IT’S FITTING that Dewsbury Rams should welcome a Cumbrian team in Workington Town to the Tetley’s Stadium on Sunday, to mark not just the start of the 2014 Kingstone Press Championship play-offs, but also the 20th anniversary of the club opening its new ground, writes Danny Lockwood.
Cumbrians travelled down the M6 and across the M62 that day too – again on the second weekend of September – although in 1994 the Barrow Raiders were visiting at the start of the winter season unlike today, at the tail-end of another summer campaign.
Rams fans will be hoping for a similar outcome. After almost 3,500 fans flocked a little further than they’d been used to up Leeds Road from town – all the way to Shaw Cross – to pack out the opening home game of what was still called Crown Flatt, their heroes blew Barrow away, 76-8.
Current coach Glenn Morrison, pragmatist that he is, no doubt sees a repeat of that scoreline as a fanciful idea, especially given that Workington beat the Rams just last Sunday in the final regular season league game, by a score of 23-4.
With the Rams having won back in March 38-16, it makes for a tense and thrilling beginning to the knock-out stages.
The party atmosphere that that trouncing of Barrow inspired was helped by the Rams committee pushing the boat out for the new stadium’s opening, with fire-eaters and jugglers, dancers and a full evening of entertainment.
It was the start of a brand new era for the club – one which, on its 20th birthday, is again facing a brighter future still, with the impending development of the site that will guarantee the Rams’ financial future and see huge investment in their already excellent facilities.
Not that the excitement of that evening in September 1994 had seemed a likely outcome, for a long enough time, after the dark days – and years – the club had recently survived.
CROWN FLATT was where Dewsbury, formed in 1875, had played from their second season in existence, having first competed on the nearby Sugar Field.
Ironically they were not among the original signatories to the breakaway Northern Union in 1895 at the George Hotel in Huddersfield, preferring to stay on in the ‘Union’ code for a couple more years before they applied to join the new competition, sponsored by local rivals Batley.
As fondly as Crown Flatt lives on in many memories, and as iconic a place to both play and watch rugby as it was, there weren’t too many major improvements to the facilities between then and the fateful day 1988 when it was burned down.
The date, almost eerily, was September 13th, when three youths set fire to the old wooden stand – the ground was open on three sides – which had been erected, again in striking coincidence, in 1914. It would now be 100 years old.
The tragedy was far more than just the loss of facilities.
All the club’s memorabilia, records, its entire history in the old board room, was gone almost literally in a flash.
The disaster notwithstanding, Dewsbury played on at Crown Flatt for three more years.
A temporary stand was built by local firm Duncan Developments, who subsequently bought the site for the housing development that stands on their today.
The feared and famous ‘Nine ‘Ole’ at the bottom right hand side of the ground continued to be one of rugby league’s most famous physical landmarks until eventually the deal was done and the land sold.
The last game was played on April 14 1991, when Barrow were the visitors and played out a 19-19 draw – hence them being invited to open the new ground.
For the next three winter seasons Batley’s Mount Pleasant was Dewsbury’s home, though fans already uncomfortable with such an arrangement – however grudgingly grateful – won’t remember it as a classic time for rugby either.
Still in the winter game, with both Batley, Dewsbury and the Bradford Park Avenue football team using the pitch, it often resembled nothing more than Blackpool beach. With the tide only just out.
Still, the proud red, amber and blacks kept their heads above water and battled towards a brighter future.
As with today’s struggle to get permission to develop the neighbouring land on the former Shaw Cross pit site, planning permission proved devilishly difficult.
The plans were eventually ‘called in’ by the Secretary of State – the site had none of today’s industry on the expanse of land that stretched across Bywell fields towards the old Crown Flatt.
When permission was granted, it was with the proviso that the pitch retain its east-west aspect so that, from Owl Lane, passers-by still had an open view back towards the distant Pennines – from which the wind and rain could howl down the field, in the faces of one team or the other.
With the advent of the summer sport, that became less of an issue, but finally it was full steam ahead and the builders could move in.
And so it was that on Sunday September 11, 1994, with 3,427 fans packing out the brand, spanking new ground, Barrow were put to the sword and the Dewsbury Rams began the next stage of their long and honourable journey within what its fans call ‘the Greatest Game’.