Obituary: Albert Fearnley

ALBERT FEARNLEY was a rugged and effective Yorkshire forward who went on to become one of the most charismatic and influential of coaches.

An aggressive second-rower who played regularly for his county, he began his career across the Pennines at Rochdale Hornets and Oldham and later played for Featherstone and Batley. His best years, however, were spent at Halifax, with whom in the 1950s he played in two Championship finals and two Challenge Cup finals, including that against Warrington in 1954, which was drawn and replayed, in front of a world record crowd, at Odsal. Defeat there made up a quartet of losers' medals.

Fearnley took up his first appointment as a coach at Halifax in 1960, coaching them to the major honour that had eluded him as a player when they beat St Helens to win the Championship in 1965.

The following year, he joined his home-town club, Bradford Northern, as coach and later general manager. It was in the latter capacity that he took Northern to Wembley in 1973; not a happy return, as they lost 33-14 to Featherstone in one of the stadium's most one-sided finals. Bradford's loose forward that day was his son, Stan, who also played for Leeds, whilst his other son, Gordon, played professional football for Sheffield Wednesday, Bristol Rovers and the Fort Lauderdale Strikers in the North American Soccer League.

Fearnley later coached Batley, but one of his finest achievements was taking the perennial whipping boys of the Rugby League, Blackpool Borough, to the brink of the First Division in 1979. Assembling a squad of what he himself called "has-beens and never-wases", he inspired them to an unlikely promotion campaign, although he had resigned to take up an offer at Keighley, handing over to his number two, Bakary Diabira, by the time they claimed their place among the elite.

Fearney was also instrumental in setting up the National Coaching Scheme. As joint National Coach with Laurie Gant, he was an evangelist for the game, motivating a whole generation of activists who brought the code through difficult times in the 1970s and 1980s. It was a matter of personality. He was never the most technical of mentors, but he had the knack of stoking up the fires within players so that they produced performances of which they had never looked capable.

The same applied when he set up the network of schoolteachers, parents, redundant players and people at a loose end which kept the game healthy at a mass participation level at a time it could have withered.

Even in his latter years in Felixstowe, Albert Fearnley was involved in the setting up of an amateur club, his enthusiasm as infectious as ever. He died there, after three years in hospital, leaving participants of all standards in the game for which he had such a fierce passion grateful for having known him.

Dave Hadfield

Albert Fearnley, rugby league player and coach: born Bradford, Yorkshire 10 March 1924; married (two sons, one daughter); died Felixstowe, Suffolk 4 May 1999.

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