Don Fox: Rugby league player famed for a missed kick in the Wembley mud

Don Fox was an outstanding rugby league player, in positions as diverse as scrum-half and prop, who had the misfortune to be forever associated with the one disastrous moment of a distinguished career.

The 1968 Challenge Cup final should probably never have been played, following a torrential downpour shortly before kick-off that left parts of the Wembley pitch under water. With 87,000 packed into the stadium, however, the decision was made to go ahead only for another storm mid-way through the match to make matters worse. That reduced the latter stages of what became known as "the Watersplash Final" to a farce.

Wakefield were trailing 11-7 to Leeds, partly thanks to the rare event of an obstruction try, awarded as players skidded into each other, when in the final minute Fox kicked low into the sodden turf to restart the game after a Leeds penalty. Ken Hirst got to the loose ball first to hack it through the water twice and touch down under the sticks. With tries worth only three points at that time, the stage was set for the most famous moment in the game's folklore.

Fox, already voted winner of the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match, merely needed to put over the simplest of kicks to win the Cup for Wakefield. On the saturated pitch, however, he lost his footing slightly in his run-up and skewed it wide, sinking to his knees in despair while Leeds celebrated an 11-10 victory which seemed to have got away from them.

In an exquisite piece of televisual cruelty, David Coleman interviewed Fox on the pitch for the BBC, asking him whether it was any consolation to have won the Lance Todd. "Not really," replied the recipient with admirable restraint. The match commentator, Eddie Waring, got it right: "Poor lad," he said and left it at that.

The best explanation of how and why he came to miss came from Fox's brother, the hugely successful coach Peter Fox, in his biography The Players' Coach. "Don picked the ball up and I knew what was going through his mind. He was going to wipe the ball, but he was wet through. Also, there was no solid ground for him to place the ball. He needed a towel to dry the ball. Someone should have come on and dried the ball. And he was putting the ball in water and mud. He'd kicked goals earlier in the match, but the conditions made this one difficult."

He went on: "Neil [Fox's other brother] and I were heart-broken when he missed it. Don was also heart-broken, not so much for himself, but because he had lost a winners' medal for his team-mates. He was one of the great players of his era, winning many honours in the game. It's sad that many people only remember him because of that missed kick."

Fox was a member of a famous rugby league family. Apart from Peter, a moderate player but an eminent coach, there was Neil, one of the game's all-time greats and still its record point-scorer. He would have been taking the kicks that day at Wembley, but missed the match through injury.

Don, the middle brother, signed professional forms for Featherstone Rovers in 1953, at the age of 17, making his debut against Leeds in a Yorkshire Cup tie. Within a few games he had taken over the goal-kicking duties and went on to kick 503 in his 12 years at the club. Even more remarkable was his club record 162 tries, many of them – like the one that set up the Yorkshire Cup final victory over Hull in 1959 – made possible by the power near the try-line which he combined with his keen rugby brain. He was big for a scrum-half, which enabled him, when Featherstone unearthed another outstanding specialist in that position in Carl Dooler, to move to loose forward.

After only six games in that new role, he was selected there for Great Britain, winning his one full cap in the third Test against Australia at Headingley in 1963. It was a notoriously brutal match, but Fox played a prominent role in a face-saving 16-5 victory, scoring a try and kicking two goals. He also played twice against France, before those matches were given full Test status. He was also selected to tour Australia in 1962, but had to return home early through injury.

Fox played in three losing Challenge Cup semi-finals for Featherstone before being transferred to Wakefield Trinity in 1965 for £3000, serious money for a player who was already 32. He played there until his retirement in 1970.

Don Fox deserves to be remembered for reasons other than that one miskick. Both Peter and Neil rated him the best scrum-half they had ever seen. Even allowing for family loyalty, that is a remarkable thing to be able to say of a player who was contemporaneous with the likes of Alex Murphy.

Unlike his brothers, Don was not directly involved in rugby after his retirement. They remained and remain very public figures; by contrast, he was an intensely private man. Those close to him say that he never entirely got over the trauma of that afternoon at Wembley 40 years ago.

Dave Hadfield

Don Fox, rugby league player: born Sharlston, West Yorkshire 15 October 1935; married (one son); died Wakefield, West Yorkshire 21 August 2008.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk