Trevor Foster

Bradford rugby league 'legend'
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Trevor Foster died just three days after the launch of a book celebrating his life, Trevor Foster: the life of a rugby league legend. His was a legend that continued to grow long after the end of his playing days, as he remained a positive and inspirational influence within the game into his 10th decade.

Trevor John French Foster, rugby league player: born Newport, Monmouthshire 3 December 1914; MBE 2001; married 1949 Jean Unsworth (one son, two daughters, and one daughter deceased); died Bradford, West Yorkshire 2 April 2005.

Trevor Foster died just three days after the launch of a book celebrating his life, Trevor Foster: the life of a rugby league legend. His was a legend that continued to grow long after the end of his playing days, as he remained a positive and inspirational influence within the game into his 10th decade.

Born in Newport and brought up in the pub run by his parents, Foster played rugby union for Newport Hibernians and Pill Harriers before being offered trials by the town's senior club. He had just one full season with Newport before he followed the path blazed by so many of his fellow countrymen and went north to play rugby league.

Initially, he turned down approaches from clubs including Wigan, feeling he needed to look after his blind father and also hoping to win a Welsh international cap before considering switching codes. The closest he got to that ambition was travelling as reserve for an international in Swansea and, in 1938, Bradford Northern persuaded him to sign for them.

Foster, a marauding wing-forward in union, became a mobile second-rower in league and was an immediate success in his new game. Like many of his generation, he found his progress interrupted by the Second World War, although he played plenty of rugby during those years, including wartime league internationals for Wales and Services rugby union sides as the ban on rugby league players was temporarily relaxed. He was stationed in Yorkshire as an Army PT instructor and in constant demand from both codes.

He was 31 by the time his war duties finished, although he had followed the not uncommon practice at the time of knocking off a couple of years off his age for Bradford's benefit - a fiction he felt obliged to maintain until he was nearly 90. It was almost as though his rugby league career was not starting in earnest until that relatively advanced age, but he made up for any lost time over the next decade.

Foster had re-established himself as one of the leading forwards in the game in time to be selected for the first post-war Lions tour in 1946. He was described as the most popular of all the tourists who embarked on board the aircraft carrier HMS Indomitable, on the six-month trip to the southern hemisphere. A knee injury prevented him from playing in any of the three Tests in Australia, but he made his Test début against New Zealand in Auckland.

On the domestic front, Foster was a cornerstone of the impressive side that Bradford had put together, after spending the whole of the inter-war era in the doldrums. That team showed its quality by the unprecedented achievement of reaching the Wembley final of the Challenge Cup three years running, from 1947. In that first year, Foster scored a late try as Leeds were beaten 8-4. He was also in the line-up that lost 8-3 to Wigan in an equally tight contest the following year and scored again as Halifax were beaten 12-0 in 1949.

For a forward in his era, Foster was a prolific try-scorer, recording 130 of them in 432 games he played for Bradford before his retirement in 1955. Apart from his Wembley exploits, he appeared in five Championship finals and six Yorkshire Cup finals. He made two further Great Britain appearances in 1948 and played 16 times - seven of them as captain - for Wales.

He had been universally regarded as one of the very finest and fairest forwards of his generation. His durabilty was underlined by the rare achievement of continuing to play after his 40th birthday and even made a comeback in the A team to help Bradford through an injury crisis in 1957.

By then, however, his main focus had switched to coaching. As early as 1949, the Rugby League had appointed him as its first national coach. He gave that up because of the difficulty of fitting it in with his playing commitments, but he later became Bradford coach under the management of Dai Rees. He resigned from that and his other role as a director of the club in 1960. The following year, he became first-team coach at Leeds and, even after they chose to replace him, continued to coach the reserves. Remarkably, considering the present animosity between the two clubs, he combined that with helping to revive Bradford after Northern folded during the 1963-64 season.

The club had been in decline and under increasing financial pressure since the retirement of Foster and his contemporaries. Now he was in the forefront of desperate efforts to resurrect it by rallying public support, efforts that succeeded when a "new" Bradford Northern side reappeared for the start of the 1964-65 season. The Bradford Telegraph and Argus went so far as to say of his role that "but for his enthusiasm last winter, it is doubtful whether the club would exist today".

That was not the end of Foster's work for the club and the town. Apart from his latter career as an education welfare officer, he was an indefatigable worker for the Police Boys Club, where dozens of future sportsmen passed through his care, and a range of other charitable causes.

His involvement with his beloved club continued after its re-invention as the Bradford Bulls in 1995. Foster became its official timekeeper, a capacity in which he acted as recently as the game at St Helens on Easter Monday. Unlike many old players, he relished the modern game.

Always a proud Welshman, he was an energetic campaigner for the game's Challenge Cup final to be played in his homeland and, with perfect timing, Bradford delighted him by winning the trophy when it was first staged in Cardiff in 2003.

Dave Hadfield