Hands of time beckon veteran of final glory

Octogenarian stopwatch keeper was hero of Challenge Cup climax between Bradford and Leeds when the clubs collided in 1947
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The Independent Online

Nobody at Murrayfield on Saturday knows more about the passage of time at the Bradford club than Trevor Foster. When the upright 84-year-old with the stopwatch arrived as a dashing back-row forward from Newport in 1938, Northern - as they were then - had only recently moved to Odsal. When Bradford and Leeds last met in a Challenge Cup final, at Wembley in 1947, he scored the try, a couple of minutes from time, that clinched it for Northern.

So when Foster takes his place as the club's official timekeeper at this year's final, the recollections will be legion. "That final is always very much in my memory," he says, a Welsh twang still audible despite his 62 years in Bradford. "It was one of the great occasions of my life, to play at that great stadium and win."

And, just like this year, the fact that Yorkshire's two great neighbouring cities were involved lent the final a special atmosphere. "Leeds and Bradford are very close together and were great rivals in business and everything else. On the field, we never gave anything away, but we had great respect for each other."

Foster's recollections of that Cup campaign are a warning to those who believe that the Bradford Bulls will win without breaking into a trot this weekend, because people said the same thing about Leeds in 1947. "One of the great things about that final was that Leeds hadn't had a try scored against them all through the Cup. They were definite favourites," he recalls.

"They had a very, very big pack, with Dai Prosser and Con Murphy in the front row, Arthur Clues -one of the greatest players I ever played against - in the second row and Ike Owens at loose forward."

It was a pack as dominant, in its way and its time, as Bradford's is now, but Northern's coach - another Welshman, Dai Rees - had a plan. Rather than trying to take on the Leeds forwards head-to-head, he used his scrum-half, Donald Ward, at acting half-back, to throw the ball wide and by-pass the trench warfare. "It worked so well that most clubs adopted the same attitude the following season," recalls Foster.

It worked at Wembley. The Leeds pack never gained any momentum and Bradford led 5-4 going into the final stages, before the most memorable moment in his long career. "The ball was up in the air. Leeds' full-back, Bert Cook, went for it and I jumped as well - and the ball just came into my arms.

"We took the Cup with us into the dressing-room and put it on the table. That was when Dai Ress said to us 'You've never asked about money'.

"That's the way it was in those days. You played for your pride in the town and your pride in the team.

"We came back with the Cup on Monday night and showed it off at the City Hall. There were so many people in the square you couldn't have got a pin among them."

Not that Foster is one of those old-timers who decries the modern game and all it stands for on principle. "They're very, very fit these days," he says. "And very, very well coached. I enjoy every game I see, but it's played altogether differently now. In my day, the policy was to get it to the wings and get the overlap. Now, with the 10-yard gap between the sides, it's an invitation to run from any position."

As the man who keeps track of the 80 minutes for Bradford, he has seen as much of the transformation that has turned Northern into the Bulls as anyone. He calls that reinvention and the colourful and vibrant way it has tapped into the local community - and especially local children - "wonderful". "But I still call them the Bradford Northern Bulls," he says, cunningly keeping one foot in the past.

For the present, the Bulls would do well to heed his warning, that strange things can happen in Challenge Cup finals. What is more, Foster does not intend this to be the last big occasion for the club in which he has an official role to play. He will be 85 in December, but plans to keep track of the passing seconds and minutes for his beloved Northern Bulls "until I go to sleep".