Rugby League Heroes: Peter Roe

Keighley’s promotion specialist

At Keighley and Bradford, Peter Roe was one of Rugby League’s best centres in the late 1970s, before shoulder and knee injuries conspired against him.

After restarting his career with York and Hunslet, Roe embarked on a lengthy coaching career, winning promotion with Halifax, Keighley, Swinton and Barrow.

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

I supported Keighley as a kid and then I played for them, so I’ll go for the day I was appointed their coach in 1991. That was a real pinnacle for me.

You could have been a soccer player. What happened?

I was scouted by Man United and went for a trial, but there were so many people there, I only got 10 or 15 minutes. I had one involvement. I headed a ball. I never heard from them again! Sheffield United were also interested, but I had a back injury for 12 months after an accident. By the time I recovered, my interest in Rugby League had taken over.

Who were your childhood heroes?

Brian Jefferson was a points machine at Keighley. He was a regular for Yorkshire too. He was a major player and a great kicker. We also signed Keith Pollard from Hull KR and I enjoyed watching him play.

Tell us about your early days at Keighley.

I did half a year in the A Team and then made my debut as the club got promoted in 1974. I played a full season in the first division and went for a spell in Australia with Queanbeyan as an 18-year-old. At the end of 1975, Bradford Northern made an offer for me of £6,500, which Keighley accepted.

How did the money compare?

I can’t remember to be honest, but it was something like £150 for a win at Bradford and £50 for a loss. The extra £100 for the win was pretty significant. I never played for the money, only for the love of the game, but as a laboratory technician, studying at night school, it was more than a week’s wage. It gave players a massive hunger to play and to win. You certainly didn’t want to get dropped or injured, and it led to a really positive culture.

Who were the best centres back then?

Les Dyl, Eric Hughes and Eddie Cunningham were at the peak of their abilities. Of my age, there were Mike Smith and John Joyner who were both superb. John Woods was more of a stand-off, but he could also play centre. There was a real talent pool around. I wish we had it now!

Centres are now built like second rowers. Has the position evolved in a negative way?

Yes, probably, and it’s down to a combination of the ten-metre rule and full-time professionalism, but physicality has also progressed. Players are always in the gym or the boxing ring, more protein is available and there are different diets.

You won the League Championship with Bradford in 1980.

That was under Peter Fox, who was the right man for the right club. His style of play suited the heavy ground. Jimmy Thompson, Jeff Grayshon and Len Casey were great players to name but three. Peter’s brother Neil was there was well, aged 39 or 40. It was great to go to most fixtures knowing you had half a chance of winning.

You were also coached by Roy Francis. How did Roy and Peter compare?

Roy Francis was a tremendous coach, very much ahead of his time. He was very keen on fitness and wanted quick backs and open football. Foxy was the opposite. But one problem with Roy was when you got to November, the bad weather came in, and we didn’t have a game plan for those conditions.

Eddie Syzmala told us last week about the Battle of Albi that you both played in for the GB Under-24s. You were a potential 1979 tourist. What happened?

Firstly, on Eddie, he was a wonderful character. One of my favourite stories about Eddie is from when Barrow played the 1982 Kangaroos. Their enforcer was Les Boyd. Eddie waited for their bus to get to Craven Park and when it did, he started banging on the windows and shouting, “Where’s Boyd? Where’s Boyd?”

I was on the way up in the late ‘70s. I’d played for Yorkshire and then the Great Britain Under-24s, as you say. I was also chosen to travel with Great Britain to France but had to pull out with injury. I had a good game in the Premiership Final when we beat Widnes in 1978, but it was downhill from there with injuries.

How did your time at Odsal end?

I injured my shoulder and then my ACL. I was out for 16-18 months, having done all my own physio and rehab with some gear I’d bought, and I worked every day to get back to fitness. But Bradford treated me appallingly. They had their players insured and if someone was badly injured, they cashed them in. When the surgeon said he didn’t think I’d come back, the club took the 30 grand, which meant I couldn’t play for them again.

There’s a lot of talk about mental health issues, but we had nothing like that, and I was at the bottom of the heap mentally. I couldn’t work. If you were fit and healthy then great, but if not, you were soon forgotten.

You did come back. Tell us about the rest of career.

