A history of the Sharlston Rovers club
Sharlston is an old mining village situated between the rugby strongholds of Wakefield, Castleford and Featherstone, West Yorkshire. Rugby has been played on the same piece of land for well over 130 years. The quirky ground was famously (or infamously) known for miles around as “Back o’t Wall”. Sharlston were founded around 1881, where results have been found, although no exact formation date can be found. They first started winning trophies back in 1895 when they were crowned Wakefield and District Champions.
Looking through the record books many famous Rugby League stars started on their trip to stardom from the village. Jonty Parkin was one of the all-time greats being captain of Great Britain in a thrilling Ashes victory in Australia in 1924. The famous Fox brothers, Peter, Don and Neil all hail from the village of Sharlston and learned their tricks at the ‘Back o’t Wall’. Herbert Goodfellow, one of the best scrum halves of his time also learned his football here. The village also boasts producing three Lance Todd trophy winners in Neil Fox (Wakefield v Huddersfield 1962), Carl Dooler (Featherstone v Barrow 1967) and Don Fox (Wakefield v Leeds 1968).
Sharlston Rovers were one of the early amateur sides to defeat a professional team in the RL Challenge Cup when they defeated Workington Town 12:7 in the first round, first leg in February 1946. Over a thousand attended at “Back o’ t’ wall” with Tommy Fox (father of Neil, Don & Peter) playing at prop, aswell as renowned Sharlston sons, Dooler, Lingard and Chalkley. Unfortunately, they lost the 2nd leg, 2:16 in front of almost 10,000 to a very respectful Workington side
Turn of the Millenium
Sharlston have been a force within the amateur circles for many years and have especially turned heads since the turn of the millennium. The 2001-02 season saw the appointment of Gordy Long and Dean Blankley who took Rovers to the Semi final of the Yorkshire cup missing out to Calderdale force Elland 17-6 at Headingley. The following season brought a new coaching partnership with Long being joined by Martyn Wood who was part of the 1998 Wigan beating challenge cup side of Sheffield Eagles.
The team continued to do well in the Yorkshire Premier league and Wakefield cup competitions but the best was yet to come when in 2003 season Sharlston hit the headlines with their emphatic 30-28 challenge cup victory over Professional opposition Dewsbury Rams in the third round. The season continued in fine style getting to the semi final of the Yorkshire cup before adding the Yorkshire Premier Division, Yorkshire Senior cup and Wakefield City Plasterers Trophy to their list of honours.
Another successful season this time Jon Agar and Gordy Long at the helm gave Rovers another bulging trophy cabinet winning the Premier league once again and scooping all Wakefield District Cups. The team were rewarded for the their efforts of the season gaining passage to the inaugural Champion of Champions final at Blackpool where they were narrowly defeated by NWC champions Halton Simms Cross 12-13.
In the 2005 season Rovers lead by Agar and Long transferred to the Pennine League seeking more competition and more regular fixtures than available in the Yorkshire league. Christmas brought the Yorkshire Cup to Sharlston having beaten fellow Pennine team Queensbury 21-18 at Dewsbury Rams Stadium. In the same season Sharlston lifted the Pennine Presidents cup but fell at the final hurdle when competing for the league championship when Drighlington nipped the accolade with a winner takes all game at Drighlington. The following season ended the same but this time Rovers had the home advantage but lost out 10-12.
In 2007 Long and Agar stepped down and Rovers were coached by Andy Fisher joined from local NCL side Eastmoor Dragons and the season started well, remaining unbeaten until the Yorkshire cup were they were out played by a disciplined Queens side. The season progressed well getting to the last 32 of the national cup but the league title avaided them once again. The season ended well with a run of silverwear taking the Pennine Presidents cup, Wakefield Unison cup and Wakefield City Plasterers cup and only a drop goal kept them from champions of champions final at Blackpool, losing out to Bank Quay Bulls.
