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  Sunday, 1 October, 2000, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
Rugby League's home from home
Last winners at Wembley: Leeds Rhinos - 1999.
Last winners at Wembley: Leeds Rhinos - 1999.
BBC Sport Online's Christine Demsteader pays tribute to Wembley as the home of the Rugby League Challenge Cup final.

Not just a game, nor simply a way of life but an integral part of northern heritage.

And for 70 years, Wembley Stadium has played host to the most important date in the sport's calendar.

Every year, cup final fever takes hold over coach-loads of fans that motor down the M1 on a one-day pilgrimage to the capital.

It is indeed a day for the masses to divulge in the truly magnificent game of Rugby League.

As former Great Britain international, Alex Murphy once said: "I don't think anybody outside of the Rugby League world can know just how much value we place on the final day at Wembley.

"Besides being the most important domestic match of each season, it's a lads day out, the works' trip, a day by the seaside and Christmas all rolled into one."

Road to Wembley

From its humble birth at Huddersfield in 1895, Rugby League's popularity steadily increased and the sport developed a faithful following.

The Silk Cut Challenge Cup Trophy
The Silk Cut Challenge Cup Trophy

The Challenge Cup final made its Wembley debut in 1929 when the general consensus of the League concluded there were no grounds in the north capable of hosting the spectacle.

Outcry and protests over the event's imminent move down south were silenced when it was announced that Wembley Stadium had won the bid.

And so it was that on 4 May, 1929, the first Wembley Challenge Cup final took place before a 41,500 crowd that watched Wigan defeat Dewsbury 13-2.

Memorable moments

Rugby League boomed in the post-war period as cup final attendances peaked around 90,000.

In 1947, Leeds reached Wembley for the second time, without conceding a point in the previous five rounds.

Their remarkable feat, however, was blighted as they lost out to Bradford Northern 8-4 in the final.

  Facts and stats
The biggest official cup final attendance, 102,569 was not at Wembley but Odsal stadium, Bradford in the 1954 replay
Eric Ashton captained a record six Wigan teams at Wembley
The first live national television coverage of a cup final was in 1952

But Leeds soldiered on and dominated the proceedings a number of years later.

They topped the table in four successive seasons between 1967-70 and won the 1968 Challenge Cup against Wakefield Trinity in probably the most memorable final ever.

Indeed, the aquatic fiasco dubbed the Watersplash Final remains a favourite television archive to this day.

The 1980s began with the only Hull derby cup final there has ever been.

A heavy entourage of fans from the east and west of the city made the trip whilst those at home staged street parties more elaborate than those to celebrate a Royal visit.

Homeward bound and a 10-5 triumph to Rovers whose fans will never cease to forget.

Hull FC's misfortune continued when they failed to successfully defend their 1982 title as underdogs Featherstone rose to the Wembley occasion in a close-fought 14-12 victory against all odds.

A first for the game was ironically marked by the last cup final at Wembley before the rebuilding and sparked a real turning-point for the game.

  Facts and stats
Leeds captain Syd Hynes became the first player to be sent off at Wembley in 1971
The quickest cup final try was scored in 35 seconds by St Helens' Graham Rees in 1972
The first overseas player to win the Lance Todd trophy was Brett Kenny of Wigan in 1985

The first team based south of Watford Gap, London Broncos, earned themselves a ticket to the 1999 final but suffered the biggest deficit in Challenge Cup history, facing a powerful 52-16 stampede courtesy of Leeds Rhinos.

Great games indeed, but incomplete without a mention of the club who were to dominate Wembley's Challenge Cup final and have become the most successful Rugby League side in the modern era.

The Wigan years

One club, 22 Wembley appearances and 15 tiles. From 1988-95, Wigan were a Challenge Cup force to be reckoned with.

Wigan swept the board taking eight successive titles with the help of all-time greats such as Shaun Edwards, Andy Gregory and Wigan hero, Ellery Hanley.

Hanley made an outstanding contribution in those first four titles as potent loose forward, was three-times captain and winner of the Lance Todd man of the match trophy in 1989.

Producing some of the best player performances in Challenge Cup history, he was crowned as the hottest property in the Rugby League world and is remembered as a sporting legend.

Ellery Hanley
Wigan's Wembley warrior Ellery Hanley

Wembley forever

A new millennium and a new host, for the mean time at least.

Bradford's 51-year wait for the title took them to Murrayfield in 2000, a move which was deemed a successful 'experiment.'

Consequently, calls for the Challenge Cup final to return to its northern heartland resurfaced.

But ultimately, Wembley Stadium is Rugby League's home from home.

For there's a double dose of bravado as players and officials step out onto the national stadium's hallowed turf whilst fans walk down Wembley Way on a glorious Challenge Cup final day.

Even after the Twin Towers tumble, Wembley Stadium will again stand tall.

And no doubt it will remain the stately home of Rugby League's finest hour, and ten minutes.

See also:

01 Oct 00 | Wembley
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