Widnes RLFC

A Brief History

The early years

The club was formed in 1873 as the Farnworth & Appleton Cricket and Football Club. The Widnes FC name was adopted in 1876. By the late 1870s the club was being referred to as 'The Chemicals' - subsequently shortened to 'The Chemics'. The first ground was on Albert Road behind what is now The Premier Wetherspoons pub and a short spell followed in the Simms Cross area. From around 1878-84 the club were based at the junction of Millfield/Peelhouse Lane, apart from season 1880/81 when they played on the Widnes Cricket Club ground at Lowerhouse Lane. From 1884-95 they rented a field at Lowerhouse Lane before moving to their third separate site on that road in October 1895. The first ever game at what later became Naughton Park was against Liversedge on Saturday 12 October 1895. In 1895, Widnes were founder members of the Northern Union which broke away from the Rugby Football Union. Their first game was an away fixture against Runcorn which they lost 15-4. During the early years, the club often had to sell players to balance the books. The strength of junior rugby league in the area meant the club had a steady stream of new players to offset any losses. In 1902, the Lancashire and Yorkshire leagues were combined to form a second division, Widnes was added to the first division.

The team's first ever success came when they won the Lancashire League trophy in the 1919-20 season. However, the twenties saw the club almost go to the wall. Local rivals Warrington donated their share of the traditional Easter and Christmas derby matches to keep Widnes afloat in 1927-8. In 1930, Widnes with 12 local-born players defied the odds to beat St Helens 10-3 to bring home the Challenge Cup. The Kingsway housing scheme threatened the loss of Widnes' ground. After several years of fund-raising during the great depression, £3,250 was raised to save the ground. This came with a stipulation that the ground could be sold only to the local council at the original price. The newly named Naughton Park was opened in 1932. A major boost for the club was Widnes' first ever trip to the Challenge Cup final, staged at Wembley. Their opponents were St. Helens, Saints scored after 6 minutes to take a 3-0 lead, but Widnes hit back with a penalty try, a further try and a penalty to take a 10-3 half-time lead. A scoreless second half meant Widnes had won the cup. Widnes became the first club to make two trips to Wembley, with a loss to Hunslet in the 1934 cup final. In 1935-6, the team came close to being rugby league champions. Having finished third in the table, Widnes beat Liverpool 10-9 but lost to Hull, in the championship final. A third trip to Wembley came in 1937, with an 18-5 win over Keighley. The final was dubbed "McCue's Match" as the halfback played an important part in the win. Widnes dropped out of the wartime Lancashire league in 1940-1 and did not return to league competition until 1945-6.

Post war

Tommy McCue led the club to its first ever Lancashire cup win, with a 7-3 victory against Wigan in 1945. Back at Wembley in 1950, the team was beaten 19-0 by Warrington. During this period, the club reverted to selling its players to richer teams. Vince Karalius joined Widnes in 1962 and was appointed club captain. In his first season, Widnes finished third in the Championship, which equalled the club's best league placing. The following season, saw him lead his team to Wembley, where Widnes were Challenge Cup winners after they defeated 13 points to 5. In 1962, the league was split into East and West of the Pennines; Widnes and Workington Town met at Central Park, Wigan, in the first final of the Western Division Championship on Saturday 10th November 1962. With two minutes remaining, Lowdon dropped a goal to earn Workington a 9-9 draw. Later in the month Workington won the replay 10-0.

No team had ever played more games in reaching Wembley than Widnes in 1964. In the first round, two replays were necessary before beating Leigh. Liverpool were beaten in the second round, then Widnes played Swinton in front of 19,000 at Naughton Park. A 5-5 draw meant another replay, which was scoreless. A second replay was watched by 21,369 with Widnes winning 15-3. The semi-final against Castleford was drawn 7-7. 28,732 spectators watched the replay, which Widnes won. A Wembley crowd of 84,488 saw Widnes win the Challenge cup for the third time with a 13-5 victory over Hull Kingston Rovers. This was the Chemics first trophy success in eighteen years. Widnes' away game against Warrington became the first rugby league match to be broadcast on BBC albeit only to the South of England in 1965.

