The Game I Saw….. – cumbriacrack.com
I started covering Workington Town soon after I joined the Cumberland Star in September 1963.
It was after Cumberland had played Australia at Derwent Park that year and the tourists had won 21-0 in front of over 8,000 fans.
I had to wait until the 1967/68 tour to see the Kangaroos when they were back at Derwent Park for another visit.
It didn’t go to plan as Cumberland produced one of the great performances in the county’s history when they beat a very strong Australian team 17-15.
All the major nationals were represented in a crowded press box with the likes of Jack Bentley, Alan Cave, Joe Humphreys and Brian Batty.
It was chockablock and being among these guys was like being among royalty for a young hacker only four years into his career and just out of contracts.
The game was a belter with Cumberland inspired by Sol Roper and Phil Kitchin at half-back.
Sol had recently left Town for Whitehaven after being replaced in the first team by Glen Turnbull.
He had specifically asked the county voters to be included for this.
The great Paul Charlton was full-back; City legend Ike Southward played in the center alongside Eric Bell with Keith Davies on the wing – all men who subsequently helped me in my sports writing career.
Town have had some fantastic forwards over the years while I’ve covered them, but one of my favorites was in the second row – Bill Kirkbride.
Later a Lance Todd Trophy winner at Wembley for Castleford, in 1970 he was magnificent.
I have no doubt that it was his performance that day that convinced Halifax to sign him at the end of the season.
I remember a Friday night game at Salford when Town had been well beaten. The players were all in the bar afterwards for a few pints – except Bill.
He was on the bus and when I asked if he wasn’t feeling well he just said after a defeat that he just wanted to get home as soon as possible.
I wasn’t surprised he did so well after leaving Town because he had the ability and the dedication.
It was a tough 27-match tour of England and France for the Aussies. Can you imagine them being asked to do that now. They had actually played Barrow two days before and drew 10-10.
But this was no weakened side with the likes of Graeme Langlands, Johnny Raper and Les Johns involved,
Cumberland had led 10-7 at half-time and I remember the talk in the press box was how long they could hold out. But they weren’t about to give up, and an epic victory was recorded that had the national press guys screeching down their phones after several column inches.
They were all, almost deluded in the way they gave their reports with the old-fashioned telephones, cupped right to the mouth and the free hand over the mouthpiece, desperate to keep a good line for themselves.
It was an absorbing day all round – from Cumbria’s performance on the field to observing the best of the nation’s rugby league writers up close.