Warham has just got to be back among the final ghosts

WEMBLEY had no roof, restless kids played rugby on its vast terraces, entry cost around 15p, an Open golfer featured and Lance Todd was still coaching Salford.

Compared to today, things were distinctly different at the 1936 Challenge Cup final although one aspect was as constant then as it is now 74 years on – its magic and lure proved intoxicating.

Almost three-quarters of a century has passed since Joe Warham travelled down by steam train from Warrington to north London to watch his home-town team take on the mighty Leeds.

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The two rivals meet in the final again this afternoon for the first time since yet the recollections of Warham – who would later go on and coach Leeds to their first- ever Championship against his beloved Wire – remain vivid.

"I remember Leeds v Warrington clearly, although it was not my first Wembley," he said. "As a Warrington schoolboy in 1933, I had gone on a school trip to watch the Wire against Huddersfield in the first 'Royal' Wembley and the Prince of Wales presented the trophy.

"Publicity posters had advertised 'The World's Greatest Goalkicker', Warrington's Billy Holding but, in the event, Huddersfield's Len Bowkett kicked plenty to beat us.

"Getting to the final again in 1936 was a huge event for a town whose rugby team was a major source of pride and escapism in the depression era.

"In the weeks preceding the final, the shops all sported themed window displays and primrose and yellow flags were everywhere.

"I was working as a moulder, aged 16, and remember heading down and the sun shining – Wembley weather, even though the final was in mid-April as opposed to the later traditional May and now August dates.

"The crowd then didn't wear coloured jerseys but did have scarves and rattles. It drew a record crowd of 51,000 but the stadium wasn't full – I know it wasn't because I remember playing touch and pass on the terraces when the game dragged."

Warham, who later played professionally himself as a winger with Oldham and Swinton before embarking on his love affair with Leeds, remembers the pre-match entertainment consisting of a military band and 'the man in white' leading community singing, conducting the crowd, not the band, in renditions of Lassie from Lancashire, Ilkley Moor and rugby league's traditional hymn Abide With Me.

"Leeds were at the height of their 1930s strength," he continued.

"Then they had the money to buy the best – the 'Toowomba Ghost,' Eric Harris, and Great Britain captain Jim Brough were among a star-studded back line.

"You can tell they must have been good because they were able to leave out winger Stan Smith in favour of Stan Brogden.

"Both were nearly in the Brian Bevan class and Smith would have been in any other club's first team.

"Some of the players were or became well-known locals, such as Aubrey Casewell, who went on to run Leeds Junior RL and was a key contact for me when later scouting for Leeds, and Ken Jubb, whose son Alan later also played for Leeds.

"Warrington was very much the underdog. Despite being captained from full-back by Aussie tourist and Open golf competitor Bill Shankland, their hope lay in their pack, and, in particular, in hooker Dave Cotton, father of Fran, monopolising possession.

"Cotton was a great hooker – we used to say he must have legs like an octopus. I bet he could even win against the feed today.

"I remember Leeds scoring a controversial try after only a few minutes. Eric Harris was put away and cross-kicked for 'Ike' Isaacs, who Shankland and the Warrington defence were sure was offside – they left him alone and he went over unopposed.

"Play to the whistle I suppose but this was tough for an ardent Wire fan like me as we felt we had been denied a cup win three years earlier when the referee had wrongly disallowed a Dinsdale try."

Encouraged, Leeds went on to secure an 18-2 success and deliver a record fourth Challenge Cup win.

"There was an attractive score by Gwyn Parker but my favourite was Fred Harris's effort," added Warham, now 91 and still living in Leeds with wife Eileen.

"He worked a dummy scissors with his namesake Eric which the Wire defence bought wholesale, leaving Harris to chip over Shankland, regather and score at a saunter."

Ironically, it was with Leeds where Warham enjoyed most success in his varied career.

After leading them to that historic first league title, he was involved again when they repeated the feat in 1969 and then went on to discover some of the Headingley club's finest players.

Legends such as Mick Shoebottom, Syd Hynes and Alan Smith who, in 1970, all represented Great Britain in the last squad to defeat Australia over an international series, were discovered by the talent spotter along with prolific winger John Atkinson.

Warham later became Leeds chief executive and remains, to this day, president of the Leeds Ex-Players Association. He will be there today even though he thought he would never attend the new Wembley stadium.

"The old one held so many memories – Voll: the 1964 Wigan/Hunslet classic; Billy B; the Watersplash final and poor Don Fox; Alex and Syd's long walk; Alex again, with Warrington this time; Heppy and Hardisty; Stevie Pitchford barrelling through; John Holmes's desperate horizontal drop kick; Offiah's special; Hanley and the record-breaking Wigan teams.

"Off the pitch, too, you always knew where in the Long Bar you'd find Bradford – Ernest Ward, Trevor Foster and Alan Edwards – or Wakefield – Neil Fox, Ken Trail et al – or Wigan with Martin Ryan singing his Irish pub songs, Ernie Ashcroft, Ken Gee and the rest.

"So many memories, so many ghosts. No, I wasn't going to come to the new Wembley. But... Leeds v Warrington? I have to be there, don't I?"