Road To Wembley

Dewsbury Greats.  

A select group of individuals born, bred or living in Dewsbury who have made their mark on their town and country. The Dewsbury Greats have featured in various exhibitions and publications since they were first researched and published in 1992.

Dewsbury RLFC played in the first Rugby League Challenge Cup Final to be held at Wembley

photo of Dewsbury's winning team at Wembley

Dewsbury's most famous RL team pictured on the hallowed Wembley turf in 1929, shortly before taking part in the first-ever Rugby League Football Challenge Cup Final to be staged at Wembley. From left: Jim Hobson, Billy Rhodes, Joe Malkin. Cliff Smith. Harold Hirsl. Henry Coates. Joe Lyman (captain). Jim Rudd. Tommy Bailey, J Davies, Jack WooImore, Harry Bland. Percy Brown.

THE greatest day in the history of Dewsbury Rugby League Football Club was the day they played at Wembley in the first ever Rugby League Challenge Cup Final to be staged on the hallowed ground.

photo of the coin toss at Wembly

Dewsbury skipper Joe Lyman and Wigan's Jim Sullivan make the first ever Rugby Leavue Challenge Cup Final toss at Wembley

The defiant young men from Crown Flatt took on the full might of the strongest and most prosperous team in the league — Wigan — in front of 40.000 spectators.

 It was the eternal War of the Roses all over again hut it was the warriors from Wigan who were destined to take home the spoils of war — the coveted Challenge Cup Trophy.


Unfortunately, Dewsbury failed to play anything like as well as in previous rounds and the final score was a disappointing 13-2.
But Dewsbury were good losers and it was nearly half a century before one of the players, winger Henry Coates, revealed that the score could have been very different If It had not been for a last minute change to their usual style of play.

Pep talk

Henry, one of the smallest and fastest wingers in the game, recalled the disastrous dressing- room "pep-talk" by the Crown Flatt committee which virtually ensured their defeat.

“It was the first time Rugby League had been played down south and the officials wanted to impress with exhibition football," said Henry', who played with Dewsbury for ten years.
“Just before going on to the pitch the Dewsbury committee told us we had to play exhibition football, something we weren’t used to ”

The players were also devastated when told they were only being paid a straight £5 — win. draw or lose. No bonuses and no incentives. They had received £11 for winning in the semi-finals and were expecting at least £20.

“That really knocked the wind out of our sails," said Henry, who is now 88 (n.b. when written in 1992) and still lives in Dewsbury.

As we all said at the time we could have got more If we’d gone out and played with the

The team tried to compromise and asked £20 for a win and nothing if they lost. But the committee refused.

The Dewsbury players acknowledged that Wigan, who were used to playing open football, had played better football and deserved to win.


But the Dewsbury team always believed the game could have gone bettor if their morale had not been so badly shaken by the sudden change in tactics. They had warned to play the football they were used to head-down tactics and not open football as the committee had ordered.

Henry, who had dropped a goal in one of the early rounds which had ensured Dewsbury’s trip to Wembley, said playing at Wembley had been for all of them one of the greatest and proudest experiences of their lives. He said the elation they felt as they stood on the pitch listening to the Band of His Majesty’s Welsh Guards play the National Anthem, was Impossible to describe. “We just felt up in the air somewhere.”

photo of Dewsbury's Tommy Bailey & Cliff Smith

Dewsbury's Tommy Bailey and Cliff Smith give chase to Wigan winger Lou Brown

Happy memories of final - but had to sell medals

photo of Henry Coates

Henry Coates

HENRY COATES weighed just 10 st 6 lb and stood only 5ft 5ins, but he was regarded as a genius on the wing and a fast tackler.

He had played an international trial and had been a member of the Yorkshire Cup winning team in 1925 and 1925. He received a number of serious injuries, including a broken collar bone, broken nose and broken foot.

He still believes that Rugby League is the finest game in the world.

He had played an international trial and had been a member of the Yorkshire Cup winning team in 1925 and 1925. He received a number of serious injuries, including a broken collar bone, broken nose and broken foot.

He still believes that Rugby League is the finest game in the world.

Henry has many happy memories of his footballing career — but no medals.

Shortage of money during the Depression of the 1930s, a sickly daughter and no prospect of work forced Henry to sell his most treasured possessions — his two Yorkshire Cup medals and the medal he got at Wembley

"I've nothing left now apart from a few old photographs," he recalls.

'But I had to let them go. We needed every penny we could get to pay the doctor's bills for my daughter who was sick with asthma.

"It hurt me to do it but you can't eat medals, can you*"

Henry gut only £4 for his Wembley medal but cannot remember what he got for the rest

"All I remember is having to pay a specialist £6 a visit to get my daughter right. She got better so it was worth it. I don’t regret it one bit - I'd do it again for the same reason "

Henry came from a Rugby playing family. His father, a Durham miner, had played with the Durham Mashers, and he followed in his footsteps. first by playing at school and then at 13 with the Flatts Albion, which charged tuppence a week subscriptions.

He signed for Dewsbury at 18 while working at Mark Oldroyd's mill and his first match with Dewsbury ended with him getting the sack.

"I’d left work a little earlier on the Saturday morning with my mates who wanted to watch the match he recalled.

"On Monday morning they all got their cards but the boss said they would keep me on because I'd been playing. But I said if my mates were getting their cards I wanted mine as well."

The games preceding the final at Wembley stand out like landmarks in Henry's memory, for Dewsbury at the time had no chance of winning through.

Somehow they got through to the third round, winning against some good clubs and surprising everyone.

They went to Warrington without a chance of winning but there was a surprise in store when one of the committee men. Thomas Martin Phillips, told them in the changing room that if they won they would all get an extra £5 bonus money on top of their £3 winning money. This was at a time when an average millworker's wage was £2 a week.


At half-time they were winning 10-1 and were told by the committee that the bonus was being upped by another £3! "We'd never heard talk of £11 winning money at Dewsbury before," said Henry "We’d have killed ’em for less than that "

He remembers them going back on to the field and keeping the score at 10-4. We didn't let anybody move after that" he laughed.


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