Peter Flanagan

Dashing rugby league hooker
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The Independent Online

Peter Flanagan, rugby league player, docker and publican: born Hull, Yorkshire 22 January 1941; twice married (one son, three daughters); died Hull c8 January 2007.

He might have been christened Peter, but the rugby league player "Flash" Flanagan was one of those sportsmen who was invariably known by a nickname that captured his style of play much more vividly.

As Hull Kingston Rovers' hooker in the 1960s, he went a long way towards redefining the role, with his pace and trickery adding a different dimension to the game. He made his mark far beyond the city in which he spent his professional career, touring Australia three times and becoming the first Rovers player to appear in a Test match there.

"He was a superb player who had a side-step that would leave some of the best players in the world flat-footed," said his Hull KR coach, Colin Hutton. "For five or six years he was the best hooker in the game."

It was Hutton who signed Flanagan for Rovers from his junior side, Craven Street Youth Club, in 1960. Hutton's story is that, after his one trial match against Huddersfield's A team, he locked Flanagan in the changing rooms until two directors arrived to complete the signing. "It was the best trial match I ever saw from anyone," Hutton says.

Flanagan went on to make 414 appearances for the Robins, in an era when they were just beginning to emerge as a force in the land. Those games included the 1964 Challenge Cup final at Wembley, when they were defeated by Widnes, and the 1968 Championship final, which they lost to Wakefield. He was on the winning side, however, in the Eastern Division Championship, which was Rovers' first trophy for 25 years when they took that short-lived title in 1963, and in three Yorkshire Cup finals.

His play was characterised by pace and cheek and enabled him to become one of the most dangerous counter- attackers in the game. "He would have taken the modern game by storm," insists Hutton. "He wasn't that keen on the physical side of the scrums, but in the loose he was outstanding."

International recognition came early, when Flanagan was twice picked against France in 1962. In 1966, he toured Australia and New Zealand for the first time, playing in four of the five Tests. That included all three in Australia, as Great Britain narrowly lost the Ashes series. He retained his place for the series on home soil the following year, another lost in the deciding Test, and for the 1968 World Cup in Australia.

When he was selected for the 1970 Ashes series, he became the first and so far only hooker to make three trips down under. He played in the first Test of that victorious tour, the cap being his 14th and last. With his lively sense of humour, Flanagan was a popular tourist. Hutton recalls a meal at a hotel in Brisbane in 1968 when he enquired about the precise nature of his starter. "It's bean soup," he was told. "I know what it's been," he replied. "But what is it now?"

An enthusiastic fan of Elvis Presley, Flanagan used to cut a dash around Hull with his quiff and sunglasses.

The denouement to his career ensured he would be warmly remembered on both sides of a city divided by affiliations to its two rugby league clubs. Having retired at Rovers, he played as an amateur for Hull Dockers until in 1975 Hull FC brought him back into the professional game when injury deprived them of their regular hooker, Tony Duke. It proved a masterstroke, as the veteran Flanagan guided them to the John Player Trophy final at Leeds. Hull, then in the Second Division, lost to Widnes but were the first club from outside the top flight to contest a major final. At the end of that season, Flanagan went back into retirement, continuing with his other job on Hull docks and at one stage running a pub in the town centre.

More of a loner towards the end of his life, he was found dead in his flat in Hull. There are already plans at Hull KR's Craven Park ground to erect a permanent memorial to him.

Dave Hadfield