Jan Smith aka The Soup Dragon
Jan first came across rugby just before the 1967 Challenge cup final, the school allowed all the children to run down the lane and wave the team off to Wembley. Then at 10 years old she started watching Rovers “we used to go to the cinema and then sneak onto the ground at half time”.
She met her husband Peter on a training night, when she was 16 years old, friends used to make the refreshments and asked her to be involved, at first she was reluctant and didn’t want to get involved but they begged her. She was teamed up with Pat Randell, the current Miss Featherstone Rovers, and volunteered on alternate weeks and on the other team were Janet Major (who played at the Miners benefit match mentioned later) and Jackie Ashton. Pete called Jan the Soup Dragon after asking Jackie who she was, they started dating and now have been married for 46 years.
Pete grew up an overweight kid. He played in school teams and the Rovers juniors. He left school and in those days schools were allowed to field an ex pupil. He came back played for the school and in between played for the Rovers under 17’s. His ex p.e. teacher said he’d never make a rugby player as long as he’d a hole in his backside and after he’d played said he’d have to eat his words ,as Pete had lost weight and had developed far more than he ever thought he would.
Pete was a miner, the NCB (coal board) were supportive of the miners who were sportsmen and any achievements would be reported in their news paper the Coal News. Derek Hobbs, Rovers Club Secretary and also Personnel Manager at Ackton Pit (father of Dave 1983 Lance Todd trophy winner Hobbs) was particularly good with the lads who played from the pit. The players from the mines used to sneak across the railway tracks to train often in the afternoons, the Pit bobbies would pretend they’d not seen them. “I used to meet Pete at the sidings with his training gear when we were first married. Later he would leave his kit at his mum’s just down the lane in Albert Street a couple of hundred yards away from the ground”
“When Pete had injuries I would often help by massaging them or putting Ice packs or hot comfrey poultices on to get swellings down..Or strap his ankles for each match as he had a tendency to sprain them”
Everyone in the pit knew each other and or had played at any one time you’d be working along side the present team or ex internationals or county players The boast was you’d shout down the shaft and up would come another great player. They were rugged tough men who would work a shift or overtime before a match. At the pit you worked with your heroes
During the 1984 strike
“The strike affected the players Social services made it hard for those they considered were in contracts. Pete wasn’t on a contract until the last three years of his career we didn’t receive a penny in benefits like other miners (players) got. We, (Dave Hobbs too) had to live off savings as they refused to believe that even though the club sent letters stating. that was so hence Bradford and Bingley’ s help.
Our local butcher Alan Robinson himself an ex miner, who became a butcher after a serious pit accident used to do strike packs of meat for the miners at a good price do we could eat. There were clothing allowances too for clothes, Kath Thompson (Jimmy’s wife) and her sister Elaine Harrison worked there and you didn’t feel humiliated going as you knew them and they knew what you were going through being both rugby and pit friends. Bradford and Bingley allowed us to add the arrears onto our lump sum after strike so we wouldn’t lose our houses.”
Jan usually played hockey but as part of a fundraising game during the miners strike played rugby once, Miners welfare versus Miners wives, coached over 2-3 weeks by legend Cyril Kelly renowned for his kicks at the 1973 Wembley Cup Final
Featherstone had a reputation of being a tough place but it was always a close rugby town, the pit the team, the people and the families, Featherstone Rovers touched everyone’s life’s and to many rugby was the b-all and end-all. Our children from the town and club grew up together, went to schools together , went to the matches together and now after all that time many of them are still friends, and when you do see people from the past you just pick it up again.
“Pete’s career coincided with the chairman’s Mark Campbell (they were team mates).His involvement and his family especially Amy and her husband Ian Hardman has allowed Featherstone Rovers as Kath Thompson and I knew it, to evolve into the present day club now fighting for promotion into Super League, along with Paul Coventry and the ‘Stand Gang’ allowed Featherstone to develop into the club it is today.
Ladies behind the scenes who got involved the committee wives, local business women.
Edna Brittain, her daughter Rita Stanley and Connie Frankland who did the refreshments after the match, Liz Hagar who kept it all together when they went to Wembley and made it enjoyable, Beryl and Barbara were on the supporters committee. Annie Morrison and Anne Thorpe selling tickets and golden gamble who have been part of Featherstone for over 50 years. It is whole families that get involved and at some points Featherstone Rovers and the pit reached into everyone’s life.
Great Grandmother Ann Williams married Harry Rycroft whose medal I was researching. She was one of the Williams who moved to the area when Ackton Hall was opened by local mine owners on land leased out by Lord St Oswald. She was aunt to Billy Williams, Rovers player, coach and then Physio. He was also talent boxer and poet. His son Jim was also a Physio at Rovers when my husband Pete played .The Williams, originally welsh were a big family and married into most local families. Lord Masham eventually owned the pit and one of his descendants became patron of Featherstone Rovers. When Rovers won the challenge cup in 1973 and 1983, both teams were invited to Swinton Castle, his ancestral home for a reception.