Peter Fox, rugby league coach

Rugby League coach Peter Fox
Rugby League coach Peter Fox
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The former national ruby league coach Peter Fox, who has died at 85, was one of Yorkshire’s great characters, an outstanding player who went on to even greater success in management, especially with Featherstone Rovers and Bradford Northern.

The oldest of three brothers from the former mining village of Sharlston, near Wakefield – all of whom made a big impact in the sport – he played professionally for well over a decade, for Featherstone, Hull KR, Hunslet and in two lengthy stints with Batley.

But it was as a coach that he is best remembered, having guided Featherstone to Challenge Cup victory against Bradford at Wembley in 1973 and then winning the Championship twice with Bradford.

He earned the position of Great Britain and England coach, and also took pride in the success he enjoyed as coach of Yorkshire, with a 100 per cent record against Lancashire in the Rodstock War of the Roses series from 1985-91.

He had taken a circuitous route to the top. After leaving Featherstone, he coached Wakefield Trinity from 1974-76 and then steered unfashionable Bramley to promotion into Division One.

That inspired a move to Bradford, where he won the Premiership in his first season. Northern were first division champions in 1979-80 and 1980-81 and his first spell at the club also included victories in the Yorkshire Cup and John Player Trophy.

He joined the under-achieving Leeds side in May 1985, but a frustrating period there ended when he was sacked the following Christmas Eve.

He returned to Rovers, securing promotion in his first year back, and after five seasons was once again appointed at Bradford where he finished his coaching career in 1994-95.

It was then, as rugby league moved into a new era, that the tide began to turn against him.

Even after three decades, his resentment at the circumstances in which he was, as he put it, “relieved from coaching”, still festered.

He resented not having been allowed to pick his own Great Britain team, instead having to submit to a committee decision, and in a 2008 interview with The Yorkshire Post, he said he remained irked by the manner of his departure from Bradford.

He had coached Northern to third place in 1993 and second in 1994, and still had two years left on his contract when the club’s chairman Chris Caisley, ostensibly in Australia to recruit players, returned having hired Brian Smith in his place.

As rugby league emerged from its winter roots and entered the Super League era, Bradford turned its back on Fox, and on one of the most evocative names in professional sport.

“Money came into the game, into every club and that was the biggest difference to Bradford Northern in 1995,” he said.

“In my younger days I used to write all the rugby scores down for my dad and read them to him. Famous names like Wakefield Trinity, Rochdale Hornets and Bradford Northern. I used to emphasise the names and the most famous of all was Bradford Northern.

“When they changed it from Northern to Bulls I was disappointed. I know the commercial reasons why they do things like that and I have no objections usually but to drop the most historic name in rugby league football for generations and replace it with Bulls makes my spirit sink.”

His final active involvement in the game was as director of football at Wakefield Trinity Wildcats in the early 2000s.