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fm91 - Billy Ivison - Workington Legend

Posted by... quigs eraofthebiff - on ... Tuesday, May 15, 2012




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The article and pictures below are courtesy of the
Times and Star News Workington
Many thanks to Ian Brogden, Deputy editor
Times & Star, Workington

Visit the Times and Star News website www.timesandstar.co.uk  

IF ANYONE can be said to epitomise the great Workington Town rugby league team of the 1950s, it is Billy Ivison.

Hailed as one of the best loose forwards ever to play the game, his legendary status was cemented in 1952 when he inspired Town to their only Challenge Cup triumph.

Born at Hensingham, Whitehaven, in 1921, but raised in Seaton, Ivison's first love was football but the lack of a team in Seaton led him to rugby league.

He served in the Royal Artillery during World War Two and during the conflict achieved his dream of playing professional soccer, appearing three times as a centre forward for Gillingham.

However, on leaving the army in 1945, he rejected the chance to play soccer full time for Workington Reds and opted to sign for newly-formed Workington Town rugby league club instead. He had already gained RL honours for England youth.

His 10 year peak coincided with the greatest period in Town's history, from the late forties to the late fifties and which included the Challenge Cup victory against Featherstone Rovers.

Town - led by Gus Risman - were in control from then on, the game ended 18-10 in their favour and they brought the cup back to West Cumbria.

Ivison - who stood 5ft 9ins and weighed 13st 7lb - was named man of the match and awarded the coveted Lance Todd Trophy - the only West Cumbrian ever to achieve the honour.

He was captain of the side that returned to Wembley in 1955 but lost 21-12 to county neighbours Barrow.

The final was the first ever televised by the BBC, a fact that can only have added to his growing reputation. It is said Ivison was a magician with the ball in his hands and tales of his inspirational play are part of 1950s rugby league folklore.

Indeed, a Wigan and New Zealand player of the time called Ivison the greatest player ever after seeing him singlehandedly destroy his team at Central Park in 1951. That win was the final league game of the season and deprived Wigan of top spot.

Town had to return to Central Park for a championship play-off a week later and all the talk in Wigan was how to stop Ivison.

And stop him they did - they broke his jaw and he went off at half-time. Town, though, still won the match with twelve men and went on defeat Warrington in the championship final at Maine Road.

Ivison won four full caps for England, one for Great Britain and was selected for a British Empire XIII. However, he wasn’t selected for the 1950 or 1954 Great Britain tours of Australasia, a source of much disappointment to him and controversy in the wider game.

He also gained representative honours for Cumberland and scored the county's only try in the 5-4 defeat of Australia at the Recreation Ground, Whitehaven, in 1949.

His greatest strength was his exceptional fitness, supplemented by his day job shifting barrels at Workington brewery.

He hung up his boots in 1961 after 385 appearances, a figure topped by only two other players in Town's history. He scored 63 tries and kicked eight goals.

A spell as coach at the club followed before he finally retired from the game in 1971.

His legend, though, lives on through the Billy Ivison Trophy, awarded to the winners of every Workington Town v Featherstone Rovers match.


He married Marjorie at St John's Church, Workington, on February 10, 1940 and they made their home in the town's Gray Street. They had three children, Brian, Billy and Barbara. Mrs Ivison died in late 1999, a few months short of their diamond wedding anniversary.

Ivison suffered a stroke in 1983 and subsequently retired from his job at the brewery.

He died in March 2000, aged 79.

JOURNALIST JIM BROUGH: "What a man for a big occasion is Ivison. What an inspiration in those critical 10 minutes before half-time at Wembley when the Rovers threw everything they could into wave after wave of bulldozer assaults on the Town line. "It was Ivison again who, when the scores were level and Town's stock had dropped to zero, started raids on his own 25 which provided Mudge's try and gave Town a lead which they never lost." Four minutes after half-time, with the scores level at 7-7, Ivison was the architect of the try that turned the match in Town's favour - Aussie Johnny Mudge going over.

"Rugby meant everything in my life. I made no money out of rugby league but made many friends out of it and friends are worth more than money."

member of Workington side in 50s:

"He was a one-off, a great talent. He could dummy to throw a pass and you would think you had it. I have seen him beat teams on his own, particularly down at Hull where he was given a standing ovation by their fans. "Billy was exceptionally fit, helped by his humping barrels about in the brewery and he looked a picture of strength when he was preparing for a game. "But although he was undoubtedly a star, he was a very humble man, always ready to help any youngsters coming into the side."



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