I went to York, who were in Division One, and we did quite well, especially at home. I enjoyed it at the old Clarence Street ground and played with Geoff Pryce, who recently died of Covid. But with work and family, I struggled to get there for the start of training, so I moved to Hunslet for three years.

Hunslet was very enjoyable under Paul Daley. We made the quarter-final of the Challenge Cup at Headingley against Castleford. I went back to Keighley in ‘85, but the coach Geoff Peggs died of cancer while in post, and they asked me to be player-coach. I enjoyed the responsibility, but I knew I couldn’t do another season because it was too tough on my family, so I went back to playing and did one more season before hanging my boots up.

What were your next coaching experiences?

I coached Keighley Albion and then Dudley Hill, who won the National Conference. I got the Halifax job and got them promoted to Division One in 1991, but they wanted me to re-apply for the job because they didn’t think I was experienced enough to coach top-flight. I refused. I’d done well and I deserved to keep the job.

You returned to Keighley when Cougarmania began. What did you initially think of the concept?

Being a Keighley lad and a traditionalist, I left them to it and just got on with the coaching. The sideshow stuff was up to someone else, but they got the ball rolling, we got some good players in and we started to win. That’s important when you want new fans, but they started coming to away games, which was amazing to see. It just took off overnight. The loudspeaker stuff and the razzamatazz gave us a ten-point start.

But I didn’t want to be full time, so I left at Easter 1994. I applied for the Hull job, but it never came off.

In your next job, your Barrow team beat Hull KR 1-0 in 1994. How did that happen?

We did an overnight, which was a big help, because Barrow to Hull in one day was too much. We stayed in Elland and we spoiled the lads. I said to them, “We’ve done the right thing by you, and you need to make sure the directors don’t stop this.” Rovers underestimated us. We hardly missed a tackle and we completed our sets. Bluey Kavanagh dropped a goal. Gary Westwood stuck to David Plange like glue and never let him get on his outside. It was a great day!

You featured regularly on the programme ‘Rugby League Raw’. Did it portray the sport and the coaches in the right way?

I think so. It was an excellent programme. There had been similar documentaries with soccer managers like Neil Warnock and Alex Ferguson kicking off, so why not Rugby League?
I thought it was a great success and it won awards. It possibly went on too long and maybe people got fed up with it, but it showed the working-class side of the game, and what’s wrong with that? I did feel sorry for David Hulme when his swearing became a controversy. You had to forget the cameras were there, and I made a point of not swearing because I knew my mum would be watching!

I was working for Craven District Council in Skipton and I used to do house visits. I went to Bentham one day and an old lady said, “You were on TV the other night, weren’t you? I do enjoy that programme, but I don’t know anything about Rugby League.”

How did you find the step up to Super League when you left Featherstone for Wakefield in 2002?

The biggest difference is changing from part-time to full-time. You can go on hundreds of courses and have all the qualifications, but no one has shown me how to be a full-time coach. You can only coach players for a certain length of time a day. You can’t do eight hours! That’s the biggest barrier.

The job wasn’t ideal because of the way Wakefield was being run. I wasn’t the boss, and it eroded my confidence. I had a chairman, chief exec and director of rugby to answer to. They all interfered. I knew from the first month that I had made a mistake.

The atmosphere at Featherstone had been fantastic. We always had ambitions of going into Super League, but the Rugby League didn’t want us. Featherstone supporters were my type of people – 100% Rugby League through and through. The atmosphere in the changing room was wonderful. I adored my time there.

At Wakefield, that atmosphere just wasn’t there. Maybe it’s a full-time v part-time thing. Super League players are mollycoddled and on guaranteed money. Some are very professional, and some aren’t. The pressure of relegation is huge because of the money involved. It was a very different culture to any other job I did.

You were well known for your forthright views on the game. When you look at the current state of the game, do you feel vindicated?
I do, without sounding big headed. I saw the rot setting in when Maurice Lindsay changed the five-metre rule to ten, which changed the game massively. That was the biggest change since unlimited tackles was scrapped. It’s a major reason we don’t get more kids playing, because you have to be so fit and strong and there are so many injuries now.

It’s taken a lot of skill out of the game, and it’s made the sport robotic. The Colin Armstrong offload has gone and it’s all knees and elbows in the play-the-ball instead. The modern game isn’t going to produce a player like Arthur Beetson, and that’s a shame.

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