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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
tv
News
Katie Hopkins appearing on 'This Morning' after she purposefully put on 4 stone.
peopleKatie Hopkins breaks down in tears over weight gain challenge
Life and Style
fashionModel of the moment shoots for first time with catwalk veteran
Life and Style
fashionAngelina Jolie's wedding dressed revealed
Sport
Alexis Sanchez, Radamel Falcao, Diego Costa and Mario Balotelli
footballRadamel Falcao and Diego Costa head record £835m influx
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Madame Vastra and Jenny Flint kiss in Doctor Who episode 'Deep Breath'
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman topped the list of the 30 most influential females in broadcasting
tv
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Danish director Lars von Trier
tvEnglish-language series with 'huge' international cast set for 2016
Life and Style
tech
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

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes': US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food served at diplomatic dinners

'I’ll tell you what I would not serve - lamb and potatoes'

US ambassador hits out at stodgy British food
Radio Times female powerlist: A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

A 'revolution' in TV gender roles

Inside the Radio Times female powerlist
Endgame: James Frey's literary treasure hunt

James Frey's literary treasure hunt

Riddling trilogy could net you $3m
Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

Fitbit: Because the tingle feels so good

What David Sedaris learnt about the world from his fitness tracker
Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Saudis risk new Muslim division with proposal to move Mohamed’s tomb

Second-holiest site in Islam attracts millions of pilgrims each year
Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering