Rugby League Icons: Arthur Keegan

Rugby League Icons: Arthur Keegan

Club Historian Bill Dalton looks back at the life and career of full-back Arthur Keegan.

Club News

In our latest Hull FC Rugby League Icons feature, Club Historian Bill Dalton looks back at the life and career of full-back Arthur Keegan.

My first visit to Headingley coincided with a great 32-7 victory over Leeds on the 13th December 1958 and the launch of the career of the finest full-back we have ever seen in Hull’s colours, and the clubs inaugural Hall of Fame member.

From the early days of the very first Northern Union matches, Hull have been invariably blessed with very good full-backs.

From Harry Taylor, who had the distinction of captaining the very first British Test team in 1907 against New Zealand, through to the more recent full-backs who many of today’s younger supporters may remember well, particularly Gary Kemble, who made 19 Test appearances for New Zealand whilst he was a Hull player, as well as Richard Gay, Steve Prescott and Shaun Briscoe.

The 1950’s saw Colin Hutton join the club from Widnes and he established goal-kicking records as well as kicking the famous penalty goal which won the Championship in 1956 at Maine Road, Manchester.

As Hutton neared the end of his career, Peter Bateson, a Hull-born player playing for Batley, came into the side and was also a prolific goal-kicker. However, a bout of flu on the morning of 13th December 1958 gave an opportunity for a young 19 year-old Dewsbury lad to come into the team for his debut at Leeds, and for myself to witness the first game of a great career.

That young man was Arthur Keegan.

It is well known now that he had to pay to gain entry into Headingley because the gateman, taking one look at a youthful looking Keegan, did not believe he was a player!

He made good, albeit disjointed, progress because of National Service which was still in force then.

However, in his first season in the senior game he played in the 1959 Challenge Cup Final (Hull’s first at Wembley), in which he had the distinction of kicking the 100th goal in a Cup Final there. It was one of five he kicked that day in Hull’s losing cause.

Keegan became one of the most feared tacklers in the game and went on to play 364 times for Hull, gained selection for Yorkshire on 13 occasions and gained Test Honours when he was selected to tour Australasia in 1966.

Having played in the first two Ashes Tests of that series, he came back a faster player and was a forerunner of full-backs supporting the three-quarter line.

He was Great Britain’s number one choice in the full 1967 Ashes series in this country and produced one of the greatest full-back performances of all time in the Third Test at a frozen Swinton on 9th December 1967.

He was always regarded as a most dependable full-back in the international jersey, but astonishingly, he was omitted from the Test side the following spring, to give Bev Risman (Leeds) a run before the 1968 World Cup.

Consequently, Arthur missed out on the World Cup tournament in Australia, although he was recalled to test duty later.

Keegan suffered a leg injury at Keighley a week before the 1969 Yorkshire Cup Final, although he did pick up his winners medal, deservedly so as he did as much as anyone to earn the team their place in the Final. The semi-final, also at Headingley, saw Keegan, take out both Syd Hynes and John Atkinson (both GB international threequarters) in a one on two situation. Had they scored, that would have put the game out of sight for Hull.

As it was, the ball came loose in subsequent play, resulting in Clive Sullivan taking it 50 yards up field before Keegan was on hand to score near the posts.

Throughout his career at Hull (1958 to 1971), Keegan was admired by all for his fearless but fair defence. (Even his team mates were loath to be on the opposite side in touch and pass training!) So much so that he was voted the Supporters Player of the Year some eight years in succession.

He also had the kindness to devote time to young supporters like myself in the clubhouse after a game, where we learned more about the game from the blokes who played it.

After a well-deserved benefit, Keegan took up the player/coaching role at Bramley, where two years later, he guided them to the one solitary success in all their history when they beat Widnes in the 1973 BBC2 Floodlit Trophy Final. He also held the coaching position with Yorkshire for a number of years at this time.

In October 1976, Keegan turned out for Batley on six occasions, but suffered a broken jaw to finally finish his great career.

Many full-backs can look good behind a winning team. Keegan was exceptional behind a quite mediocre Hull side for much of his career at the Boulevard. He wore Number 1 on his back, and he was Number 1 as a player and gentleman.

Keegan died in 2008 and the esteem in which he was held throughout the sport was displayed by the massive turnout of ex-players from all areas of the game at his funeral in Wakefield. 

STORY SPONSOR