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100 Greats: Cumberland Rugby League
100 Greats: Cumberland Rugby League
The old county of Cumberland has at last been celebrated for the wealth of great rugby players it has produced. The county has been producing these greats since the Northern Union was founded in 1895.
This book not only provides a detailed low-down on each player, but gives a taste o fwhat it felt like to be on the touchline when these memorable men were in action.
Robert Gate's wife must be a woman of infinite patience. A few years back he spent a holiday in Tallentire. Unlike other tourists he was not interested in the scenery. Where ever he went there were memories, memories of great men. At Egremont he was perplexed because there was no statue erected by the subscription of the local public to such a Rugby League giant of yesteryear as Martin Hodgson.
As they filled in the week visiting Silloth and Maryport and Dearham he was overcome by nostalgia as he recalled the great names of the past, men like Alvin Ackerley, Jim Brough and James Lomas.
Rugby League was an important game in Cumberland fifty years ago. In the days before the League game became so heavily professionalised and the smaller clubs had to give way to the super teams made up of players from all over the world, clubs like Workington and Whitehaven were a vital part of the Northern game.
Its now many years since old Cumberland or even Cumbria produced a test player. The last one was Vince Gribbin who played for Hensingham as a young lad and then went on to play at Whitehaven. Before he was twenty-one he had won an international cap. He scored a superb try with a forty-five yard run when England routed France 50 points to 4 at Headingley in 1985. And then he retired for four years.
The last international from Workington, who produced so many great players in the past, was Eddie Bowman in 1977. He came from Kells and played for Whitehaven at first, but a move to Workington in 1970 brought out his star quality. It was seven years later when he was selected to play in the second row for the World Cup Squad in Australia.
In the early days there were men such as James Lomas from Maryport. His career lasted for twenty-four years from 1899 to 1923 and he captained the first Lions team to go to Australia in 1910. They wrote of him that he is "trained to a hair, he looks like the man of muscle that he is, and with an impetuous bull=3Dlike rush he scores tries where nine out of every ten men would fail."
Another Edwardian hero was Joe Ferguson, also from Maryport. He appeared in an amazing 677 games in the days when there could be a hundred scrums in a match.
In later years the game was dominated by such men as Ike Southward, Paul Charlton and Boxer Walker, all backs of outstanding speed, strength and stamina. Ike is shown on the front cover of Robert gate's book clutching the ball as he effortlessly rides a tackle from some despairing anonymous player.
They were supported by forwards of the likes of Dick 'Hurricane' Huddart, Brian Edgar and Billy Ivison. Billy is described as an enduring legend, " a magician with the ball in his hands, an inspirational figure on the pitch and one of the game's most memorable characters".
Men such as these seemed to be everywhere in the west coast towns and villages such as Cleator, Seaton, Ellenborough, Dearham, Parton, Kells, Silloth, Broughton and Wath Brow.
Robert Gates may have bored his wife silly with his encyclopaedic knowledge of Rugby League, but his splendid little book will delight all Cumbrian League enthusiasts. Here are biographies of one hundred of the best players to come out of Old Cumberland, names from yesteryear which will revive memories of some of the great teams and games of the past. - Steve Matthews, Bookcase.
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