Wembley memories for former Wakefield Trinity and Great Britain star Ian Brooke
For as well as achieving his boyhood ambition of scoring a try for Trinity at the old Twin Towers at the age of just 20, it also put him back in touch with his birth mother.
Brooke was born in Plymouth in 1943, but adopted at six months by a couple from Wakefield where he has lived ever since, making his name with the great Trinity teams and rivals, Bradford Northern, as well as playing 13 Tests and scoring five tries, plus 10 more on tour for Great Britain.
Brooke explained: “When I scored the try against Wigan at Wembley, my birth mother was a cook for a professor at an Oxford college and she saw me on the telly and she wrote me a letter and that’s how I found out about my real parents. I never met my father. He died before I could get in contact but I kept in touch with my mother until she died.”
Brooke started school at Lawefield Lane in Wakefield, where a fellow pupil in his year and rugby team was former Trinity chairman Sir Rodney Walker.
“My dad was a real Trinity supporter so as young as I can remember I was always at the match in all weathers, home and away,” he recalled.
Brooke credits his rugby-mad teachers at Lawefield Lane and then Snapethorpe School for the grounding they gave him in the game.
“At Snapethorpe, Mr Ward used to take maths and there was a gardening class and while all the lads were out there, I’d be in the classroom with Mr Ward and he’d be showing me on the blackboard how I should be playing! He was a real Wakey fan and I learned a heck of a lot about rugby from school.”
After leaving school, where he captained the City’s schoolboys and also played county and youth international games, he went down to Trinity, where fellow future GB international Bob Haigh was a contemporary along with Wakefield winger Gerry Mann.
But just a season after his heroics in the 25-10 Wembley success, Brooke was on the move to Bradford Northern, who had reformed earlier in the year after their previous incarnation had gone bust in December 1963.
Brooke said: “I enjoyed it at Bradford as we were all lads who had signed from other clubs to get them going again, there was a great camaraderie and everybody wanted to prove their old club wrong.”
Northern won the Yorkshire Cup in 1965 beating Hunslet 17-8 at Headingley, with Brooke among the try scorers.
He later returned to Belle Vue and played in both their Championship-winning sides, scoring two tries in the replay victory over St Helens at Swinton in 1967 and then helping them defeat Hull KR 17-10 the year after.
In addition, he played in arguably the British game’s most famous match – the 1968 “Watersplash” Challenge Cup Final.
“I thought you might ask about that,” he laughs. “In the circumstances, it wouldn’t be played now, with the thunderstorm and water all over the ground. It was a really good game under the conditions, I thought we were the better side, but that is how it goes.
“I disagreed with the obstruction try because I was first to the ball and I brought it away. I don’t think either Leeds player would have got there before me.
“In the modern game, with all the cameras and replays I am 100 per cent certain it wouldn’t be a try. But that is how it is and you have got to take it on the chin and get on with it. But it still does spark memories all the time when people talk about it.”
Brooke featured in the BBC programme – Rugby League’s Legendary Watersplash Final – made to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the match and admits he was overcome with emotion watching it back and at the end the interview with Don Fox, who famously missed a kick in front of the posts to win the Cup.
Brooke was back at Wembley five years later as the coach of unfancied Northern, but they lost out 33-14 to Featherstone Rovers, reaching the final after Wigan’s Colin Tyrer, like Fox, missed a kick in front of the posts.
“We got hammered but from where we were in the table, no one expected us to get there. We beat Dewsbury in the semi, they were the champions, and Wigan.”
Now 77 and still working part-time, Brooke’s love of the game still burns brightly. He is a regular at Belle Vue, with fellow legend Neil Fox, and the pair still met every week socially before Covid.
“I still watch the game and my wife will say stop shouting at the telly! But when you have played you see things differently.”
Internationally, Brooke toured Australia in 1966 and returned with the late Clive Sullivan for the 1968 World Cup.
“Clive went on to lift the trophy four years later and he’d been my room-mate, a lovely guy.
“Those are experiences you can’t replicate. If it hadn’t been for rugby league, I’d have been stuck in Wakefield all the time. I’ve met some great people and you see all the old players at the dinners and everyone is friends.
“I never even thought about playing for Great Britain but then to get picked and go on tour was unbelievable. Actually beating the Aussies, the players and staff you were involved with and the cameraderies that last forever.
“It’s what they call the ‘rugby league family’. Like what Kevin Sinfield is doing for Rob Burrow now, it is absolutely brilliant and it touches the heart. I am chuffed with what I did in my career and wish I was still playing now.”
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