Rugby League Heroes: Ian Brooke

When Rugby League united a mother and son

Wakefield centre Ian Brooke toured the Southern Hemisphere twice, firstly with the 1966 Lions and then with Great Britain’s 1968 World Cup side.

He was outstanding in two spells at Trinity during their halcyon days, which sandwiched a spell at the newly reformed Bradford Northern. He later went into coaching.

If you could relive one day from your career, which would it be?

Wembley 1963. Playing in the Challenge Cup Final at 20 was a wonderful experience. When I played touch and pass with my mates, I’d always imagined I was playing for Wakefield at Wembley. And then it happened in just my 13th game for the club. We beat Wigan 25-10 and I scored in the last minute.

What are your memories of watching Trinity as a young lad?

My dad and I used to walk the two or three miles to the ground from Flanshaw. Most people walked to Doncaster Road. There would have people four or five wide on the pavements, getting to Belle Vue. It was 1950 and I was seven when I first started going. My favourite players were the two wingers Denis Boocker and Eric Cooper. Denis always dived in at the corner for his tries, just like they do now. He was so popular with the fans.

How did you end up signing for Trinity?

A scout approached me after an under-19 match at Halifax, which got me excited, until I realised he was a Keighley scout! Anyway, he came to our house and put £1,000 in cash on the kitchen table. My dad said he’d never seen so much cash in his life. But I knew I wanted to go to Trinity and their Chairman Stuart Hadfield soon offered me a contract. I still have it. I got £625 for signing, then £1,000 for playing 12 games. That money meant I could buy my mum and dad’s house, which was £1,200. I also got £500 each for playing for Yorkshire and Great Britain and it wasn’t long before I’d earned that too.

Tell us the story of your birth mum making contact with you.

I was born in Plymouth, and I was adopted. In 1963, my birth mum was working at Trinity College, Oxford, doing laundry and cooking for some of the professors. I think she was ironing on this particular day. She put the Challenge Cup Final on, and she saw me score the try at the end. She knew where I had been adopted and she saw a resemblance to my birth father. So, she wrote to me at the club.
It was an incredible letter to receive, but I had started to look into where I was from. I didn’t want to upset my mum and dad at first, but after a couple of years I got to know my birth mother. I never met my father, who had died, although I am in touch with a couple of his family members.

Who were the best players at Trinity back then?

We were blessed to have so many great players, but if I had to pick a couple, it would be Derek Turner and Neil Fox. I was very well looked after by both of them. Derek was very protective of me on the field – it was like having my dad out there! Neil was a tremendous centre and is an all-time great. Harold Poynton was a magnificent stand-off. He was light but very tough. He was very good at the Cumberland tackle. Big lads used to run at him, but he knocked them all down straightaway. His ball skills were fantastic too – he had beautiful hands. He’d run at different angles and drop you off with the ball. Along with Derek in the pack, there were Brian Briggs and Don Vines. Gerry Round, the fullback, toured with the Lions in 1962. Wakefield was full of star players and it was a privilege to play for them.

You made a big impact, so why did you end up at Odsal in 1965, joining a club that had just gone bust?

Wakefield got rid of me because I’d injured my knee three times. Their physio, Paddy Armour, was also the Great Britain physio, and he apologised to me on the 1966 Lions tour, admitting it had been on his say-so that Trinity got rid of me.

It was actually very enjoyable joining Bradford when they were starting from scratch. The wonderful Trevor Foster was the figurehead, with Harry Womersley the Chairman. Within just a few months, we won the Yorkshire Cup, beating Hunslet in the final. I scored a 70-metre try when Albert Tonkinson put me in the clear. I can still hear our scrum-half, Tommy Smales, shouting at the opposition, “You’ll never catch him!”

What was particularly enjoyable about Bradford was the dressing-room camaraderie. We were all in the same boat. We’d all been told by our clubs that we weren’t good enough, and we all ended up at a famous club trying to rebuild. It was the best team-spirit I ever experienced.

What are your memories of the first Ashes Test in 1966?

