Eddie Waring carved a later career out of watching people up to their knees in water, hosting It’s a Knockout on Friday evenings, but it was the events at Yorkshire’s famously sodden rugby league cup final of 50 years ago that would remain with him.
His memorable line of commentary on Grandstand, as Don Fox missed a conversion from in front of the posts in the last minute of the game, was rugby’s counterpart to Kenneth Wolstenholme’s “They think it’s all over.”
“Eeh,” gasped Waring, as Leeds snatched an 11-10 victory from Wakefield, “the poor lad”.
David Hinchliffe, who would go on to be Wakefield’s MP for 18 years, was in the stands at Wembley that day in 1968. It was his first time there, and he was not the one on whom the waterlogged pitch and claps of thunder from the monsoon sky made a lasting impression.
“Many people said Don Fox was never the same after that match,” said Mr Hinchliffe of the Wakefield Trinity legend who, with his brothers Peter and Neil forged one of the game’s great dynasties.
After leaving Westminster, he wrote a book about the “watersplash” final. A dramatised version, created for the 50th anniversary, will be performed next month to raise funds for a campaign to erect a memorial to the 10 victims of a 19th century pit disaster.
It suggests that both the protagonists were haunted by Waring’s of-the-moment remark.
“Don was a great player but he was remembered for missing that goal in front of the post,” Mr Hinchliffe said. “People didn’t recognise that he created the try that led to the missed conversion, and he ended up with depression and in psychiatric care.”
The new play extracts some dramatic licence from the events of 1968 and examines their impact on Fox, Waring and the match referee, John Hebblethwaite.
Mr Hinchliffe was critical in his book of what he called Waring’s “gross misrepresentation of a remarkable game which was played in the most appalling conditions and contained a great deal more equally worthy of note”.
He said: “Obviously, Eddie Waring’s commentary didn’t kill Don Fox, but the play dramatises the connection and the impact upon Don’s life,.
“His remark was replayed dozens of times and it had a big effect on him.”
In the play, Waring, who in the 1980s was diagnosed with dementia and died at High Royds Hospital in Menston, believes he was responsible for destroying Fox, who, despite his missed conversion, was voted man of the match in 1968. He died in Wakefield 10 years ago.
It has been dramatised by former teacher Peter Hirst and will be performed by Wakefield’s Red Shed players, named after the town’s Labour club.
Its performance on October 12 will benefit the memorial appeal for victims of the 1821 Norcroft pit disaster, in which six children, who had been working underground, were among the victims. One, John Hinchliffe, was the eldest child of the former MP’s great-great-grandfather.