WHEN Saints became the first women’s rugby league team to win at Wembley that sense of pride and achievement radiated across the living rooms of St Helens.

But August’s history-making appearance brought a mixture of emotions for pioneering rugby league-obsessive Heather Lancaster, whose plans to establish a Saints women’s team in 1978 were scuppered on health and safety grounds the eve of their first game.

Fast forward 45 years, and Heather admitted to having goose-bumps watching Jodie Cunningham lead Saints out at the national stadium, live on national TV.

For her, that sense of pride was tinged with a sense of ‘born too soon’ envy of what might have been.

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Heather, who was 18 at the time, had set up a fledgling women’s team in 1978, and recruited players by word of mouth and friendship groups.

She said: “It was friends of friends, and anybody we knew from going to the Saints games who had a passion for Rugby.

“Chrissy Dunne was scrum half, Ann Haslem was stand off, I was loose forward and I did all the kicking. I could kick better than the lads.

“We loved it.”

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For three months the women trained regularly on the front pitch at Knowsley Road or at Ruskin and had their first game lined up against a fledgling Warrington outfit.

The posters advertising the game were being prepared when Heather received a call to see the Saints directors.

Heather recalls the conversation: “They told me that the game can’t go ahead because they could not get us all insured.

“I asked why, and they blushed as they made a sign across their chests to indicate a concern over needing breast guards.

“The club said they would be liable if anything went wrong so it all got put on the back burner and then it stayed there.

“And then 45 years later we had a women’s team running out at Wembley.”

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That was not the end of Heather’s passion for rugby – and it is something that runs strongly through the family having married Saints legend Roy Haggerty in 1981.

Her sons Gareth and Kurt both went on to play professional rugby league. Gareth played Super League, with spells at Widnes, Salford and Harlequins and represented Ireland in the 2008 World Cup.

Kurt also played at professional and international level and is now the assistant coach at Salford Red Devils.

Heather explains: “Rugby is an extended family, and it is a game of pride, passion and love.

“When the lads were coming through I was always there, loudly cheering them on from the touchline.

“Gareth was used to it, but then Kurt would say ‘you can come mum as long as you don’t shout’.

“I am still doing it now with the grandkids at Pilks!”

Heather, now 64, had her own playing memories rekindled when seeing the old training pictures published on the St Helens Star website earlier this year.

And although intensely proud of what her family has achieved - and is still doing so – she retains her own feeling of what might have been, especially after watching that historic cup final.

“Seeing the girls come out at Wembley there were so many mixed emotions, obviously there was pride and I had goose-bumps – but I was also a little bit jealous.

“What Jodie and the girls are doing is amazing – and I would love to meet them if only to tell them how proud I am of them and tell them what I would have given to walk in their shoes,” Heather said.

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