MEN who represented the town in a showpiece event at Wembley 40 years ago, this Sunday, have shared their memories of a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

Mike Rhodes, Pat Jinks and Mike Parsons were members of the Warrington Schoolboys under 11s rugby league squad which faced Hunslet in the 1980 Challenge Cup Final curtain-raiser in front of 95,000 supporters.

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Mike Parsons' Wembley bag and kit. He still keeps all the gear together, including shirt, jumper, trousers, tie, jersey, shorts and socks

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The 18 boys and four teachers spent the weekend in London, with the highlight of an incredible trip being the 5-5 draw with Hunslet prior to the main event between Hull and Hull Kingston Rovers on May 3.

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Mayor of Warrington Clr Harold Edwards gave the boys a civic send-off on the Friday morning, May 2. Above, from left, John Loake, Jonathan Comer, Pat Jinks, Mike Redmond, Mike Rhodes, Lee Chambers, Neil Morris, Stepehn Richards, Mike Parsons, Greg Wainwright

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From left, John Loake, Neil Morris, Derek Rothwell, Jonathan Comer, Pat Jinks, Stephen Richards (partially hidden), Mayor of Warrington Clr Harold Edwards, Scott Rennett (partially hidden), Lee Chambers, Mike Rhodes, Keith Gill, Mike Parsons

Mike Rhodes, who celebrated his 11th birthday the day after the match, played prop forward alongside skipper and fellow Bradshaw School pupil Derek Rothwell.

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Mike Rhodes carrying the ball on the hallowed turf of Wembley. To his left are Keith Gill and David Coleman. Far right is Neil Morris. All black and white action pictures by Eddie Fuller

Warrington continues to be home for the father-of-three, who turns 51 on Monday.

He is now an accountant, lives in Great Sankey with his wife Paula, and they have three grown-up children – Joe, Nathan and Katie, who this year will be 24, 22 and 19 years old.

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Mike Rhodes and his wife Paula, 40 years later

"I can't believe it was 40 years ago, where did all that time go," he said.

"I have quite a few memories of the weekend, the best being walking out onto the pitch, in front of all those people!

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Mervyn Williams leads the Warrington Schoolboys under 11s out of the tunnel into Wembley stadium alongside the Hunslet team. Behind him is skipper Derek Rothwell, Stephen Ellison, John Loake, Mike Redmond, Stephen Richards, Stephen Warburton and the rest of the Warrington squad

"Also, being presented our medal by Tony Blackburn and going to see the musical, Oliver.

"It was a fantastic experience for us as young lads and I know that there was a lot of fundraising organised by the coaches and parents.

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"At the time, my dad had recently had a heart attack and was not well enough to travel down to London.

"He watched on TV with my mum, sister and brother, as the game was shown on Grandstand.

"They were all cheering when I was on screen and Frank Bough mentioned my name.

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"That day proved to be the pinnacle of my sporting career and while I still play five-a-side every week, it was downhill all the way with regard to any other sporting achievement!"

Three members of the squad were travelling reserves and didn't get to play in the game, but walked out with the team and shared in all of the other experiences over the weekend.

Jinksy, a pupil at Beamont Junior School, was one of them.

These days, Pat lives in Orford, works for Royal Mail, is married to Sam and they have one son, Corporal Oliver Jinks.

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Forty years later, Pat Jinks with his wife Sam and son Oliver

"Walking out at Wembley was an incredible and unbelievable experience at that age," said Pat.

"We had been for a stadium tour and walked up the steps to the Royal box on a visit on the Friday afternoon but it was a different story to a buzzing stadium with a cracking atmosphere on the Saturday.

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Following the civic send-off, Warrington Schoolboys arrive at Wembley for a look around on Friday afternoon, the day before the game

"I remember standing in the tunnel and it sticks in my mind how windy and cold the tunnel was.

"The Hull and Hull KR players were doing their walk-around while we waited and then as they came past us there were high 5s all round and we were shaking hands with some of the top players of the time.

"Then we were told to go and as soon as we got out of the tunnel the heat hit you, it’s hard to put into words what it was actually like.

"I couldn’t stop laughing as I walked onto that famous turf, probably mainly to mask the nerves of what an honour it was to represent my home town at Wembley and of how proud my family were.

"After the game ended we did our lap of honour and then received our trophies from the DJ Tony Blackburn and went off to get changed and watch the Cup Final – its official title at the time was “The Three Fives State Express Challenge Cup”.

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Pat Jinks receives his plaque off Tony Blackburn. Behind Pat are Mike Parsons, Mike Rhodes (partially hidden) and Stephen Ellison

"After the final the Hunslet team were to go in the north dressing room and the Warrington lads into the south dressing room, known as the lucky dressing room – which was occupied by Hull KR that year who had won the cup.

"Myself and Keith Gill were having a shower when in walked one of the legends of the game – Hull KR and Great Britain captain Roger Millward – with the Challenge Cup in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other.

"He had a chat with us and then put the cup down between us with the champagne and told us to look after it while he went into the large communal bath celebrating with his teammates in another part of the dressing room.

"Being in the winning dressing room, looking after the Challenge Cup and drinking champagne is an experience and memory that money cannot buy!"

Pat's vivid memories don't end there.

"On the Saturday night we went for a steak dinner and saw the West End show “Oliver”," he recalled.

"We were able to do this because there had been such a fantastic fund-raising effort by the good people of Warrington in the lead up to the trip which enabled us to stay for two nights, unlike the Hunslet lads who went home after the game.

"During that night, a Hull KR fan, much the worse for wear, came over to us as we all had our Warrington uniforms on and started talking to me about how he had played as a youngster and was impressed by how we had played at Wembley.

"He produced a pound note from his pocket and gave it to me – a lot of money to a kid in those days.

"Unfortunately, eagle eyed teacher Mr Leake was watching and duly grabbed the note off me and said that it needed to go into the pot...I never saw it again.

"So, when Warrington got back to Wembley in 2009, when the youngsters were doing their lap of honour after the schoolboys game I shouted the smallest one over and presented him with £10 on the condition he kept it and didn’t let any teachers take it off him – my debt was repaid."

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The boys had a civic reception at the Town Hall after their Wembley trip, and another cause for pulling on the smart uniform

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Jinksy concluded: "The whole experience was brilliant – from going to the BBC studios to be interviewed on Radio Manchester to being presented in front of my school – Beamont Juniors with Greg Wainwright who I roomed with on the trip – that we had been selected for Warrington Schoolboys Wembley rugby league team – all fantastic memories that will last forever."

He shares the same birthday as another of the travelling reserves from 40 years ago, Mike Parsons, and is now 51.

Mike was one of two boys in the squad from St James' School in Latchford, the other being Stephen Richards who played the first half on the wing.

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St James' pair Stephen Richards, left, and Mike Parsons prepare to head to Beamont Junior School for the civic send-off to Wembley

These days Mike is sports editor of Warrington Guardian, is married to Catherine and moved to the outskirts of Warrington last year after living almost all of his life in Latchford.

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Forty years later, Mike Parsons and his wife Catherine

"Forty years is a long time, and some aspects of the amazing experience I remember better than others," said Mike.

"I can't remember details like which hotel we stayed in, which theatre we went to or whereabouts in London we were walking next to the Thames the night before the game, which may seem unimportant to some but I like detail.

"However, daft things I remember like putting the TV on in the room to watch the boxing late on Friday night and receiving a telling off because we'd been told not to.

"Like I'm sure it was for most of the boys, it was my first time away without my parents. We looked immaculate all in the same embroidered jumpers, shirts, ties and trousers. I'd never worn a tie before, so I'd practiced for days with my dad how to tie it correctly but most of us loosened it each day and lifted it over our heads so that we could put it back on easily.

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Again, the St James' pair Stephen Richards and Mike Parsons get together for a memorable picture at an empty Wembley Stadium the day before the game

"But some boys sneaked into others' rooms and untied them for a laugh.

"I twinned with David Coleman from Long Lane, a tough lad and brilliant second rower in that age group.

"He liked to wake up in the middle of the night, pin me down and start a pillow fight. I never quite understood that.