The seventies saw the first really outstanding Widnes team. A host of young local players developed into the "Cup Kings", a golden age for the club. The first cup-final was a loss in the 1971-2 Lancashire Cup. The following two seasons, Widnes reached the finals of the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy. The first success came in the 1975 Lancashire Cup which Widnes won by beating Salford that season. They also won the 1975 Challenge Cup final 14-7 versus Warrington at Wembley. This was the first time in their history that Widnes had won two trophies in the same season. Widnes visited Wembley in the following two seasons, losing to St. Helens and then Leeds. However, this was made up for by victories in the Lancashire Cup and John Player Trophy. The season after this (1977-78) saw their first league championship. The team went through the season unbeaten at home in the league. There were also trips to the John Player and Premiership finals.

Keith Elwell began his run of 242 consecutive appearances at Wembley in the 1977 RL Challenge Cup final, including two as a substitute. He finished his run at Hull on 26 September 1982, which ended his run of appearances. This record for consecutive appearances for one club stands to this day. Doug Laughton took over the job of team coach when Frank Myler retired from the position in 1978. The 1978-79 season saw no less than four cups come to Widnes - the BBC2 floodlit trophy, Lancashire Cup, Premiership and a win at Wembley over Wakefield Trinity in front of a crowd of 93,218. Widnes beat the Australian tourists in 1978. The 1979-80 season saw Widnes beat Bradford in the Premiership final, but come second to them in the league and John Player Trophy. The Lancashire cup was won for the fifth time in the seventies.

The eighties started with a Wembley win over Hull Kingston Rovers in 1980-81. The season after this, Widnes again returned to Wembley, to face Hull FC. Widnes led 14-6 with less than 20 minutes to go, but the game finished 14-14 and Hull won the replay 18-9 at Elland Road. Widnes kept their record of winning a cup every season by defeating Hull FC 23-8 in the Premiership final. The next season saw Hull again beaten by Widnes in the Premiership final. Vince Karalius returned to the club for a short spell in 1983/84 leading a strong Widnes side to the finals of the Lancashire Cup and John Player Trophy and another Wembley victory appearance 19-6 against Wigan.

Modern era

Doug Laughton returned to the club in January 1986 and began a series of signings of players from other league clubs and from rugby union. One such player was Martin Offiah, who in 1987-88 scored a club record 42 tries. The team went on to win the championship that season, clinching it with a 50 point win away over Hunslet. Widnes then beat St. Helens in the Premiership Final at Old Trafford, a game in which Alan Tait made his debut. The 1988-89 season saw the club sign rugby union star Jonathan Davies from Llanelli for £225,000. Wigan were beaten in the Charity Shield but had their revenge in the Regal Trophy Final. The Championship came down to the last game of the season, a capacity crowd at Naughton Park saw Widnes beat Wigan 32-18 to win the title for the second year running. The Premiership was won again, with over 40,000 at Old Trafford to see Widnes beat Hull 18-10.

The 1989/90 season saw Widnes play at Anfield, beating Wigan 27-22. A trip to France to play Le Pontet saw Widnes chosen as the Northern Hemisphere representatives to meet Australia's Grand Final winners. Canberra took a 12-0 lead but were then swept aside as Widnes stormed home 30-18 to become the first official World club champions. However, financial problems riddled the club in the early 1990s to balance the books, over 25 first team players were sold to other teams. This resulted in the club sinking to 12th in the division one table, avoiding relegation. When the RFL announce that a new 12-team Super League was to be formed a chaotic period ensued in which the club was out, then in, then out, then in merged with local rivals Warrington and then finally out again as they finished below the cut-off point of 10th in the existing top flight. The club adopted the Widnes Vikings in 1996. Further player and coaching departures ensued and the club struggled in the new first division, the club's first ever finish in the relegation zone followed. They spent the next 5 years in the Northern Ford Premiership.

During this time, the playing arena was rebuilt and the old stands, terraces and facilities were demolished to be replaced with a state-of-the-art all-seater stadium. This was also renamed from Naughton Park to the Halton Community Stadium. In 1999 Widnes narrowly missed out on a place in the grand final. The 2000 season was one of transition with head coach Colin Whitfield being sacked and replaced by David Hulme being appointed as his successor. The record attendance for the newly rebuilt stadium was set at 6,644 for a Northern Ford Premiership game against Leigh on Boxing Day 2000. The Vikings finished off a poor season in 8th place in the NFP.

