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1961 Challenge Cup Final at 60!

Today marks the 60th anniversary of one of our club’s greatest achievements: the 12-6 Challenge Cup final victory over Wigan at Wembley Stadium. It was also the first time that the players wore the famous red vee jersey, now synonymous with our team throughout the world of rugby league.

Saints Heritage Society: Click here to see who took to the field that day.

It might have been quite different. Club colours were white jerseys with red chest and arm bands, which had been worn in their past two visits to the stadium, in 1953 and 1956. But this was the dawn of the Sixties and the club wanted something more modern and stylish. Kit suppliers Bukta gave the club two options. One an all-white design, featuring the town crest; the other a similar version sporting a thin red vee. The decision was unanimous and the legend of the red vee was born.

The Saints certainly looked the part when Chairman Harry Cook led them out onto the Wembley turf, with Wigan wearing red jerseys and white shorts. It was a scorching hot day in London, with some rails on the Piccadilly Underground line actually buckling under the heat as the match kicked off with over 25,000 Saints fans in the stadium, many were stood behind the goal as the sun streamed down. Wembley was uncovered at both ends in those days.

The team had been well-prepared for the final. “We were all able to get a full week off work,” remembers centre Brian McGinn, the ‘babe’ of the team at 21 years of age: “We stayed in Southport at first, to train on the King George V playing fields, which resembled the Wembley turf, then it was on to our hotel in Richmond, before going on to Wembley.”

The game itself was a fine spectacle, with both teams capable of playing entertaining attacking rugby. Fortunately, St Helens always seemed fresh enough to produce that little bit extra on the day and with 17 minutes remaining and the score at 5-4 in their favour, laid claim to victory with one of the greatest tries ever scored at Wembley.

Dick Huddart pounced on a loose ball as a Wigan attack broke down close to the St Helens line. Stand-off Alex Murphy, who had scored the first Saints try, moved the ball wide to centre Ken Large, who beat two opponents with a sizzling burst of speed and passed to van Vollenhoven just before half way.

The Springbok ace accelerated away from Carlton and, seeing his way blocked by Griffiths, gave a return pass inside to the supporting Large. The pair kept up their scorching pace along the touchline and two red shirted defenders raced across in a desperate effort to cover, Large whipped the ball outside to Vollenhoven once more, who streaked away to touch down between the posts after a magnificent display of controlled running and passing at speed. It was his 7th try of the cup campaign and was pure Wembley magic!

The Lance Todd trophy went to Cumbrian second-rower Dick Huddart. His incisive ‘stooped’ running style and powerful fend caused untold problems for the Wigan defence on the day. “Wigan were the clear favourites, because of their recent Wembley record,” remembers Brian McGinn. “but we were a pretty decent side ourselves and took our chances on the day.”

After a jubilant Vince Karalius received the cup from Lord Derby, it was back to the Russell Hotel in London for a special celebration, with champagne flowing freely, plus a specially made chocolate cake in the shape of a rugby ball with the inscription ‘St Helens R. L. Challenge Cup Winners’ the piece de resistance of the chef.

Over 20,000 fans packed Victoria Square where the Mayor, Alderman Joe Murphy welcomed the team back on Monday evening, with special cheers for Lance Todd winner Dick Huddart and Tom van Vollenhoven. The team also gave a rousing rendition of ‘Little Lize I Love You’ a jaunty tune that Alex Murphy had learned in his RAF days, which had been sung before every round of the cup ties.

The players who took part on that memorable afternoon are as follows: Austin Rhodes [3G]; Tom van Vollenhoven [1T], Ken Large, Brian McGinn, Mick Sullivan; Alex Murphy, Wilf Smith; Abe Terry, Bob Dagnall, Cliff Watson, Don Vines, Dick Huddart, Vince Karalius [Capt].

It is interesting to note that seven of the Saints’ final team were born and bred in the town: Rhodes, Large, Brian McGinn, Murphy, Smith, Ab Terry and Dagnall.

We must also not forget that this was a game without substitutes and several players could easily have been drafted into the final line-up such was the strength of the squad. Second-rower Jimmy Measures was desperately unlucky, after 27 first team appearances during the 1960-61 campaign; centre John Donovan played in the Championship semi-final loss to Leeds the week before and was replaced by Ken Large for Wembley. Utility back Alan Briers would have graced most teams on such a big occasion. There was also full-back Frank Barrow, hooker Dave Harrison and front-rower Fred Leyland waiting in the wings. An interchange bench in the modern sense would have been particularly strong.

All played their part in a fabulous double winning season, with the Lancashire Cup also coming back to Knowsley Road. Great times indeed. Those who were lucky to be there on that marvellous day at Wembley, whether players, officials or fans, they will never forget the time that the legend of the red vee was born.

Fast forward to 2019 and a Heritage Open Day at the Totally Wicked Stadium. Irene Large received her late husband Ken’s Certificate [Heritage Number #745] and was so proud of his and the team’s achievements all those years ago.

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