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.

peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
Life and Style
Couples have been having sex less in 2014, according to a new survey
New Articles
i100... with this review
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Holly's review of Peterborough's Pizza Express quickly went viral on social media
footballTim Sherwood: This might be th match to wake up Manchester City
Arts and Entertainment
musicHow female vocalists are now writing their own hits
New Articles
Arts and Entertainment
musicBiographer Hunter Davies has collected nearly a hundred original manuscripts
Blahnik says: 'I think I understand the English more than they do themselves'
Arts and Entertainment
Michelle Dockery as Lady Mary Crawley in Downton Abbey
TVInside Downton Abbey series 5
Life and Style
The term 'normcore' was given the oxygen of publicity by New York magazine during the autumn/winter shows in Paris in February
fashionWhen is a trend a non-trend? When it's Normcore, since you ask
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

Marketing Manager - Leicestershire - £35,000

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (CIM, B2B, MS Offi...

Marketing Executive (B2B and B2C) - Rugby, Warwickshire

£22000 - £25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A highly successful organisation wit...

SEN Coordinator + Teacher (SENCO)

£1 per day: Randstad Education Leeds: Job Purpose To work closely with the he...

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Day In a Page

Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam