‘If only Graham Evans had not broken his ankle playing football a couple of days before the final’
We cheered all the way to the end and gave the FC team massive support when they came to the Hull end. Rovers came round with the cup and got what they expected, a massive ‘Old Faithful’ chorus.
The coach park outside was awash with people hugging each other and singing and at no point did I see any trouble or bad feeling between the fans. I got back on the bus and realised I had a little tear in my eye. Yes, we had run out of beer. We picked up extra supplies just before hitting the motorway and when we left there were three other coaches doing the same thing. The journey back seemed to take forever, buses in those days rarely had toilets on them and we stopped at every service station between London and Doncaster. We managed to get back into Five Ways for last orders (and a lock in) and then stagger home to hit the wooden hill, totally shattered.
Sunday brought the teams return and I was not going to miss that for nothing, so we set off for Five Ways as the team was going to pass it on their tour around the West of Hull. The landlady then was Emma, a staunch FC supporter, and the team did spend a lot of time in the pub so she had us all putting up this black and white bunting around the outside of the pub. I just wish Emma could have made it to the 83 replay; she would have loved that. 60 years a Black and White and missed it by just few short weeks. The open top bus stopped outside the pub and I swear I saw a tear in Knockers eye….it was the first time the bugger had ever passed Five Ways without having at least 6 pints.
We grabbed a lift down as far as Boulevard and just managed to get in before the team bus arrived. The scene there was awesome; it brings a lump to my throat even now. It was packed, heaving, the pitch was awash with the Black and White army treading on the hallowed turf, heaven know how many where in there that day. I was near the open top bus and I did know several of the team personally then, Taffy was a good mate due to his wife (Gillian) and my girlfriend hitting it off when he came north. I was talking to him at the back of the bus and Sammy, poor Sammy, would not come off the bus. He thought he had let everyone down, but the crowd were baying for him to make an appearance. It took several other players and those fans close enough to the bus to persuade him to come out. He did and the Boulevard erupted, (strewth this is effecting me even now) he did a lap of the Boulevard escorted by two police horses and he got back on the bus and cried his eyes out.
Winning could not have been better than that, and yes I do mean that because it’s not about winning being an FC fan, it’s about being part of the legend that is Hull FC. Still it was a great day for the city and with only three arrests (yes just three, Hull knockers please note), and only one of them was from the city of Hull.
Recently I managed to get a copy of the final, so I was able to watch the game for the first time since seeing it live in 1980. It opened my eyes a bit and I realise even more, how close we came.