Obituary: Wally Hurstfield – The Widnes star who shared in a Wembley triumph


WALLY HURSTFIELD, who died in June at the age of 89, was a barnstorming but also nimble prop who served Widnes for eleven years and won the Challenge Cup with them in 1964.

It was a unique year for the famous old competition, because in an era before golden-point was even thought of, no less than ten replays were needed on the road to Wembley, where Hull KR were beaten 13-5.

With floodlit grounds scarce, the bulk of those replays took place on midweek afternoons within days of the original match, meaning the players, virtually all of whom were part-time, had to hurriedly make arrangements to miss work.  

Widnes were involved in five of them, two being second replays, so the final beneath the old twin towers was their tenth Challenge Cup tie and 48th game of the season, with Hurstfield having played in 40 (he ended that campaign on a career-high 43 appearances, bettering his 41 of 1962-63).

It’s an impressive tally, given that there were no substitutes at that time and propping was particularly demanding, given the physicality and competitiveness of scrums.

Absent from the away (2-2) and home (11-11) first-round stalemates with Leigh, Hurstfield helped ex-Wigan, Leigh and Great Britain hooker Joe Egan’s side win 14-2 at the third attempt, the decisive meeting taking place at St Helens’ Knowsley Road on a mid-February Monday.

After missing the 16-6 second-round win over Liverpool City at Widnes’ Naughton Park (now redeveloped as the DCBL Stadium), he featured in all three quarter-final clashes with Swinton.

The stylish Station Road side, who were to win a second successive title that season, were held 5-5 at Widnes and 0-0 on their own turf before Hurstfield and Co triumphed 15-3 at Wigan’s Central Park, again on a Monday afternoon, this time in March.

Amazingly, both April semi-finals were draws – Hull KR 5 Oldham 5 at Headingley, Leeds and Widnes 7 Castleford 7 the Saturday after at Swinton’s Station Road, where the Wednesday-afternoon replay of the first tie had been abandoned due to fading light with Oldham winning 17-14.

Hull KR won the second replay, staged at Huddersfield’s Fartown the following Monday, 12-2 while two days later, Hurstfield helped Widnes see off Castleford 7-5 at Belle Vue, Wakefield, the two ties, remarkably in the circumstances, attracting attendances of 32,757 and 28,732 respectively.

The pulling power of the Challenge Cup was again made clear at Wembley the following month, when 84,488 saw the final.

Egan shuffled his pack, bringing Arthur Hughes into the second row alongside Jim Measures and switching Frank Collier to the front at the expense of Edgar Bate to line up alongside Hurstfield and hooker George Kemel, reckoning the extra touch of pace would be telling.

And so it proved as the industrious black-and-white-hooped sextet, including seasoned skipper Vince Karalius at loose-forward, laid the platform for a dominant second-half display.

Centres Alan Briers and Frank Myler, who was set up by Hurstfield and Hughes, crossed before a clincher from Collier, and Widnes had won the Challenge Cup for the first time since 1937.

The previous season, the first of two in the sixties featuring two divisions rather than one, the Chemics had taken the newly-created Western title.

Having played eight Western Division matches before the start of the First Division schedule, Hurstfield figured in the 10-9 semi-final win at St Helens then both the final and final replay against Workington Town, beaten 10-0 after a 9-9 draw, with both games at Central Park.

In all, he represented Widnes 210 times (nine tries), making his debut in the 19-18 home defeat by Blackpool Borough in the last match of the 1955-56 season and turning out for the final time in the 25-10 loss at St Helens in the penultimate game of 1966-67.

Hurstfield also helped a combined Widnes/Liverpool City side beat the touring New Zealanders 9-6 at Naughton Park in August 1961.