If Wembley was my first dream, beating the Aussies at the Sydney Cricket Ground was the second. I can still see us lined up, facing up to players like Reg Gasnier, Graeme Langlands and Ron Coote during the national anthems. We were superb that day, and Alan Hardisty was a magnificent player, right at his peak.

Is it still a big regret you couldn’t win the series, given the Lions were successful in 1958, 1962 and 1970?

Yes, but we couldn’t have been much closer. We lost the second Test 6-4 and blew a chance to score at the end when Geoff Wrigglesworth broke through and only had the fullback to beat, but didn’t pass to Bill Burgess on his right, who would have scored. Bill Ramsey was sent off, which really hurt us. It was at Lang Park and there was crowd trouble that day. Then in the decider, we had Cliff Watson sent off and we only lost by five points. The refs did us no favours. I know everyone says that, but we were up against it in that series.

You were in Australia when the England soccer team won the 1966 World Cup. Did you watch it?

No. To be honest, not many of the squad were particularly bothered. We were in our hotel in Cronulla at 6am when Paddy Armour physio burst into my room, shouting, “We’ve won the World Cup!” I wasn’t even sure which World Cup he was talking about.

You were in the GB team again the following year when the series went the same way.

We beat them at Leeds but lost in London and Swinton. The game in London was at White City. I remember that for two reasons – Trinity being very proud that they provided both centres, Neil and me, and that it was played in a Friday night under the lights. They just had too much for us in the second half.

Your third and last international tournament was the 1968 World Cup. What went wrong?

We lost to the French! We went over and played a couple of country sides first. Then we were beaten by Australia but knew that if we beat France and New Zealand, we’d play Australia again in the final. But the conditions at Carlaw Park just didn’t suit us. Mud was coming over our boots. It suited France, and they beat us 7-2.

You roomed with Clive Sullivan on that tour. What was he like?

He was a lovely man, very modest and unassuming. He was a wonderful player too. It was such a shame that he left us at such a young age.

By this time, you were a Wakefield player again. Your second spell is known best for the Watersplash Final of 1968. Tell us about the obstruction try awarded to Leeds.

To this day, I can’t understand how that decision was reached. John Atkinson and Gert Coetzer were chasing a loose ball. Their arms interlocked and they both went down. I got to the ball first and cleared the danger. I was astonished that an obstruction try was awarded to Leeds. It was the only try they scored that afternoon, and they didn’t really score it.

Talk us through the last couple of minutes.

Bev Risman kicked a penalty goal to put Leeds 11-7 ahead. I think they probably though they had it won. As we walked back to the halfway line, Don Fox said to Ray Owen, our scrum-half, and me that he was going to kick it away from the forwards to the other side of the field. Bernard Watson, the Leeds centre, tried to stop the ball with his foot, but it went underneath. Kenny Hirst kicked it on twice and scored. It was a brilliant try and, of course, most of us thought we’d won the Cup. And then Don missed the goal.

What do you remember of the aftermath?

We all knew it was our job to cheer Don up. You win together and you lose together. If you don’t have that, then you’re not a team. And we did cheer him up. We had a very enjoyable night in a pub opposite our hotel on Gloucester Road. We probably had a better evening that we had in 1963 when we’d won.

You returned to Wembley as coach of Bradford in 1973.

Yes, and it was a great experience, but we were huge underdogs. We’d finished 23rd in the old 30-team league, yet somehow we got through to Wembley. But we beat Wigan in the quarter-final and then Dewsbury in the semis – they ended up Champions that season. Featherstone were always in charge at Wembley and they were convincing winners.

I also coached Wakefield for a season, and then Huddersfield. And many years later, I coached Doncaster in the mid-1990s. I worked with Tony Fisher and then I took over from him for the second half of the season.

Do you still follow Rugby League?

Absolutely! I’m a regular at Wakefield and I watch with my old team-mates Neil Fox and Geoff Oakes. I really enjoy it and there are so many great players. The deal with Channel Four is great, and hopefully new people will come across the game. We need more people to talk Rugby League up a bit more!