Challenge Cup Final Replay ball
Challenge Cup Final Replay ball 1954
Lenght c. 28 cm
Diameter at centre c. 59 cm
Weight c. 420 g
No-one is sure if the mouldering ball reportedly found at the Thrum Hall ground in Halifax in 1988 – ten years before its demolition – is the ball. But it certainly predates 1960, when rugby league switched from a four panel to a six panel ball, and if Halifax were to keep any ball from their past, the one from the Challenge Cup Final Reply, staged at Odsal Stadium, Bradford, on 5 May 1954, would have been a prime contender.
For thet was a night enshrined in the annals of rugby league; a night on which, against all expectations and despite heavyrain – let alone the rival appeal of Laurel and Hardy at the nearby Alhambra – an unprecedented 102,569 fans turned up to see Warrington beat Halifax 8-4. And that was just the official count. In truth some 120,000, at least, squeezed onto Odsal’s vast, cinder slopes, as wave after wave of humanity overwhelmed the ground’s flimsy outer fences.
But why the frenzy on that particular night? Until then Odsal’s record stood at 70,000. In the Final itself, played at Wembley four days earlier, the gate had been just under 82,000, Not even a full house, and not much of a game either.
Yet such were the crowds for the replay that the balls supplier, Arthur Clues, only just made it from his Leeds shop in time, thanks to a police escort, While thousands of fans ended up trapped on gridlocked roads – no motorway then – desperate to find any vehicle with radio. Those who arrived late, meanwhile, saw precious little of the action. Remarcably, despite the potentially disastrous collapse of several barriers, only two people were hospitalised and there were no reports of any disorder on the night.
Not that the London press seemed interested. Instead, the following day all eyes turned to Iffley Road, Oxford, where some university chaps were attempting to run a four minute mile. Within hours the whole world had learnt of Roger Bannister’s feat. Odsal’s world record, by contrast, caused barely a stir south of the Pennines.