"I enjoyed the bus trips spending quality time with my teammates, with us all bunching up in the 50-seater coach and singing songs that Mr Leake taught us. Some of them I've never heard anywhere else since, but I remember many of the words.

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On the bus. From left, Keith Gill, Jonathan Comer, Mike Parsons, Stephen Richards

"Much of the match itself is a blur, despite watching on from the Wembley dug-out.

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Greg Wainwright is supported by John Loake in the second half of the Wembley curtain-raiser against Hunslet

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Lee Chambers tries to escape the Hunslet defence as John Loake and Stephen Richards keep a close eye on things

"I can still visualise Tower College's Keith Gill - whose dad Ken had played professionally - scoring our only try with a dart from the back of a scrum, and Mike Redmond from Sacred Heart kicking the conversion.

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Keith Gill's Wembley try, converted by Mike Redmond

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"There were a couple of interceptions from wingers Keith Sheldon from St Benedict's and Dave Pritchard from Long Lane School late on that saved our bacon when Hunslet were piling on pressure, but that's about it.

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Keith Sheldon on way of his weaving runs, watched by Mike Rhodes, Stephen Ellison, Lee Chambers and John Loake

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David Pritchard walks away with his plaque as Neil Morris, Mike Parsons, Mike Rhodes and David Coleman wait for theirs

"I had a lot of family in the crowd, as my dad organised a coach trip for supporters, but I wasn't able to pick them out among the hoards of Hull and Hull KR fans. I remember one of my aunties asking me later in the week: "Could you not hear us, we got the Hull KR fans to sing Warry, Warry, Warrington?

"It was my first trip to Wembley, the old Wembley, and while I tried to soak everything up it was also overwhelming.

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"By the time we got to our seats for the cup final, the game had already started. How the stewards managed to save us 20+ seats - because they were bench stile then - in among 95,000 Humbersiders going crazy I'll never know. It was certainly a squeeze. I saw more of backs of flags being waved than I did of the match.

"People have since said to me that it was a bit harsh that three of us never got to play in the game, which was an invitational event then rather than the final of a competition like it is now.

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In the hotel dining room on cup final morning. From left, Scott Rennett, Mike Rhodes, Mike Parsons, Jonathan Comer, Stephen Richards, Keith Sheldon

"Of course, we'd have loved nothing more.

"Things were different then and I got told the team was picked five months before we travelled so that the kit could be made to the right size for each player with the correct number on the back. It took that long for the kit to be turned around.

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John Loake's Wembley kit and jumper, still intact today

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"Wembley rules at the time were very rigid and Hunslet were only allowed the 13 starting players and two subs. The teachers had to battle on the team's behalf to make sure all 18 members of our squad were involved.

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The boys line up behind teachers David Prince and Mervyn Williams ahead of their plaque presentation at Wembley. From the right, are Derek Rothwell, John Loake, Lee Chambers, Keith Sheldon, Stephen Warburton, David Pritchard (partially hidden), Neil Morris, Pat Jinks, Mike Parsons, David Coleman, Stephen Ellison, Stephen Richards, Scott Rennett, Greg Wainwright

"Can you imagine if a few weeks before the teachers had said 15 of you are going to Wembley, three of you aren't.

"All these wonderful memories we have now of the experience we shared with the town's representative team would not exist for us and for that I'm truly thankful and feel privileged."

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Warrington Schools under 11s Wembley 1980 team: Stephen Ellison (Sacred Heart); Keith Sheldon (St Benedict's), John Loake (Bradshaw), Mike Redmond (Sacred Heart), Stephen Richards (St James); Stephen Warburton (Bruche), Lee Chambers (Bradshaw); Mike Rhodes (Bradshaw), Derek Rothwell (Bradshaw), Neil Morris (Bruche), David Coleman (Long Lane), Jonathan Comer (Burtonwood), Keith Gill (Tower College). Subs: David Pritchard (Long Lane), Gregory Wainwright (Beamont). Reserves: Patrick Jinks (Beamont), Michael Parsons (St James), Scott Rennett (Bradshaw).

Teachers: John Leake (also, match touch judge), David Prince, Mervyn Williams, Ivor Morgan.

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