TODAY, May 13, 2021 marks a special anniversary in the history of St Helens RFC – the 60th anniversary of one of the club’s greatest achievements: the 12-6 Challenge Cup final victory over Wigan at Wembley Stadium.

It was the first time that the two old rivals had met at this stage and also the first time that the Saints’ players wore the famous red vee jersey, now synonymous with our team throughout the world of rugby league.

It might have been quite different. Club colours at that time were white jerseys with red chest and arm bands, which had been worn in their past two visits to the famous stadium, in 1953 and 1956.

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This was the dawn of the Sixties and the club wanted something more modern and stylish. Kit suppliers Bukta gave the club two options. One an all-white design, featuring the town crest; the other a similar version sporting a thin red vee. The decision was unanimous, however, and the legend of the red vee was born. A wise choice indeed!

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The Saints certainly looked the part when Chairman Harry Cook led them out onto the Wembley turf, with Wigan wearing red jerseys and white shorts.

It was a scorching hot day in London, with some rails on the Piccadilly Underground line actually buckling under the heat as the match kicked off with more than 25,000 Saints fans in the stadium, many were stood behind the goal as the sun streamed down. Wembley was uncovered at both ends in those days.

The team had been well-prepared for the final.

“We were all able to get a full week off work,” remembers centre Brian McGinn, the ‘babe’ of the team at 21 years of age: “We stayed in Southport at first, to train on the King George V playing fields, which resembled the Wembley turf, then it was on to our hotel in Richmond, before going on to Wembley.”

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The game itself was a fine spectacle, with both teams capable of playing entertaining attacking rugby.

Earlier Wigan kicked off on a positive note when Griffiths landed a fourth-minute penalty after Alex Murphy had wandered off-side, but Saints regained the advantage on the half-hour when the dangerous Huddart broke the tackles of Terry Entwistle and Frank Collier to send Murphy scampering over.

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Rhodes failed with the goal kick but made amends with a superbly taken penalty from almost half-way when Geoff Lyon fouled Don Vines, and there was a note of cautious optimism from Coach Alan Prescott as Saints adjourned to their 'lucky' North dressing rooms with a 5-2 lead at half time.

A second penalty by Fred Griffiths after Wilf Smith was guilty of a 'feeding' offence inched Wigan to within a point of Saints after the restart.

Then followed the Central Park side's three-pronged tale of woe prior to the Van Vollenhoven-Large intervention. Fifteen minutes still remained on the clock but, with Saints' skipper Vince Karalius outstanding and Bob Dagnall now ahead of Bill Sayer in the scrums, the rest, as they say,is history, with the only additions to the scoreboard being further penalties by Rhodes and Griffiths.

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Fortunately, St Helens always seemed to display greater stamina in the oppressive heat and produce that little bit extra on the day. There were just 17 minutes remaining and the score at 5-4 in Saints’ favour, when they laid claim to victory with one of the greatest tries ever scored at Wembley.

Dick Huddart pounced on a loose ball as a Wigan attack broke down close to the St Helens line. Stand-off Alex Murphy, who had scored the first Saints try, moved the ball wide to centre Ken Large, who beat two opponents with a sizzling burst of speed and passed to van Vollenhoven just before half way. The Springbok ace accelerated away from Carlton and, seeing his way blocked by Griffiths, gave a return pass inside to the supporting Large.

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The pair kept up their scorching pace along the touchline and two red shirted defenders raced across in a desperate effort to cover, Large whipped the ball outside to Vollenhoven once more, who streaked away to touch down between the posts after a magnificent display of controlled running and passing at speed. It was his 7th try of the cup campaign and was pure Wembley magic!

Saints had taken the initiative at just the right time and Wigan were left to rue several ‘near misses’ that could well have put them in the driving seat earlier on in this titanic contest. Skipper Karalius roused his troops for a special effort in the last ten minutes and the only further additions to the scoreboard were further penalties from Austin Rhodes and Griffiths.

