The Watersplash final: Impact of historic rugby league cup match on mental health and suicide explored in new film

It may be more than 50 years since Wakefield Trinity lost to Leeds in the controversial Rugby League Challenge Cup Final of 1968, but conspiracy theories have remained around the game - as well as the suicide and mental health impact of the match - in the years which have followed.

The match was won by Leeds in monsoon conditions after Don Fox missed a late conversion attempt in front of the posts that would have given Trinity victory and the league and cup double.

Many people believe Don Fox, who won the man of the match award but who missed a goal in the final minute of the 1968 final, never recovered from the trauma of the game.

Others point out that there was a crucial incident in the 68th minute of the 68th final in 1968 and that the referee, who made the decision to allow the game to go ahead, and his wife, both took their own lives.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The Red Shed Players who made the film about The Watersplash Final

Former Wakefield MP David Hinchliffe, who was one of 87,000 people inside Wembley Stadium on that fateful day, based his book ‘They Walked on Water’ on the events surrounding the final, which has now been made into a film.

The myths from the final cast Don as a tragic hero. Don is a real hero along with his brothers Neil and Peter, according to David Hinchliffe.

Don held point scoring records at Featherstone Rovers, he made the try that made the kick important.

Mr Hebblethwaite is cast as the villain but his family are rightly proud of their father’s success as a referee.

In 2018, the book was made into a play by Yorkshire theatre group The Red Shed Players. The play raised thousands of pounds for the Rugby League Benevolent Fund touring venues in Yorkshire.

Last year ‘They Walked on Water’ was recorded as an audio track, and now The Red Shed Players’ Dave Hanvey has used images from the Rugby League Archive at Huddersfield’s Heritage Quay to create a film.

It combines the play with contemporary footage and archive material and he said the film “will be of interest to anyone, rugby league fan or not.”

Read More

Read More

“The events of the 1968 final are still the source of raw emotion for many people even now, and the play tries to capture why that is,” said Peter Hirst, fellow member of The Red Shed Players who was asked to write the script.

“We wanted to capture the mood of the 1960s as well as how the myths of the game have developed. The Rugby League Archive in Huddersfield were really helpful in helping us find images to support the film.

“There were lots of conspiracy theories around what happened, including the suggestion that the referee was paid by Leeds, which is nonsense of course.

“What is undeniable is that he made some big mistakes during the match which affected the outcome. The referee, Mr Hebblethwaite from York, was the one who had to decide whether the game went ahead.

“What must it have been like, knowing that 87,000 people had travelled down from the North of England and you had to think about calling the match off? This is a man who was offered just £10 or a new blazer badge on the day. He took the badge.”

The film uses Mr Hinchliffe’s book ‘They Walked on Water’, as a jumping off point for an exploration of sporting obsession, pilgrimage and mental health.

It was the mental health aspect that The Red Shed Players were keen to explore.

“I was really concerned that the myths that have grown about people committing suicide or having breakdowns are a real distortion about what mental health is about, how people have breakdowns, the idea that there is a catastrophic event or moment that breaks someone is really misleading,” said Mr Hirst.

He has explored this theme in depth as there were said to be suicide hotspots in Wales at the time, according to the media.

“People working in mental health were saying please stop running these stories, it’s not how things are, it’s the wrong thing because it encourages that mindset,” he added.

Mr Hirst admitted that Mrs Hebblethwaite was a character based on other women he knew who lived in the sixties, a time when if someone felt down they would be routinely prescribed very strong antidepressants for long periods of time.

“We looked at how society was structured particularly for women.”

While the film made a back story for the referees wife as there was very little known about her. “Different people who watch the film will get different things from it,” said Mr Hirst.

“I think people appreciate that the Red Shed Players are about working together to make something that is of interest from our own lives. It makes a healthier society where people come together to create something which is meaningful to them.”

You can watch the film on the big screen on Saturday, May 7 at 1.30pm at the library in Wakefield One. Booking is essential.

The Red Shed Players are a theatre group which started more than thirty years ago. There are up to ten of us, mostly retired now but formerly nurses, Miners, carers, physiotherapists, chemical engineers. As well as our annual satirical pantomime, we have developed films and plays looking at modern working conditions, the mistreatment of people with disabilities and most recently are working on 'Madge and the elderly care system' which examines the shortcomings of elderly care. Our non satirical work is based on the experiences of local people.