1927 Challenge Cup Final (lost radio coverage of rugby league game; 1927)
Issue 187 of Radio Times listing the coverage of the Final and providing its grid system for the occasion.
The 1927 Challenge Cup Final culminated the 27th running of the Rugby Football League Challenge Cup. Occurring on 7th May at Central Park with 33,448 in attendance, it saw Oldham defeat Swinton 26-7 to avenge its Final loss a year prior, gaining its third and to date last Challenge Cup. The match was the first rugby league game to receive live radio coverage in the United Kingdom.
With the exception of interruptions caused by the First and Second World Wars, the Challenge Cup has been running annually since 1897, and is the oldest active knockout rugby league competition. Swinton were the defending champions heading into the 1927 edition, having beaten Oldham 9-3 in the previous year's Final. They defeated Huddersfield, York, Hull FC, and Dewsbury to reach their second consecutive Final, subsequently aiming to achieve a third title and maintain the club's 100% Final winning record. Meanwhile, Oldham overcame Salford, Hunslet, Leeds, and Wakefield Trinity in their campaign. During this period, Oldham had reached their fourth consecutive Challenge Cup Final, having last been victorious two years prior. Thus, they sought to avenge their loss to Swinton a year previously and earn their third Challenge Cup.
Earlier in 1927, the BBC had become a Royal Charter. This finally enabled it to broadcast live sports following years of press lobbying that prevented earlier coverage, including for rugby union. Notably, the England-Wales match of 15th January was the first sport the BBC covered, with the 1927 Challenge Cup Final helping the rugby league to follow in its counterpart's footsteps. The Final was not actually the first time rugby league was covered live on radio, as Australia's 2SB covered the 1924 New South Wales Rugby Football League Premiership Final between Balmain and South Sydney. However, it most certainly was the first to be covered for a British audience. Relayed from Wigan to exclusively the Manchester Station, the broadcast received commentary from E.G. Blackwell. Like with many earlier sports broadcasts, a grid system was placed in Issue 187 of Radio Times. Whenever Blackwell called out one of the grid numbers, it would signify to listeners where the action was commencing at.
Ultimately, the broadcast commenced an initially troubled relationship between the BBC and the Rugby Football League (RFL), the latter becoming concerned the BBC was over-prioritising the reading of rugby union results during its coverage, limiting rugby league's exposure on radio. This may explain why despite BBC Television Service launching on 2nd November 1936, it would not be until 1st May 1948 that rugby league was televised for the first time, featuring that year's Challenge Cup Final between Wigan and Bradford Northern. Radio coverage would also expand nationwide, though concerns regarding its appeal to a southern audience and whether it affected ground attendance loomed for several years afterwards.
Wigan's Central Park was selected to host the Final for the first time in its history. 33,448 packed the stands despite temperatures reaching over 71 degrees, thus justifying the Rugby League Council's decision to host the game in Wigan after initially facing backlash. Nevertheless, it was the hottest players had ever competed in during a Challenge Cup Final, with this likely affecting their performance. The crowd witnessed what a British Pathé newsreel determined was "a thrilling contest". Swinton started as the stronger side; according to Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer, the defending champions could easily have won the game in the first half, primarily thanks to Bryn Evans' tactics, eventually taking the lead after eight minutes. Oldham managed to score a penalty, but the opposition continued controlling the match.
However, outside of a penalty conversion, Swinton failed to properly capitalise on available opportunities. This eventually cost Swinton, as stand-off and loose forward George Hesketh's consistent attacks and constant support for his side's set forwards developed strong chances for Oldham. This commenced even despite Oldham's back division being criticised as of lower quality than the opposition. Eventually, Hesketh put Oldham in front before the interval, and his team only improved from there. Albert Brough, Syd Rix, and Tom Holliday also contributed to Oldham's offence, Holliday scoring three tries. Despite some hopeful chances by opposing trio B. Evans, Roes, and J. Evans. Hesketh propelled his team forward, enabling Oldham to claim victory via a final score of 26-7. Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer proclaimed the 1927 Challenge Cup Final should be nicknamed the "Hesketh Match", summarising that Oldham's confidence and consistent challenges gave them a well-deserved victory.
