PROGRESS IN THE 70’s
The 1970-71 season continued this trend when Keighley won only two of their first thirteen games including early exits from the Yorkshire Cup and floodlit trophies. The campaign started to turn around in early October when a scrappy 7-16 away win at Huyton sparked a run of twenty-seven games, only five of which were lost. One of these was a narrow 6-9 defeat at Wheldon Road to cup holders Castleford. Keighley’s rise, driven by Colin Evans at halfback and Bob Smith, Dave Garbett and John Butler in the pack, was so meteoric that it elevated them to sixth place in the league, the highest they had finished in a single division since 1910 and gaining them a play-off tie at home to Dewsbury which they lost 7-20 in a game which Keighley News regarded as being ‘squandered’.
Because of the league structure finishing in the top half of the league meant playing more of the stronger clubs the following season and so the 1971-72 season Keighley could not match the success of the previous year and out of their forty-two games played they could only win twelve and finished in twenty-sixth place in the league out of thirty clubs. This was despite a good early run in the Yorkshire Cup, which saw them ultimately, go out to eventual finalists Castleford. Once again there were first round exits from the Floodlit and John Player competitions.
The local paper designated the 1972-3 season ‘Jefferson’s Year’ when Keighley’s hugely influential fullback set another personal points record (109 goals and 8 tries – 242 points) in what was otherwise a dismal season at Lawkholme when the club played 35 games winning 15 of them, losing 19 and finishing twentieth in a thirty team league. In the cup competitions they also fared badly going out to Wakefield in the Yorkshire Cup, York in the No.6 trophy, Wakefield again in the BBC floodlit trophy and to a disastrous 8-44 trouncing by Rochdale at home in the Challenge Cup.
The club optimistically promised much at the start of the 1973-4 campaign in a two-division competition and under coach Alan Kellett, in his second spell at the helm, succeeded in winning promotion to the top division. A consistent run of victories in mid-season gave them a launching pad for the final run-in and although it was close at the end, the confidence around the club carried them through. The cup competitions produced a varied outcome but the highlight was the Players No.6 competition when, having disposed of Huyton in the first round, they travelled to Wigan and despite having two players dismissed came away from Central Park with a victory for the first time in the club’s history. The glory was short lived however when Keighley fell at Bramley in the next round. Once again Brian Jefferson broke his own goals record putting the ball between the posts 155 times and with 331 points broke Joe Phillip’s old record. Other players shone that season with John Burke and Kenny Loxton, brought in from Huddersfield, coming in for praise. Some of the younger players were establishing themselves with winger John Stephenson and centre Peter Roe making their mark.
Keighley subsequently fared better than expected in the big league and managed to hold their status for the first time in a two-league structure. Most of the victories were over the league’s lower clubs but there was a good 12-2 home win against fourth place Featherstone Rovers in March 1975 when the surprise selection of Roy Sabine at stand-off, playing only his third game of the season, inspired the Lawkholmers with two tries. A week later Keighley went to Odsal and again secured a famous 14-5 victory the highlight of which was a touchline conversion from Brian Jefferson. There were many pluses in that season including the introduction of prop Tony Garforth, regarded as the ‘bargain of the season’ from Wakefield, and Peter Roe who left the club at the end of the season for Queenbeayan in Australia.
Coach Alan Kellett who had steered the club to their recent glories since his reappointment in January 1973 resigned before the 1975-6 season when there was a split decision in the boardroom as to whether he should carry on. In his place came Roy Sabine who made it clear that he would now only play in emergencies. Sabine did a good job although the end of the season saw Keighley once again plunge to the lower division finishing fourteenth out of sixteen clubs. It was a close run thing though when towards the end of the campaign when, playing six games in nineteen days, and treating every game like a cup-tie they often lost by only a few points. For the first time Keighley reached the semi-finals of both the Yorkshire and Challenge Cups in the same season. In the Yorkshire Cup they went out 2-11 at Lawkholme to Leeds when Keighley, grafting right to the end of the game, went out to two disputed tries to the Loiners. In the senior trophy they disposed of second division Halifax, Workington and Leigh before coming up against the mighty St. Helens at a memorable semi-final at Huddersfield. The fans attending the match made Fartown sound like Lawkholme cheering their team on. Keighley’s luck was out on the day with Saints scoring in the closing minutes of the first half and despite Jefferson’s two drop goals and a penalty in the second half it just wasn’t enough.
At the end of the following 1978-77 season coach Roy Sabine summed up when the club’s push for promotion straight back to the top division just failed because of the inability to string together a good run of wins. “It shouldn’t have got down to these last two games. We have lost matches we should have won and just been inconsistent.” The dismissal of goal machine Brian Jefferson in the next but one match of the season against Huddersfield and subsequently four kickable goals missed by his replacement in the 3-5 defeat encapsulated Keighley’s frustrating season. The fans were also bewildered and aimed criticism at Sabine and a small group of them hurled abuse at Jefferson and the team during the Huddersfield match. Sabine went on, “There are apparently 200 coaches out there who think they know more about the game than I do – they ought to apply for the job.” The cup competitions that season were also disappointing with first round exits from the BBC2 Floodlit, John Player and Challenge Cups.
Despite the set-back of the previous year the 1978-9 season began optimistically with the side winning their first five games but a subsequent run of five straight defeats in October prompted the resignation of hardworking Chairman Ken Riley and coach Roy Sabine. Colin Evans stepped up from the ‘A’ team to take over as caretaker coach and inspired a win at York, their first defeat of the season, then a home win over first division Hull FC in the John Player competition. New chairman David Simpson engaged the former Great Britain scrum-half Barry Seabourne as coach, which seemed a shrewd move when, in his first eleven games, there was only one defeat. Seabourne went back to his old club to bring in centre Lee Greenwood who would later become coach himself at Lawkholme, second row Kevin Farrell and Les Sellers. Also brought in was goalkicking halfback Graham Beale from Doncaster. The subsequent departures however of Terry Morgan, Charlie Birdsall and Calvin Wilkes affected the team’s form and the season ended with seven consecutive defeats leaving Keighley to finish in seventh place in the league with eleven victories out of twenty-six games.
The club’s downward trend blighted the following 1979-80 season, dubbed the worst season since the 75-6 relegation. Eric Lund in the Keighley News said, “The chance of winning First Division status was never on the cards. Never was the side able to put together a sustained run of league wins.” Despite a short period of success in November and December the campaign ended with only three wins out of their last fifteen games and the club finished in eleventh place with only twenty points out of a possible fifty-two. Keighley’s poor form was reflected in all the cup competitions going out in the first round in all but the BBC Floodlit Trophy when after beating Dewsbury they were inevitably thrashed 41-15 at Hull KR. Keighley News commented that, “Keighley can be accused of missing the boat during the summer months preceding the start of the season for there were none of the important close season signings the fans had hoped for.” Billy Woolford and Tony Garforth left the club and in exchange came Billy Rowett and the returning Dean Raistrick. Top try scorers for the season were Joe Bardgett on ten and David Moll on eleven with Graham Beale the top points scorer with three tries and sixty-eight goals (145 pts).