ROGER HALSTEAD looks back on a memorable Widnes-Oldham Challenge Cup tie at Naughton Park.
FIVE months earlier, star-spangled Widnes knocked over Canberra Raiders at a packed Old Trafford to become the first official World Club Champions.
Fast forward from October, 1989 to February, 1990 and the draw for the Silk Cut Challenge Cup third round paired the mighty Chemics with Second Division Oldham at Naughton Park.
I recall the night of the draw as though it were yesterday. My three sons and I were huddled around the TV set. The World Champions were drawn at home and we held our breath.
“Anyone but us,”
we muttered collectively . . . then out came No 19, OLDHAM !!
What happened next ?
Since we were again paired with Widnes (now the Vikings) in Sunday’s Coral Challenge Cup fourth round at Bower Fold, Stalybridge (3pm) my lads have reminded me constantly that I immediately ceased writing down the pairings, threw my pen on the floor in utter dismay and yelled certain expletives that I would never repeat outside my own four walls.
They’ve also reminded me that I should have had a lot more confidence in Leo Casey, Richard Russell, John Fieldhouse and Co, not to mention half-backs like Brett Clark and Mike Ford and a back division of blistering pace — Richard Irving, Des Foy, John Henderson and Paul Lord.
Back then, the ‘back three’ weren’t two wingers and a full-back; they were the two second-rowers and the No 13, in our case the workaholics like Keith Newton, a Widnes reject, and Shaun Allen, in front of the irrepressible Aussie John Cogger, recruited from Huyton, or was it Runcorn ? Runcorn, I think.
No matter. Wherever he came from Cogger and his long blond locks became synonymous with an Oldham team that had the knack of knocking over the big boys.
But they were, after all, in the Second Division and four away defeats in a 28-match programme meant they finished third behind Hull KR and Rochdale Hornets — little wonder the whole of the sporting world wrote them off when they were paired in the cup with the best team on the planet.
Did anyone think Newton, Allen, Cogger and Co could get the better of a side that included legends of the game like Jonathan Davies, Martin Offiah, Kurt Sorensen, Alan Tait and a whole host of others ?
This former Oldham Evening Chronicle rugby league reporter certainly didn’t. I don’t know what odds you could get on an Oldham win, but it must have been colossal.
Not only did they pull off one of the biggest all-time shocks in the history of rugby league, a SECOND DIVISION side whipping the WORLD CLUB CHAMPIONS, but they even prevented them scoring a single try.
The glory boys lined up like this: Duncan Platt; Richard Irving, Des Foy, John Henderson, Paul Lord; Brett Clark, Mike Ford; Leo Casey, Richard Russell, John Fieldhouse, Keith Newton, Shaun Allen, John Cogger. Subs: Tommy Martyn, Keith Atkinson.
Nearly 12,000 packed into Naughton Park to see Platt kick four goals with tries by Henderson and Newton, who had a brilliant game against his former club and in his home town.
Oldham went on to meet Warrington in the semi-final at Wigan but that, and Paul Lord’s disallowed try for offside in the last few minutes, is another story.
The win at Widnes was one of the highlights of a sizzling 1989-90 season which I summed up like this in my end-of-year review.
Under the headline: ‘Thanks for the memory, Oldham‘ I wrote:
“The drama and excitement of Old Trafford was a fitting end to a memorable season in which Oldham won 36 of the 43 games played.
“They were involved in 15 cup-ties, reaching the final of the Lancashire Cup and the semi-final of the Challenge Cup, all crowned by that magnificent match on the Manchester United soccer ground last Sunday.
“The failure to lift the Second Division championship, worth £18,000, was a disappointment, but promotion was never in doubt, the team came desperately close to reaching Wembley for the first time, it was involved in several televised thrillers and First Division big guns Wigan, Widnes and St Helens were all defeated in cup-tie spectaculars.
“No wonder chairman John Chadwick felt justified in telling the rest of the rugby league this week: “We did the Second Division proud.”
On Sunday at Bower Fold the present-day Roughyeds can do Betfred League 1 proud and there will be lots of fans there, of both persuasions, who will vividly record that day in early 1990 when the best team in the world came unstuck against a Second Division side that oozed self-belief and a never-say-die spirit.