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Batley came marching in

As Batley prepare to take on St Helens, John Ledger looks back at the first Challenge Cup meeting between the two clubs 110 years ago.

HERE'S a question which is guaranteed to have pub quiz and sports trivia afficianados sweating inside their anoraks: who is the only player to kick a four-point drop-goal in a Challenge Cup final?

A tough one, I know, so here's a clue: it was scored in the first final, 110 years ago in 1897 when the Gallant Youths of Batley beat St Helens 10-3 in front of 13,492 people at Headingley.

The star of the show that day was Batley's Welsh winger Wattie Davies, the sport's first hero from the Valleys who set up one of his side's two tries in a match described by the Yorkshire Post as being "fast and well-contested and quite up to the average standard of final cup-ties in the character of the football shown."

Eleven decades on, fate has thrown together the original finalists for a fourth round tie at Knowsley Road tonight where St Helens, the Cup holders, host a Batley side whose fortunes in the intervening years have often made for a stark contrast with those of their opponents.

Saints go into the match holding every piece of silverware they have contested for: the Cup, the Super League trophy, the League Leaders' Shield and the World Club Challenge trophy. Batley, on the other hand, have won just twice in the Northern Rail Cup this season and will kick off the National League One campaign next Friday as one of the favourites to go down.

It was all so different in the years before and after the turn of the 19th century, a period which saw the club from Mount Pleasant win the Cup on three occasions: 1897, 1898 ( against Bradford) and again in 1901, when almost 30,000 people saw them beat Warrington.

In the early years the Challenge Cup was played for under union rules and featured a host of now defunct clubs, including Leeds Parish Church, Radcliffe, Latchford Rangers and Werneth, all of whom craved a silver trophy which cost the grand sum of 60.

The original trophy, made by Bradford jeweller Fattorini and Sons, who also supplied the Northern Union with winners and losers medals at 3 3s (3.15) and 1 10s (1.50), still exists but, because of its frailty, has been joined by a modern day replica.

The Challenge Cup was perceived by many to be a threat to the Yorkshire Cup, known throughout the county as 'T'owd Tin Pot' and which had been played for since 1877. Three years before the first Challenge Cup final, 27,654 people had turned out to see Leeds play Halifax in the third round of the Yorkshire Cup, considerably more than the 1892 FA Cup final and the England v Scotland football international the following year.

With broken time payments to meet, the Northern Union desperately needed the Challenge Cup to be a success and although the receipts from the first final were a mere 624.17.7 – 300 less than the record for a Yorkshire Cup final – the match at Headingley on April 26, 1897 was deemed to be a resounding success.

The following Monday's Yorkshire Post reported that at the presentation of medals the Northern Union's president, Harry Waller was greeted with loud cheering.

"He remarked that the curtain fell that day on the second season of the Northern Union – (hear hear) – and added that judging from the support they had received, they might congratulate themselves that their efforts to meet the wishes of the public and to provide good football had not been made in vain." (Applause),

The report went on: "Mr Waller said that although some reforms had been introduced into the game it was the intention of the officials of the Union to make the matches still more popular."

The victors returned to Batley on the 7.10 train from Leeds to be met by a crowd of some 30,000 people and the Batley Old Band which struck up "See The Conquering Heroes Come."

The Mayor of Batley, Alderman BP Nettleton, addressed the players from the town hall steps and "congratulated them heartily on their victory in the fight, which had been, he said, not only for the honour of the town but for the honour of Yorkshire.

"It was a red letter day in the history of Batley and in the history of Northern football, and he hoped that the splendid trophy won that day would long remain in Batley."

Among the Batley team was a young stand-off, Joe Oakland, whose four pointer remains in the record books as the Northern Union soon dropped the value of a drop-goal to three, one of many measures which have continued to make rugby league more popular since 1897.

 
 
 

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