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Huddersfield's capital double-up brings back painful memories

Roughyeds’ fan CRAIG HALSTEAD, who has written two books about the club he has supported for the best part of 50 years, presents his Betfred Challenge Cup preview . . . with an Oldham twist as you would expect !


The town of Huddersfield will enjoy its big day out in our capital city this week-end, the Rugby League Giants taking on Wigan Warriors in the Challenge Cup Final at the superb Tottenham Hotspur Stadium on Saturday and the football team Huddersfield Town going head-to-head with Nottingham Forest in the Championship play-off at Wembley on Sunday. Will it be a case of last one out turn off the lights in the West Yorkshire town as it memorably was when Hull FC and Hull Kingston Rovers met in the Challenge Cup Final forty-two years ago? Here at Oldham it inevitably brings back memories of what could have been for our town too back in 1990. Who remembers what happened? Or should I say for those of us around at the time who can possibly forget?

To nudge the memories of older fans (should they require nudging) or to tell younger fans of how close we came to the lifelong dream of many Oldham RL fans, this seems a perfect opportunity to reminisce. For the record, Oldham Athletic had already qualified for the Littlewoods Cup Final after battering West Ham United 6-3 on aggregate in the semi-final including a 6-0 demolition job at Boundary Park in the first leg. Under Joe Royle, Latics were on the crest of a wave and fully deserving of their appearance against Forest under the Twin Towers. The final was scheduled for Sunday April 29, 1990.

Not to be outdone by their neighbours from the other side of town, the RL lads from Watersheddings were firing on all cylinders too with talismanic coach Tony Barrow pulling the strings. After Challenge Cup victories over Huddersfield, Workington Town, Salford and memorably World Club Champions Widnes, Barrow’s boys had qualified for the semi-final against Warrington at Central Park, Wigan. The Challenge Cup final was scheduled for Saturday April 28, 1990.

If Oldham could have pulled just one more rabbit out of the hat and turned over the Wire all roads out of Oldham would undoubtedly have led south on that last week-end of April. Rumours at the time suggested many Latics fans turned up at Central Park to swell the Oldham support that day and from memory it seemed we did outnumber those from Wilderspool in a crowd of 15,631. At half-time the score was still 0-0 – rare for a rugby league match – but defences were on top and a couple of gilt-edged chances for both teams went begging. Early in the second half a wide pass from captain Mike Ford sent right-winger Richard Irving over in the corner and full-back Duncan Platt kicked a beautiful touchline goal with that sweet left peg of his. It seemed the dream was about to come true. Warrington, of course, had other ideas and led by the late, great Mike Gregory and future Oldham Bears captain Martin Crompton, they hit back to lead 10-6. And so followed one of the most contentious and controversial incidents in Oldham RL history. With time almost up, the influential Ford turned up on the left this time and put a deft grubber-kick behind the defensive line and into the in-goal area. Left-winger Paul Lord, deceptively quick over a short distance, raced through to score. The conversion, had it gone over, would have won the match, sent Oldham to Wembley and set up that dream week-end. But referee John Holdsworth decided Lord was offside, the try was disallowed and Warrington clung on to win and book their place in the final. So sadly the club had failed by the skin of its teeth to join Latics on the Wembley trail. If only? What might have been?

If any supporters of Huddersfield Giants or Huddersfield Town read this, I need to tell them how privileged they are to see both clubs in London together for their respective finals on the same week-end, because it was something cruelly denied to us sports fans of Oldham back in 1990.

As for the Challenge Cup final itself, I will be rooting for ‘Fartown’ (as Tommy Nelmes, former Huddersfield hooker and father of Luke), described the Giants when talking with him at North Wales Crusaders last week – Fartown, of course, being Huddersfield’s spiritual home. Cries of ‘Fartown, Fartown’ were clearly heard on television as the Giants dismantled Hull KR in the semi-final and I predict they will lower Wigan’s famous cherry-and-white colours at Spurs on Saturday. Isn’t it good also to see two cracking young British coaches, Ian Watson (a former Oldham star) and Matt Peet in charge of the two finalists. And whilst I’m making predictions, what odds on Oldham lad Olly Russell - son of Richard, hooker in that Warrington semi-final – winning the Lance Todd Trophy (assuming he overcomes a hamstring injury which at the time of writing makes him a doubt for the game).

Remember where you heard it first!

One last thing – a spot of trivia. Being as the final is at Tottenham, I read recently that one of Spurs’ brightest young stars (although yet to play in the Premier League he does have an FA Cup goal to his name) is the son of a former Oldham RL player. Any ideas?

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