John’s international career dates back to early 1974 when he was called up to be a part of the Great Britain squad travelling to the south of France to face Grenoble, as part of the preparations for the forthcoming tour of Australia and New Zealand, during the summer.
“I was invited along as seventeenth man, behind Kenny Gill, who already had the stand-off role wrapped up, but it proved to be an ideal opportunity to become acquainted with the likes of Chris Hesketh, Paul Charlton and David Watkins. All the players involved really did make up a great side, and they were virtually all from the same club.”
Unsurprisingly, the Great Britain team won convincingly, with John’s future wing partner, Keith Fielding running in a hat-trick of tries.
“I was a little bit disappointed that I didn’t get to play, but when, a few weeks later, the touring team was announced, having been seventeenth man in Grenoble, I was fully expecting to be in the squad – but I wasn’t.”
Fate, on occasions, however, can produce a strange result, which it did on this occasion, when, very sadly, Keith Fielding had to withdraw from the tour owing to an extremely distressing family bereavement, and John was brought in to replace him.
“Reg Parker, the tour manager, phoned me up to give me the news and told me that he, personally, had wanted me included from the outset, but once the team had been announced he had had my name pencilled in as first replacement, no matter who dropped out.
“So I got the nod, and on the twenty-third of May, I travelled with them down under. Thankfully, I did have a bit of time to prepare for it having been approached about it towards the end of March.
“It never remotely bothered me, thereafter, that I had not been in from the start. I was so delighted, I just packed my boots and got on with all the preparations. It was something I had always wanted to do.”
Tours, in those days were much weightier events than they ever are today, with this particular one continuing right through to the end of August. Over the whole period they were away, John was involved in as many as eighteen games, though sadly, none of them were test matches.
“That was a terrible disappointment at the time, though I have grown to be a bit more mellow with it now. I felt, at the time, that had I been given that one opportunity I could really have brought something to the team.”
Nevertheless, he still relishes the opportunity he had of being a part of the whole set up, not to mention the utter pride he felt in pulling on the GB jersey at a number of famous grounds.
“I really was determined to make the best I could of every game I played in, and turned out in a variety of positions. That was the understanding I had with Reg Parker.
“When I was a kid I used to follow these tours whenever they took place, and had got to know the names of almost all of these remarkable grounds. So, to actually be going and playing on grounds, such at Towamba, Wagga- Wagga, and Illawarra, was wonderful.”
Not only did he achieve his ambition of playing on them he also had the additional bonus of scoring a total of eight tries throughout the tour. Of all the matches in which he played, the one which stands out in his memory was one against New South Wales, on Sydney Cricket Ground.
“That gave me such a buzz, because it was so iconic and unique. I’m a great cricket lover, anyway, so to be playing on the same surface that so many famous names from the past, in both sports, had played was incredible.
“I went back in 2014, and like all tourists we had our photographs taken in front of the pavilion, in the knowledge that I had actually played there.
“The whole tour itself was something which, in retrospect, means so much to me, because there are just so many great players who have never had the experience, themselves.”
Although the tour itself was to be the culmination and conclusion to his international career, following his move to Salford, further representative honours awaited him with Lancashire County, in his newly acquired position of centre-three-quarter.
His first outing at this level came with a winning start, in 1975, over a team of Other Nationalities assembled to swell the number of county games, the day before the birth of his baby daughter. Other fixtures were, of course, against Cumbria and Yorkshire, and John was to go on and play nine or ten games over the time he was with us.
Even though he was no longer involved with the national team – something which really surprised him as he firmly believes that he became a better player with Salford – there was still a great deal of pride in being recognised to play for Lancashire, and he assures me that he got considerable enjoyment from doing so.
In The Final Part Of This Feature We Learn Of John’s Post-Salford Career