Northern invasions of fancy dress and fancier handling

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The Independent Online

If any event outside of football typifies the history, tradition and nostalgia that permeates Wembley it is the Rugby League Challenge Cup final.

If any event outside of football typifies the history, tradition and nostalgia that permeates Wembley it is the Rugby League Challenge Cup final.

Until this year's jaunt to Murrayfield, every final since 1929 - with the exception of 1932 - had been played at Wembley, with the result that many of the game's most vivid memories are inextricably linked with the stadium.

The idea of taking what was then an exclusively northern-based code to the capital was controversial at the time and the finals played there before the Second World War attracted what now look like modest crowds. From 1948 onwards, though, Wembley has been full or near-full for the annual pilgrimage as Lancastrians, Yorkshiremen and Cumbrians have gathered to behave impeccably, as the police always put it, and complain about the price of pies.

The most indelible images might include Don Fox's missed kick from in front of the sticks to give Leeds victory over Wakefield in the "watersplash" final in 1968 - "Poor lad," said Eddie Waring, for once finding the right, terse phrase - Brett Kenny and Peter Sterling's masterclass on opposing sides as Wigan beat Hull in 1985, Martin Offiah turning Alan Tait inside-out in 1994 and Robbie Paul's hat-trick - the first ever in a Wembley final - in defeat for Bradford in 1996.

There have been the memorable incidentals as well: Chris Anderson showing his medal to a commissionaire; the annual fancy dress pub-trip from Oldham - I still think their Red Indian theme was their best, although the pillaging Vikings ran it close; the way that all clubs' shirts, not just the shirts of the finalists, decorate Wembley Way.

The stadium has also hosted World Cup finals and Tests against Australia, but say Wembley to many people in the M62 corridor and they will see the Challenge Cup in the Royal Box, waiting for the winning captain to climb the stairs and collect it.

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