Hull Kingston Rovers

Kingston Amateurs Rugby Club was founded in 1882 by a group of boilermakers from East Hull, and joined the Hull and District League the next year. Over 100 years later, ‘The Robins’, so-called because of their red-banded shirts, are still going strong. In 2006, they won promotion into the Super League, earning the right to be counted amongst the greatest European rugby teams, including their arch-rivals Hull FC.

Early Days

In 1885, the club assumed the name ‘Kingston Rovers’, but the newly rechristened team could not establish a firm base and spent their first years moving around, playing out of different home parks that were either loaned or leased from freeholders. This lack of stability did not damage results though, as the club went from strength to strength. In 1888 Rovers took their first trophy, the Times Cup, and they were to repeat the trick for the next two years. The club’s consistency was shown in the 1889-1890 season, but repeated losses in the Yorkshire Cup meant they still had much to aspire to.

Rovers elected not to join the Northern Football Union when it was founded in 1895 but finally bowed to pressure two years later and signed up. The off-field politics did not distract the team though as in 1898-9 they swept through the Yorkshire Second competition, winning all 17 matches. They proved their mettle again the next year, raising that record with 19 consecutive wins. This finally gained them full membership of the Yorkshire branch of the NFU in 1900, and they took 6th place in the league. Rovers also played their first ‘local derby’ against Hull FC that year. Hull were to become Rovers’ arch-rivals, both in the league and tournaments.

The War Years

The twentieth century started with some success for Hull Kingston Rovers. In 1902, they joined the Second Division of the new version of the NU, and finished the season joint second. However, despite a relatively consistent performance at the upper end of the league over the next decade or so, Rovers were less lucky in tournaments, and they failed to take any silverware in the pre-war years, although they did reach the finals of the Yorkshire Cup and the Challenge Cup four times between 1905 and 1912.

In 1915, leagues were suspended due to World War I, and they would not resume until 1919, when Rovers would make a poor show to finish 19th of 25 clubs. The team, both on the management side and amongst the players, had been hit particularly hard by the war, and attempts to recruit new men took some time to get off the ground. However, the club realized that they had to put an effective turnaround policy into place and, by 1920/21, Rovers had managed to achieve this and more – that season they finished top of their league.

There were also two highly dramatic local derbies against Hull FC that year. Rovers lost the first, the league play-off finals, but they exacted revenge when they snatched their first Yorkshire Cup as a professional side from the jaws of the enemy.

Rovers moved to a permanent home in Craven Park, East Hull, in 1922. The year was good for Rovers: they finished 4th of 27 in the league and they won the League Championship Cup. This was to begin Hull’s first spate of victories. In 1924-1925, Rovers dominated a particularly busy season: they finished second in the league, won the League Championship Cup and the Yorkshire League Cup, reached the semi-finals of the Yorkshire Cup and were runners-up in the Challenge Cup final.

This remarkable season was followed by another, as the club won the Yorkshire League Championship the next year, and took the Yorkshire Cup again in 1929/1930. However, financial pressures and suspension of the leagues in World War II would cut short this run of success and it would take some 50 years for Rovers to surpass the success of these few inter-war years.

Northern League Years

During the 1940s and 1950s, Rovers failed to get back on top of their game, and skulked around the bottom of the league. The late 50s saw hints at a return to form and, in 1961-62, the club defied predictions and took the Championship Cup from the Castleford Tigers. For 1963-4, back in Division One, they made it to their first Challenge Cup final, where they lost to Widnes.

Like their counterparts some years before, the squad were not intimidated by promotion, and by 1967 they had risen to second in the Division One, their highest place for over 40 years. They began to pick up trophies again too, reclaiming the Yorkshire Cup four times between 1967 and 1975, and taking the Mackeson Trophy for being the top points scorers in the league in 1967.

This run of successes faltered when Rovers were relegated back to Division 2 in 1974, but they earned promotion back the next year. On a roll now, they also reached the semi-finals of the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy, the finals of the Yorkshire Cup, and took the the John Player Trophy and the Premiership Trophy.

The sudden death of the team’s well-respected coach Harry Poole in 1977 dealt an unanticipated blow to the team, both professionally and personally. However, local legend and league Player of the Year Roger Millward captained his squad to victory in the BBC 2 Floodlit Trophy as player/coach. He also oversaw the recruitment of a wave of new young players and transfers, including Phil Hogan, who was then, at £33,000, the most expensive player ever purchased.

Subsequently, in 1978, Rovers topped the league for the first time since 1925, and the next year they played Hull FC in two local derbies. Kingston lost the first, the final of the BBC 2 Floodlit Trophy, but avenged their defeat by winning the second which was, happily, the final of the Challenge Cup at Wembley