Lawkholmers to Cougars - A Rugby League History


In the late 1950s Keighley probably had the best back division in the club’s history, and in season 1957-58 fullback Joe Phillips, and three-quarters Dave Smith, Terry Hollindrake, Derek Hallas and Roy Bleasby, between them scored no less than 89 tries.

Joe Phillips himself notched 13 tries from the fullback position, until Andre Stoop in the 1990’s, the highest ever total by a Keighley fullback. He had been a prolific goal-kicker during the period he had been with Bradford Northern. When the Rugby League Northern Management Committee ordered that his name should be struck off Bradford Northern’s register, Phillips decided to join Keighley. He made his debut at Lawkholme Lane against Hunslet on February 3rd 1957kicking a goal. Really great things were to come from Phillips in his first full season as a Keighley player, and he set up new club goal-kicking and points scoring records with 111 goals and 13 tries – 261 points.

In his three seasons with Keighley Phillips played in 80 games, kicked 225 goals and scored 20 tries – a total of 516 points at an average of more than six points a game. After retiring he was a Keighley director for a spell.

I have referred to the feats of Hollindrake – 340 goals, 111 tries (1,013 points) in 238 games – and Bleasby (124 tries in 235 games) earlier but the records of Hallas and Dave Smith are worth recalling too.

Smith was signed from the Shaw Cross Junior Club in December 1954, after having won county and international honours in the amateur game. He was transferred to Hunslet in January 1962, and in between he played 211 times for Keighley, kicking a solitary goal but scoring 92 tries – a total of 278 points.

Hallas was recruited from Roundhay Rugby Union Club in December 1953. He had already gained county honours in Rugby Union and he did the same in Rugby League while he was with Keighley. He was transferred to Leeds in January 1959 for £4,000 and there he gained international and Test honours.

He rejoined Keighley in October 1962 for £3,000 but emigrated to Australia in April 1963, after playing a further 14 games for the club.

In all Hallas played a total of 189 games for Keighley. He kicked eleven goals and scored 75 tries – a total of 247 points.

Another player who joined Keighley in the 1950s and went on to serve them for 13 years before moving to Hunslet, was Geoff Crewdson who, in 1966 became the first ever Lawkholme-reared player to go on a tour of Australia. In 1936 Hal Jones had made the trip, but he was a fully-fledged player when he joined Keighley.

Ironically, Crewdson earned his tour place in a position, which he had taken over regularly only that season. Crewdson did not earn a Test place on the trip, but he turned out to be a fine tour man and distinguished himself in several games.

Crewdson made his debut with Keighley at loose forward at the age of 17. He arrived on the scene when the side’s bright young backs were claiming all the attention, and the pack was mainly composed of seasoned players like Des Clarkson and Harry Murphy.

He looked the best forward prospect for some years, but with National Service interfering to some extent he took some time to establish a regular senior place.

His first game was not a happy debut, for Keighley were beaten at home by Doncaster through a late drop-goal. It will bring back memories to many supporters to recall that on that day the Keighley side was Frain; Hollindrake, Taylor, Hallas, Smith (D); Anderson, Barron; Clarkson, Traill, Hopkins, Grice, Holdbrook, Crewdson.

By the time he established himself in the first team Crewdson was playing at second-row, and apart from occasional front-row appearances, that was regarded as his best position until the loss of Maurice Williams brought about his switch to blind-side prop in 1965. With Keighley Crewdson made 288 appearances and scored 20 tries 60 points.

After Bert Cook and Joe Philips, Keighley signed yet another great goal kicking fullback in Garfield Owen. He joined them from Halifax on January 12th 1962, at the age of 29 and in the next four seasons went on to become one of a handful of Keighley players who have topped the 600 points mark for the club.

In all he made 130 appearances, kicked 361 goals and scored two tries – a total of 728 points at an average of more than six a match.

But in those early days of the 1960’s, despite the prolific scoring of Player-coach Owen, Keighley had a dismal time in the Rugby League Challenge Cup competition. In February 1960, they won a thriller at Batley by 5pts to 2. This was the match, which led up to the Jack Holmes suspension legal battle – a battle which was eventually won at a High Court hearing.

After that first round win, Keighley had to wait until season 1967-68 before they managed to progress beyond the first round again.

In that season they reached the third round. After beating Batley 7-2 at home and Widnes 15-5 away, they were defeated by Wigan at Lawkholme Lane by 11 pts to 2pts and be denied a place in the semi-final.

That win at Widnes – the conquerors of Keighley at Wembley in 1937 – must rank among Keighley’s finest cup triumphs. It was a great team success and compared with earlier great wins against Barrow and Workington Town.

Brian Jefferson kicked three goals and scored a try, while Ken Roberts and Alan Dickinson added the other tries. The team on that memorable occasion was Jefferson; Roberts, O’Brien, Dickinson, Moulding; Kellett, Evans; Worthy, Pell, Pollard, Crewdson, Potter and Palmer.

And still the triumph was marred by one thing – the death of chairman, Mr. Norman Mitchell who collapsed shortly after half time and died on the way to hospital.