Oldham's latest Challenge Cup win meant they became the third team after Batley and Huddersfield to achieve three titles. But as of 2023, the side has never reached the Final since. In 1997, the team was liquidated, though Oldham R.L.F.C. is considered a continuation of the club and thus adopted its statistics. Swinton won the 1928 edition by beating Warrington 5-3 at Challenge Park, in what was the last Final to occur before Wembley Stadium was chosen as the event's permanent venue. Since then, the Swinton Lions have also yet to reach the Final.
The 1927 Challenge Cup Final was covered on radio live when the BBC lacked many practical ways to record its early radio output. This only changed in 130 following the introduction of the Blattnerphone among other recording devices. Alas, the earliest surviving BBC Sports radio broadcast is a 1932 re-enactment of the 1928 FA Cup Final, meaning that unless there is an exceptionally rare pirate recording of it still in existence, the coverage for the 1927 Challenge Cup Final is most likely permanently lost. Some footage of the Final can be viewed via a British Pathé newsreel.
- 1924 NSWRFL Premiership Final (lost radio coverage of rugby league game; 1924)
- 1948 Challenge Cup Final (partially found footage of rugby league game; 1948)
- 1954 Rugby League World Cup Final (partially found footage of international rugby league game; 1954)
- Christchurch vs High School Old Boys (lost radio coverage of charity rugby game; 1926)
- England 11-9 Wales (lost radio coverage of Five Nations Championship game; 1927)
- England 16-21 Scotland (partially found footage of Home Nations Championship game; 1938)
- Great Britain 20-19 New Zealand (partially found footage of international rugby league game; 1951)
- North Sydney Bears 19-21 Balmain Tigers (lost footage of NSWRFL Premiership season game; 1961)
- Scotland 21-13 England (lost radio coverage of Five Nations Championship game; 1927)
- Archived Rugby Football League summarising the Challenge Cup. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- Independent providing a timeline of key rugby league events. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- Rugby League Project listing the winners of every Challenge Cup. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- Rugby League Project detailing the result of the 1926 Challenge Cup Final. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- TotalRFL listing every Challenge Cup Final and their respective attendances. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- Rugby League Project detailing the road to the Final. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- Roughyeds summarising Oldham's history, including its 1927 triumph. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- BBC summarising its Royal Charter status and history. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- International Radio Journalism detailing the BBC becoming a Royal Charter, enabling it to cover live sports after years of being denied. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- BBC Radio and Sport summarising earlier radio broadcasts prior to 1927, and how the coverage was initially exclusively for a Manchester audience. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- NRL noting the 1924 New South Wales Rugby Football League Premiership Final was the first to be covered live on radio. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- Rugby League in Twentieth Century detailing the broadcast and the RFL's difficult early relationship with the BBC. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- BBC Genome archive of Radio Times issues detailing the BBC's coverage of the Final. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- Issue 187 of Radio Times listing the coverage of the event and the grid system. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- On This Day explaining Radio Times' grid system. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- BBC detailing the launch of its Television Service. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- BBC Sport in Black and White detailing the BBC's coverage of the 1948 Challenge Cup Final Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- Rugby League Project detailing the result and attendance of the Final. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- 9th May 1927 issue of Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer reporting on the match (newspaper found on British Newspaper Archive). Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- Oldham Rugby League Heritage Trust summarising the career of Hesketh. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- Swinton Lions RLFC summarising the history of the club. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- BBC noting it had no viable means of recording sound until the introduction of the Blattnerphone in 1930. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- BBC noting it did not start recording radio coverage until the early-1930s. Retrieved 9th Sep '23
- BBC providing an extract of surviving radio coverage from the 1932 re-enactment of its 1928 FA Cup Final coverage, the oldest surviving sporting clip in its archives. Retrieved 9th Sep '23