Arthur "Chick" Johnson | 1908/09 - 1922/23 |
Heritage Number: Date of Birth:
06.03.1909 vs. Wigan. Age:
20.01.1923 vs. Oldham. Age:
The first Widnesian to play for Great Britain in a Test Match. Hero of the infamous `Rouke`s Drift` Test Match. Member of the Widnes Hall of Fame
Hall of Fame Inductee
Chick Johnson was the first Widnes player to play for Britain in a Test match. He was also (with Jack O'Garra) one of our first two tourists, going on both the 1914 and 1920 tours of Australia and New Zealand. He remained the only Test match player the town could boast until the selection of Nat Silcock, in 1932. That distinction alone would give him a place on our roll of honour. But there is something else.
In the days when Rugby League was still called Northern Union, forwards like Chick Johnson were called upon to work tremendously hard in every game. They were expected to scrummage fiercely for loose balls, and one of their greatest skills was displayed in united or solo foot rushes up the field. It was with a supreme example of this now lost art, and a masterly piece of improvisation, that on the fourth of July 1914, in Sydney, Australia, the name of Chick Johnson was indelibly inscribed in Rugby League history. That game itself is one of the most famous that has ever been played, and has long been known as The Rorke's Drift Test - named after another heroic British stand during the Zulu war. In order to understand its significance, it is necessary to appreciate the circumstances under which it was played.
The series was tied at one game all, as the second Test match had been played only two days after the first, and many of the British star players such as Longstaff, Moorhouse, Jarman and Jenkins had been injured in the first. Test.Everyone on the touring party thought that the third, and deciding, match would bc played as previously arranged, in Melbourne, after a short tour of New Zealand. But that would have allowed time for at least some of the injured stars to recover, and apparently the Aussies did not want to give them that chance. So the Australian authorities of the day cabled directly to their opposite numbers in England to demand an alteration to the tour programme, so that the third Test could be played the following Saturday! Astonishingly the British Northern Union agreed to this unreasonable demand, and the British team, seriously weakened by injuries to many of their first choice players, were instructed to play their third Test match within one week. And that was how the first Widnesian, Chick Johnson, got his chance to represent his country.
Within the first few minutes of the game, the Halifax winger, Williams, was injured. The captain, Wagstaff, brought young Chick out of the pack to take his place Despite this handicap, the tourists led 9-3 at half time. At the very beginning of the second half, however , Douglas Clark of Huddersfield, who had already broken his thumb, but had played on, was finally forced to leave the field with a smashed collarbone. He tried twice to return with his shoulder strapped up, but had to give up his brave attempt in the end. After Hall, of Oldham, was carried off with concussion. with thirty minutes still to go, the situation seemed hopeless. Great Britain were now playing with ten men against thirteen, and with two forwards on the wings!
The stage was set for Chick Johnson to put his name into the record books. Receiving a pass from Wagstaff in his own half of the field, and realising he had no chance against the Australian cover defence, he did something so unorthodox for a winger that it completely baffled the Australian backs. He deliberately dropped the ball to his feet, and used his forward's skill, dribbling fifty yards, and beating off a series of challenges, finally to cross the line for a memorable try. The whole British team were inspired by this unexpected score, and for the rest of the game performcd defensive miracles, gallantly holding out against the overwhelming odds, for a 14-6 victory, and success in the series.
This game has rightly gone down in Rugby League history It is the earliest example of the courage and determination. as well as skill, required to play the game at its best. All the players deserve the highest praise. But whenever its story is retold, the most prominent name of all will be that of Widnes's first international hero - Chick Johnson.