2008/09 The Pennine League title finally comes
The following year Lee Bettison who shone as an assistant to Andy throughout the season was the clear choice to take charge as player coach. Gordy Long who was enjoying his return to coaching in the position of Wakefield District coach. The 2008/09 season proved to be one of the most successful in years with the first silver wear coming in December with the Yorkshire Cup. Rovers beat former conference team Hunslet Warriors 20-0 in emphatic style.
For the first time in several years Sharlston were eligible for the Challenge Cup qualifying with the Yorkshire cup victory. They made it to the first round proper earning a n away tie at Oldham Rougheyeds, a side they had drawn twice previously in the same competition. Rovers lost their season unbeaten record but it was a valiant effort only losing 26-8. Sharlston progressed to the last 8 of the BARLA National Cup after felling many NCL outfits but exited to the hands of Wigan St Cuthberts.
Rovers finally closed the long hard season in style taking league title with a two horsed race with Drighlington. The title was decided on the final match of the season as Rovers travelled to Drig despite the 24-20 defeat Rovers took the championship on points difference between the two sides, Rovers beating Drigh 28-12 in the home tie earlier in the season. Rovers also picked up the Pennine League cup for the second consecutive season beating West Bowling A at Dewsbury Rams.
Rovers had played 36 matches throughout the season, twice a week nearing the business end of the year. Rovers only defeats were to pro side Oldham, St Cuthberts and the final league game of the season at Drigh. The lengthy season took its toll and in the final match of the season in the double header Champions of Champions Sharlston were out of their feet and Halton Simms Cross took advantage, posting a comprehensive 38-12 victory which took only a little gloss off a magnificent season.
Bettison leaves for Australia
After a fine first season at the helm Lee Bettison and his girlfriend decided to have a year travelling and so Rovers needed to fill the void. The vacancy was advertised and Chris Chester who was former pro and assistant coach at Hull KR got the job to work alongside Long.
Rovers opened the season well and remained unbeaten into the new year. The festive period again brought Yorkshire cup success this time with 28-12 final victory over Hunslet Old Boys. The first game of the new year brought the first defeat, Leigh East serving up revenge for being dumped out of the Challenge cup the previous year. It was a disappointing National cup campaign also exiting the competition at the first hurdle to the hands of Oulton Raiders.
The Pennine League and cup were still on the cards and Rovers beat Drighlington at their place to put them in the driving seat. Two league draws at St Joesphs and Keighley Albion meant a winner takes all finale to the domestic season. Drighlington came to Back ‘ot Wall and won the game 28-12 to lift the league title once again. Drigh completed the double a week later as they beat Sharlston again in the league cup final 20-8 at Dewsbury Rams.
Rovers closed the season with silver wear in hand from the Wakefield ARL Presidents cup with a win over Crigglestone All Blacks.
Finally the National Cup comes to Sharlston
IN 2010/2011 season Chris Chester parted company with Sharlston concentrating on his assistant coach role at Hull KR. Gordy Long took the head job and the returning Lee Bettison took the assistant player coach role.
The pennine league had been a two horse race for many years but the season saw the addition of Queens and Hunsley Old Boys who like many others in the Yorkshire league made the switch over to the stronger Pennine competition. Disappointment by early defeats to Drighlington and Queens in the league were compacted with a Yorkshire cup exit in the semi final at the hands of Drighlington.
Despite the Yorkshire cup set back Rovers pressed on in the BARLA National cup which would be the last season where National Conference outfits were included with their switch to summer rugby imminent. Notable NCL scalps included East Leeds, Egremont and Hull Dockers. Despite losing to Drighlington the week previous in the Pennine League cup, Rovers returned the week after and turned around the previous week defeat to book a semi final place.
The semi final was worthy of a final itself as Queens and Sharlston faced up once more. The Back ot Wall ground attracted around 1,500 spectators and was 2 or 3 deep around the whole field. The game was classic and one that will be remembered for many years to come. Rovers trailed for most of the game but stayed with their opponents throughout. Trailing by 5 points and only as minutes remaining Rovers turned to their match winner Gareth Davies and he managed to score in the corner. The pressure kick from the touchline was given to Aleksander Lysokon a Russian international who was on a foreign exchange for the season. Sasha added the goal which brought the crowd into rapturous applause and the young Russian hand put Sharlston into their first National cup final in the clubs history.