There was great jubilation when Keighley were drawn at home to Wigan in the third round. Keighley had beaten Wigan only once previously – in that never to be forgotten game at Lawkholme on April 13th 1954, when Terry Hollindrake, then at the start of a distinguished career, was literally dragged from the crowd to play on the wing against Billy Boston. Hollindrake had a memorable game and scored two tries in the 20-10 win.

But in the 1968 cup game the success was not to be repeated before a crowd of 13,320 who paid record receipts of £3,414.

Those days of the early 1960’s will be remembered for another thing – frost. In 1961-62 Keighley played Widnes on December 16 and did not have another game until January 13th when Castleford visited Lawkholme.

Then in season 1962-63 Keighley suffered their longest break ever at the hands of the weather. After playing at Whitehaven on December 22nd they missed ten matches on December 25, 29, January 5, 12, 1 9, 26 and February 2, 9, 1 6 and 23 before resuming at Hull Kingston Rovers in the Rugby League Cup first round tie on March 2nd. It was almost a happy resumption, for Keighley lost by only a single point – 6-5.

In 1965 Keighley had another unhappy experience. On Saturday, January 9th the “gate” in a home game with York was only 389 (receipts £63). Records showed it to be the lowest post-war ‘gate’ at Lawkholme and it is believed to be the lowest in the club’s history in peacetime.

That year Keighley won only nine of their 34 league games, scored 303 points and conceded 592.

There had been a big upheaval in the Keighley boardroom in March 1965, when there were six resignations from the nine-man board.

Among those to resign was Mr. John Smallwood, who had been chairman since 1953. Others were Mr. Andrew Holroyd (an original board which took control in member along with Mr. Smallwood of the hitaker and 1953), Mr. Reg Hartley, Mr. Cecil Waterhouse, Mr. Harry W  Mr. Humphrey Binns. Chairman and about that time Mr. Norman Mitchell took over the job of Keighley appointed Harry Street as coach. The other two remaining members of the board were Mr. Geoff Beadnall, who recruited many young players for Keighley and Mr. Charles Redman, a Supporters Club representative.

Street joined Keighley with the reputation of a man who sent Castleford soaring up the table. He did not have the same outstanding success at Keighley, though in 1965-66 the side showed a distinct improvement over the previous season. They won 15 of their league games compared with only nine the previous term. And under Street the side earned much praise for their style of play.

That season saw the arrival of Brian Jefferson, who developed into Keighley’s most prolific points scorer ever. The former Moortown Rugby Union stand-off moved on to the wing after a spell, but finally developed into one of the most entertaining full-backs in the league. In that position he won Yorkshire County honours, and represented England in a game against Wales.

Other new faces that season were Tony Keith, Dick Moulding, Terry Hebblethwaites, Dave Garbett and Mick Hare.

Street’s stay at Lawkholme lasted for another season – a term in which Keighley won only eleven league games. They tried desperately hard to satisfy Street’s desire for open football and their try tally rose to 69 from 54 the previous term. But opponents scored 125 tries (85 in 1965-66) and only one other club had a worse defensive record. Brian Jefferson scored 241 of the 435 points scored by Keighley.

Colin Evans joined Keighley that season and remained to be a faithful club servant, both as player and later as “A” team coach. The improving Les Thomas headed the try list with 14, but unhappily Geoff Crewdson, who in the close season had gone to Australia with the touring side, did not shine so much as he had done the previous term.

Street’s departure season 1967-68 saw Keighley deteriorate still further – that is until the final three months of the season when the arrival of Alan Kellett caused a transformation.

Keighley had won only two games when Kellett arrived from Bradford Northern as player-coach in February, a week before the first round cup-tie with Batley. Keighley were struggling hard to end a nine match losing spell and beat their cup bogey.

Kellett was on a “hiding to nothing”. But he led the side to a win in the cup-tie and took them on to their best cup run for 20 years. They won that amazing success over Widnes in the second round, but then fell to Wigan in the third round.

Kellett scored a vital try in the Batley match, and for the rest of the season he led his side by example. Of the final 13 games, following his arrival at Lawkholme, Keighley won six games and lost two others by but a single point.

Despite the absence of records broken or trophies gained, the 1968-69 campaign was Keighley’s most satisfactory for 20 years. They completed the season in 15th position with 37 points from 34 matches and went on to take part for the first time in the end of season final 16 play-offs falling at the first hurdle to St Helens at Knowlsley Road 25-7. Much of the improvement was attributed to inspirational player/coach Alan Kellett who had worked wonders with the same basic squad as the previous year. Full back Brian Jefferson had another outstanding season and which was recognised by his selection for an England XIII against France.

Normal service resumed for the 1969-70 season as inconsistency returned to the Keighley performances. Much of this was down to an exceptionally long injury list, which included many key players. Former Great Britain prop Mick Clark from Leeds replaced Alan Kellett as coach and due to the injuries, introduced 13 new players into the first team. The league season was completed in 25th position from 30 teams and with only 13 wins from 34 games.