They were finally promoted to Super League under coach Neil Kelly in 2001 beating Oldham Roughyeds 24-12 in the NFP Grand Final. Their debut season in Super League was in 2002, Superleague VII, and the Vikings surprised everyone by narrowly missing out on a play-off place, and finishing 7th. Frank Endacott arrived at Widnes as coach. The following season saw them consolidate with a 9th place finish, but in 2004 they avoided relegation by the skin of their teeth, with Castleford's defeat to Wakefield on the final day of the season saving Widnes' fate. But they had no such luck in 2005, and with 2 teams being relegated in 2005, Widnes' job was made tougher, and they eventually went back down to the second tier of the English game.

Since relegation, Widnes parted company with coach Frank Endacott and the majority of their under-achieving Super League squad. They have built a new team in preparation for the 2006 season in National League 1 under coach Steve McCormack, who led Whitehaven to two consecutive NL1 Grand Finals. The club have also pulled off a major coup in securing the services of Australian full back David Peachey, who kept his word to join the club, despite its relegation.

However, Peachey was sacked just a few months into the season by chairman Stephen Vaughan in order to make room under the salary cap for players such as Dennis Moran. On the field Widnes had made the LHF National league grand final, but were beaten by Hull Kingston Rovers at Warrington's Halliwell Jones Stadium.

Stephen Vaughan quit as chairman of Widnes Vikings and stepped down from the club's board of directors on the eve of their opening league game of the 2007 Co-operative National League season, which was broadcast live on Sky Sports. This put the club into the media spotlight for sometime. However, Widnes then went on to win the 2007 Northern Rail Cup with a 54-6 victory over Whitehaven in the final in Blackpool's Bloomfield Road stadium on 15 July 2007 in front of a crowd of 8,326. Widnes also then went on to the National League 1 grand final, as they had done the year before. They were to play against Castleford at Headingley. Unfortunately though Widnes were defeated, and Castleford were promoted. After this game Widnes had no option but to put themselves into voluntary administration.

It was announced on the 2nd November 2007 that Widnes Vikings RLFC would come out of administration under a new owner by the name of Steve O'Connor. One of his first acts as chairman was to re-appoint Steve McCormack as Head Coach. Widnes were then re-admitted into NL1, and the club managed to scrape together a squad which mostly consisted of Academy 'youngsters'. The RFL then placed a nine point deduction on the club for going into administration, in the off season. However, they managed to wipe out the deduction in their first three games.

Widnes then set their eyes on a Super League 2009 spot, along with 18 other clubs. The clubs had to apply for a licence in March 2008 to play in Super League 2009, and on the 22nd July, 2008 at 10am, it was announced who were to play in the 'elite' division. Unfortunately Widnes were not granted a licence on the basis that they had been into administration, or liquidation as Richard Lewis chief executive of the RFL kindly put it. It was believed by many that the RFL's dream of expansion would cost not only Widnes but many of the other historical rugby league clubs in Northern England their future. This would be the third time that the Vikings were to be 'shafted' by the RFL as in 1995 they were chosen not to be in the newly created Super league and then in 2005 they were relegated with Leigh to make room for French side Les Catalans Dragons. However, this would not be the end for Widnes Vikings, but the start of a new beginning. They continued to rise, led by the chairman Steve O'Connor. To prove his dedication to the club, he made an inspirational speech with the local MP, on the 27th July, 2008 when Widnes played Dewsbury. With this in mind, Widnes then pursued their ambitions and reached the 2008 National League Playoffs by finishing in 6th place. This meant they had an away trip to third placed Halifax, for the first round which was broadcast live on Skysports. However on the night Widnes lost 32-16 and with that their 2008 campaign ended.

By the 16th February, 2009 Widnes declared that they had parted company with Coach Steve McCormack, through 'mutual consent'. The news came 3 days after Widnes were controversially beaten 22-20 at home to Co-Operative Championship 1 side Oldham in the Northern Rail Cup Group Stage. McCormack's assistant John Stankevitch took over on a caretaker basis after his departure, leading the side through the remaining group stage games and into the final 16. On the 9th March, 2009 Chairman Steve O'Connor announced that former Warrington, Whitehaven and England Coach Paul Cullen would succeed McCormack as Head Coach. Speaking from the heart Cullen said on his appointment "I'm really excited to be joining Widnes. The plan is simple, we need to get Widnes into Super League where we belong".