The league campaign carried on undefeated until the last couple of games, a heavy defeat to Queens meant they couldn’t finish top and with the National cup final within a week Rovers fielded a weakened team for the last match which they lost to Drighlington but still finished as runners up to Queens.
In the National cup final Rovers faced local neighbours from Castleford Fryston Warriors in an all non National Conference League club final in the last occasion they were to be eligible. It was a tight encounter and again it took another Gareth Davies try at the death to resurrect the victory as Rovers won their first National cup final.
National Cup finalists once again
How could any team follow up a National cup final victory well the plan was to do it again along with of course the Yorkshire cup high on the agenda once again. Rovers saw captain Steve hall retire and several players earn Semi Professional call ups including Rovers try machine Gareth Davies who signed as a trialist at Featherstone Rovers before a deal at Hunslet Hawks. Rovers bolstered their squad with the return of Lee Lingard from the pro game and several players from Featherstone Lions who Gordy Long had coached in the summer season.
Rovers made it to the semi-final stages of the Yorkshire cup where they exited to the hands of Hunslet Old Boys who went on to win the cup. Rovers remained in contention for the league but a good run in cup games left Rovers flailing behind the rest of the league leaders. Rovers were included in the Challenge cup once again due to previous season league winners Queens not being eligible after a 5 year ban for crowd problems. Sharlston made the first round proper once again and were paired with Doncaster to be played at their impressive Keepmoat Stadium. Rovers couldn’t match their semi pro opposition and Doncaster progressed to the next round.
Attention was switched to defending the National cup title this time without the NCL teams involved due to the summer switch. Rovers progressed easily to the last 8 stage where a mouth-watering tie between last year’s finalists Fryston was to be staged at the famous Back ot Wall. Fryston looked for revenge for their last minute final defeat and the visitors seemed to let their emotions get the best of them. Despite leading Fryston self-destructed and several unsavoury incidents broke out resulting in Fryston being reduced to 9 men with 4 players sent off for punching. Rovers took control of the game and got ahead. With Rovers 38-24 in front the referee abandoned the game on 70 minutes when Fryston received their 5th red card this time for biting. The offences went before BARLA who decided the result would stand but both clubs were guilty of several brawls in which Rovers were fined £500, half suspended for 12 months.
Rovers were out of the title race once again and with 5 games remaining the A’team mucked in and helped Rovers complete their league fixtures alongside playing other cup games which helped them finish the season without much less of a backlog.
Silverwear came in the form of Wakefield Presidents Cup and Open cup final victories both over Westgate Wolves and the final game was to be the BARLA National cup final once again this time facing old foes Queens. Played on jubilee weekend Queens were the much better team and were value for the dethroning of the current holders.
Brief Roll of Honour
2012/13 – Yorkshire Cup Winners.
2011/12 – National Cup Runners Up, Pennine Premier Runners Up.
2010/11 – National Cup Winners, Pennine Premier Runners Up.
2009/10 – Yorkshire Cup Winners, Pennine Premier Runners Up.
2008/09 – Yorkshrie Cup Winners, Pennine Premier Winners, Pennine Presidents Cup Winners.
2007/08 - Yorkshire Cup Finalists, Pennine Premier Runners Up, Pennine Presidents Cup Winners.
2006/07 - Pennine Premier Runners Up.
2005/06 – Yorkshire Cup Winners, Pennine Premier Runners Up, Pennine Presidents Cup Winners.
2003/04 –Challenge Cup R3 Sharlston Rovers 30, Dewsbury Rams 28
2001/02 – Yorkshire Cup Finalists
1946 – Challenge Cup R1 first Leg Sharlston 12, Workington 7