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Memories of 1987 Old Trafford clash with Wigan
WARRINGTON’S first visit to Old Trafford 26 years ago was not a happy one.
Pitted against bitter rivals Wigan - the only professional side at that time - the Premiership final in 1987 ended in 8-0 defeat.
The final defeat hinged on two key moments - a try by Joe Lydon that saw the Wigan centre hack the ball the length of the field, and a disallowed score for Warrington’s Gary Sanderson.
Players who wore primrose and blue that day have recalled memories of the match, and predicted a different outcome against the same team this weekend.
To this day, Gary Sanderson is certain the second half try, ruled out for accidental offside by referee Kevin Allatt, should have stood.
The 46-year-old St Helens resident said: “It was right under the sticks.
“The ball bounced off Paul Cullen and into my hands.
“I couldn’t believe I’d scored.
“I turned around, it was my big moment, and realised it had been disallowed.
“We were convinced it was a try so you can imagine the reaction.
“I was gutted.
“For a few weeks after that my dad kept watching it on video.
“With the video referee you have now, it could have been different.
“Anything could have happened in the game after that.”
The father-of-two revealed that Warrington adopted a team haircut in an attempt to intimidate Wigan.
“In the lead up to the game we all decided to get skin heads so there were a few dodgy haircuts knocking around.
“I remember getting on the coach and everyone burst out laughing at my hair.
“It was a tough game with the ground churned up and pitches not like they are today.
“No one expected us to win, but the disappointment was made worse by losing by that score, and having a try chalked off.
“I’m really looking forward to it this weekend and think Warrington have got a great chance to get a better result than we did.”
Prop forward Tony Humphries, aged 50, from Grappenhall, was looking forward to the ‘biggest’ final he ever played in.
But the match did not start in the way he wanted it to.
“I remember the game very well.
“It was pouring down with rain.
“I dropped the ball straight from kick off and gave a penalty away.
“Wigan scored straight away so it was the worst start we could have had really.
“Gary Sanderson had a try disallowed which could have made a difference.
“We desperately wanted to win it but Wigan were the best team at the time.”
Tony, who finished his playing days at amateur rugby league club Latchford Albion, said the ‘87 final was the biggest game of his career.
“As a Manchester United fan I always wanted to play at Old Trafford, and it was the biggest final I’d played in.
“I went out on the pitch beforehand to soak up the atmosphere.
“The stands were already full and the crowd was right on top of you.
“We were quite relaxed and had trained hard so we were looking forward to it.
“It was a good game and I enjoyed it.
“Looking back, I would have been even more gutted if we’d lost 2-0 because I’d given that penalty away.
“Hopefully things will be a bit different on Saturday.”
Paul Cullen began the final at stand-off, facing off against league legend Shaun Edwards, who had returned to play after four months out injured.
The 50-year-old former Wolves coach, from Appleton, said: “I played against Shaun Edwards, but Wigan had an international player in every position.
“Ronnie Dwane played at loose forward against Ellery Hanley.
“It was the biggest challenge of the season because of their recruitment policy.”
A challenge that Warrington ultimately failed. After the game the team drowned their sorrows in a pub owned by Desmond Drummond in Manchester.
Paul says Wigan remain the club’s biggest rivals.
“It was in my time as a supporter, an amateur player, a professional player and as a coach.
“I would train all year for Wigan week.
“Warrington have now evolved into a club with the potential to be as big as Wigan.
“The battle to go forward and win the ruck will decide who can open up and play, either side is more than capable of winning the Grand Final.
“Warrington being at full strength and Shaun O'Loughlin’s absence could tip this in Warrington's favour.”
Winger Mark Forster said the game was fiercely contested as both teams went in search of ‘bragging rights’.
“Any game against Wigan is massive, especially a final at Old Trafford,” he said.
“They are only 12 miles down the road so there has always been that rivalry.
“And there was the expectation your neighbour, or work mate, might support Wigan, so you wanted to win, The 48-year-old father of three, from Woolston, said the team had been away to play golf in the run up to the final.
But on match day, nerves were setting in.
“Some people laugh and joke in the dressing room, some are totally serious.
“Others are on the toilet four times, and a few make themselves sick before the game, which now would be seen as the worst thing to do.
“I was always the last one out, and put my shirt on as i was leaving the dressing room.
“It’s a habit I carry on to this day.
“It caused a bit of confusion at Old Trafford as I was number five, but coming out last, so I had to run round and catch up with the other players.”
This weekend Mark is predicting victory by four points.
“Now we have got the biggest final and it has been well worth waiting for,” he added.
Old Trafford in 1987 turned out to be second rower Bob Eccles’ last game for Warrington.
He had recovered from a broken arm - his third in 14 months - to make the bench, coming on in the second half.
The 56-year-old Fearnhead resident said games with Wigan were like ‘World War Three’.
“I’d only played seven games that season, so I was quite lucky to make it back for the final.
“I came on for the last 25 minutes and playing at Old Trafford was special after all that trauma from injuries.
“To step out there isn’t something everyone has done.
“It was a major final and only the result was wrong.
“I don’t have sad memories because if you get to a championship, you must be doing something right.
“On Saturday you have the two teams everyone wanted to see in the final, and it will be some match.”
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