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The Lance Todd trophy went to Cumbrian second-rower Dick Huddart. His incisive ‘stooped’ running style and powerful fend caused untold problems for the Wigan defence on the day. “Wigan were the clear favourites, because of their recent Wembley record,” remembers Brian McGinn. “but we were a pretty decent side ourselves and took our chances on the day.” Brian was also involved in one of the key moments of the match, when he managed to stop a rampaging Billy Boston from scoring in the corner. “I think Billy thought he was over”, says Brian, “but fortunately it wasn’t to be and I ended up with the ball. Mind you, Tommy Vol nearly scored with a cross-field run just before he scored his famous try and was only just short of the line.”

Wigan second-rower Frank Collier still found defeat hard take speaking over 25 years later: “They were jammy! We should have murdered ‘em! Bill Sayer’s at the back of the play, the ball to the left-hand side of the posts.

"He gave it to Brian [McTigue] and I’m coming through like a bloomin’ steam engine. I says ‘give it Brian’ and boomph! The ball hits my shoulder and shoots into space. Huddart falls on it and Large starts the move for the winning try. We knew where the dangers were…that back three. They worked as a team. The others were individuals.”

After a jubilant Vince Karalius received the cup from Lord Derby, the team received their medals in jersey number order, before showing the trophy to the jubilant fans. A small group of players were also interviewed at pitch side by the BBCs David Coleman. Then, it was back to the Russell Hotel in London for a special celebration, with champagne flowing freely, plus a specially made chocolate cake in the shape of a rugby ball with the inscription ‘St Helens R. L. Challenge Cup Winners’ the piece de resistance of the chef.

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Over 20,000 fans packed Victoria Square where the Mayor, Alderman Joe Murphy welcomed the team back on Monday evening, with special cheers for Lance Todd winner Dick Huddart and Tom van Vollenhoven. The team also gave a rousing rendition of ‘Little Lize I Love You’ a jaunty folk tune that Alex Murphy had learned in his RAF days, which had been sung before every round of the cup ties.

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The thirteen players who played in the final became part of Saints’ folklore. It is interesting to note that seven of the Saints’ final team were born and bred in the town: Rhodes, Large, Brian McGinn, Murphy, Smith, Ab Terry and Dagnall.

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Yet we must also not forget that this was a game without substitutes and several players could easily have been drafted into the final line-up such was the strength of the squad. Second-rower Jimmy Measures was desperately unlucky, after 27 first team appearances during the 1960-61 campaign; centre John Donovan played in the Championship semi-final loss to Leeds and was replaced by Ken Large.

Utility back Alan Briers would have graced most teams on such a big occasion. There was also full-back Frank Barrow, hooker Dave Harrison and front-rower Fred Leyland waiting in the wings. A modern day interchange bench would have been strong indeed!

All played their part in a fabulous double winning season, with the Lancashire Cup also coming back to Knowsley Road. Great times indeed. Those who were lucky to be there on that marvellous day at Wembley, whether players, officials or fans, will never forget when the legend of the red vee was born.

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13th May 1961

Wembley Stadium

St Helens 12 [5] Wigan [4] 6

Attendance: 94,672

Receipts: £38,479

Lance Todd trophy: Dick Huddart [St Helens]

St Helens: Austin Rhodes; Tom van Vollenhoven, Ken Large, Brian McGinn, Mick Sullivan; Alex Murphy, Wilf Smith; Albert Terry, Bob Dagnall, Cliff Watson, Don Vines, Dick Huddart, Vince Karalius [Capt]

Chairman: Harry Cook

Coach: Alan Prescott

Wigan: Fred Griffiths; Billy Boston, Eric Ashton [Capt], Geoff Bootle, Frank Carlton; Dave Bolton, Terry Entwistle; John Barton, Bill Sayer, Brian McTigue, Dave Lyon, Frank Collier, Roy Evans.

Chairman: Bill Gore

Coach: Joe Egan

How the scoring went

4 mins Griffiths penalty 0-2

32 mins Murphy try 3-2

35 mins Rhodes penalty 5-2

45 mins Griffiths penalty 5-4

63 mins Vollenhoven try 10-4

71 mins Rhodes penalty 12-4

79 mins Griffiths penalty 12-6

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The Saints team with the Challenge Cup and Lancashire Cup.