Leigh v Leeds: Greatest Cup upset was child's play

When Leigh and Leeds meet in the Challenge Cup tonight, it is 'world champions v the bankrupts'. But 40 years ago, the underdogs had their day

More than four decades on, Wembley's biggest upset still has the power to raise hackles, raise a laugh or prompt a knowing wink. In 1971, Leigh beat Leeds in what still stands – despite Sheffield's win over Wigan in 1998 – as the most memorable shock in Challenge Cup history.

The two clubs have gone their different ways in the succeeding 41 years, but they come together again tonight in a Cup quarter-final – and Alex Murphy knows what that means.

"Everyone wants to talk about '71, how we won when nobody gave us a chance – and, of course, Sid Hynes getting sent off," he says.

Murphy was Leigh's player-coach that day, the scorer of two drop goals in a 24-7 victory and winner of the Lance Todd Trophy as man of the match, but he is remembered most of all for his manner of leaving the game. In the second half, he was carried off on a stretcher and the Leeds captain, Syd Hynes, sent off – the first man to suffer that fate at Wembley – after an incident (an alleged off-the-ball headbutt) that still stirs controversy after all these years.

Hynes has always denied making any contact – and there are those who claim to have seen Murphy wink conspiratorially to his team-mates as he was carried off. "I can only say what I've always said. The first thing I remember is waking up in the dressing room," he says. "People have never stopped talking about it and Syd has made it worse by saying he never touched me. Well, someone did. I've come to the conclusion that, if it wasn't Syd, it must have been Billy Thompson." Thompson was the referee that day.

The legend, however, refuses to lie down. When a panel met last week – in Leeds, incidentally – to discuss who should be the rugby league player immortalised by a statue at Wembley, Murphy, with his record of steering three different clubs to victory there, inevitably figured prominently in the debate. One mischievous suggestion was that he should be depicted on the stretcher, with an electronically controlled flashing eye. Sadly, that seems unlikely to be the final decision.

For all its historic baggage, meeting Leeds again at this juncture is important for Leigh's present and future. Although Leigh were a respectable side in the old First Division in 1971, there was a big gap between their resources and those of Leeds, who had 14 internationals in their squad and were unbackable 1-9 favourites.

In many ways, that gap is much bigger now. Leeds won the Super League Grand Final last season and the World Club Challenge at the start of this, while Leigh almost went out of business over unpaid bills during the winter. This tie is effectively the world champions versus the bankrupts.

Murphy, who coached Leigh no fewer than six times, believes they will pull through. "If they get their finances sorted out, this club will be all right," he says. "This is a great opportunity for the town and the people to get behind them, with a big crowd at the Leigh Sports Village."

Leigh's new home has not been full yet, with crowds of a measly couple of thousand the rule, despite an encouraging start to the season in the Championship. But Murphy sees potential in the current crop, under the coaching of the former Leigh hooker, Paul Rowley, whose appointment this winter he applauds. "He's a young, up-and-coming coach and he's got good ideas."

Rowley himself is careful not to get sucked into nostalgia. As a Leigh lad and son of a Leigh player, he grew up on stories of the Wembley heroes. "I'm not going to make any rash statements," he says. "I'm not going to start singing 'Here we go' and saying it's '71 all over again. We just want to put on a performance and play as well as we can."

Leigh would have had a better chance of doing that if their scrum-half and captain, John Duffy, had not dislocated his shoulder two weeks ago. Having already decided to retire at the end of the season, that denies him one last big game and he is, predictably, "gutted... I would have loved to play against the quality of player Leeds have got".

His absence, however, gives a chance to Ryan Brierley, a teenager from nearby Westhoughton who is on loan from Castleford. He is one of a number of promising young players Leigh must hope will not freeze on the big occasion. "There's no pressure on them, because nobody's giving them any chance," says Murphy. "But nobody gave us any chance in 1971 either."

That is the message he will be hammering home to the players when he accepts an invitation to speak to them before tonight's game. You always have a chance if you believe, he will tell them; and that is not the stuff of fairy tales.

BUY RUGBY WORLD CUP TICKETS

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
The Ridiculous Six has been produced by Adam Sandler, who also stars in it
filmNew controversy after nine Native American actors walked off set
Voices
Ed Miliband, Nick Clegg and David Cameron appeal to the audience during the Question Time special
voices
Sport
Danny Jones was in the Wales squad for the 2013 World Cup
rugby leagueKeighley Cougars half-back was taken off after just four minutes
Life and Style
The original ZX Spectrum was simple to plug into your TV and get playing on
techThirty years on, the ZX Spectrum is back, after a fashion
News
Tiger Woods and Lindsey Vonn are breaking up after nearly three years together
peopleFormer couple announce separation in posts on their websites
Sport
football
Life and Style
Google celebrates Bartolomeo Cristofori's 360th birthday
techGoogle Doodle to the rescue
Arts and Entertainment
Haunted looks: Matthew Macfadyen and Timothy Spall star in ‘The Enfield Haunting’
tvThe Enfield Haunting, TV review
News
The Mattehorn stands reflected in Leisee lake near Sunnegga station on June 30, 2013 near Zermatt, Switzerland
news
News
Michelle Dockery plays Lady Mary in Downton Abbey
peopleBut who comes top of the wish list?
News
Miriam Gonzalez Durantez, right, with Lib Dem candidate Jane Dodds in Newtown, Powys, as part of her tour in support of the party’s female candidates
general electionNick Clegg's wife has impressed during the campaign
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living