RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (4) – PETER BANNER Pt 2

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (4) – PETER BANNER Pt 2

by | Jan 20, 2020

Part 2 – HIS PLAYING CAREER WITH SALFORD

That first ‘A’ team match against Swinton proved to be the fore-runner of a prolonged run in the reserves, as he became a permanent member of the team, for the rest of the season.

“I had a pretty good game, with everything going well and us winning, so I kept my place, not only for the next match, but all the remaining fixtures.  It was only October, and in the days of winter rugby there were plenty of games still to be played.”

Within the Swinton ranks that evening was their renowned international fullback, Ken Gowers, who just happened to be a neighbour of Peter, at that time.

“Ken was coming back from injury, and at one point in the game I made a break and ran round the outside of him.  He said afterwards that my beating him was all down to shock on his part, over how I had done it.”

Early into the new year, 1967, and four months into his trial period, Peter was signed on a permanent basis.

“They offered me a really good deal, so I had no hesitation in accepting, and along with our fullback, Ken Gwilliam, the pair of us became fully fledged professionals.”

His first team debut was not far down the line, and when it came it turned out to be against, of all people, Rochdale Hornets, at The Willows.

“Rochdale were a good side at that time, and despite our having home advantage, they beat us.”

Peter’s contribution on the night, however, caught the eye of the independent sponsor, and, in the days when the award was open to players from both teams and not just the home side, he was selected as Man of the Match, despite being on the losing side.

You would have expected that, as a consequence of that, he would have retained his place for several matches thereafter, but amazingly that proved not to be the case, with his being completely omitted from the side for the following week, in favour of Prosser, who then held down the scrum half back position, for some considerable time thereafter.

The one consolation was that the Salford ‘A’ team at that time was extremely strong, and so well was the team doing that attendances were rising to such an extent that they were to top the thousand mark, on a weekly basis, within a couple of seasons’ time.

“I persevered in the ‘A’ team for the rest of the season, which brought its own rewards with us winning the Lancashire Combination and the Lancashire Shield.” 

In the days before the construction of the M62, ’A’ team fixtures were limited to one or other side of the Pennines, in either the Yorkshire or Lancashire leagues, but so great was the interest in the Salford ‘A’ team that an invitation was issued to Yorkshire Champions, Castleford, to play an unofficial, overall, Championship decider at The Willows, in 1971, which Salford won.

“Among the players in the side were Oldham-born prop Jimmy Hardaker, who later became ‘A’ team captain, second rower Mick Hennigan, who was soon to move to Warrington, where he became a regular in the first team, and centre Iain McCorquodale, who went on to become a prolific goalkicking wing, with Workington Town.  Most significant of all, however, was his stand -off half partner, with whom he was to build such a marvellous understanding, Kenny Gill

“The coach, initially, was Ernie Critchley, and then in 1970 Ken Roberts took over and I had a particularly good year over that season.  In two consecutive matches I scored a double hat-trick in each game.”

Not only was there a change of ‘A’ team coach, but also that season also saw a change in first team coach with the replacement of Griff Jenkins by former Swinton coach, Cliff Evans, who, unsurprisingly, was most impressed by Peter’s incredible scoring fetes.  He had also taken note of the way his half back pairing with Gill was developing, and the outcome was that early in the following season, after a rather indifferent start in the early matches, the first team pairing of Watkins and Prosser was replaced by that of Gill and Banner.

Whilst the mercurial David Watkins was moved out to play centre, there was no alternative starting place for Bob Prosser and he was dropped to the substitute’s bench, which, in those days operated quite differently from the way it does in the modern game.  Far from being used to rest players, by means of rotation, the bench consisted of two players only, a back and a forward, who were ostensibly used for the sole purpose of replacing one injured player each, for the remainder of the game.

Although this might have been surreptitiously stretched to include the odd tactical change, the fact that there was a maximum of two substitutions which had to involve both bench players, meant that coaches were afraid of utilising their reserves unless they absolutely had to, for fear of a serious injury later in the game.  Consequently, a bench player might go several matches without ever being used.  They did of course have the opportunity to play in the ‘A’ team later in the weekend, which kept them match fit.

Two seasons later, in 1973, Peter had firmly secured his place in the starting line up in the team which was to end up as First Division Champions, and that proved to be not the only thing they won.

“It was a really great season.  The first thing we won was the Lancashire Cup, when we beat Swinton, 25-11, at Warrington.  I scored a try under the posts, and then later on, at a crucial time in the game, Kenny and I combined to put Maurice Richards away for a long distance try.  As he got into the clear, and then crossed the line, we turned to each other and hugged in delight and celebration, because we knew then that we had won our first trophy.”

One of Peter’s many attributes was his elusiveness when running.  He might not have had the sheer speed of David Watkins, but he had his own style of footwork, which matched even the Welsh Wizard for quality.  Peter, consequently, was occasionally able to turn an opposition’s defence inside out, from anywhere on the field.

 One try he especially remembers was an incredible affair against St Helens in the 1974/5 Floodlit Cup semi-final, no less, at The Willows, in which he wove in and out, side-stepped, jinked, and accelerated, round and past, more than half of the St Helens team.

“It was a run of seventy-five metres.  I started off on my own twenty-five, on the right-hand side, and I ended up scoring between the post and the corner flag, on the left-hand side.  My opposite number that evening, Jeff Heaton, still comments to this day that he cannot understand how I managed to get round him. 

“The number of phone calls, and even telegrams, I got from people, was quite astonishing, but with the game having been on TV, it was seen by a large number of people.  It was just a one off.  I have scored a few special ones over my career but none of them can match that one.”

 Unfortunately, so he tells me, it is no longer available for us to view, as the BBC has not kept the recording of it.  The BBC apparently wiped the tape some time ago, in error, which is a shame as it would certainly have been a top hit on YouTube, had it survived.

“Brian Snape was one of the very few people, at the time, who owned a video recorder, and he had a tape of the game, so I was able to see it sometime afterwards.  It did look quite amazing, and it was an important try because we ended up winning 12-8, which took us into the Final.

“We then had to play Warrington, in the Final, the following week at the Willows, which ended up a 0-0 draw, which meant we had to travel to Wilderspool a week after that, for the replay.  It was a dreadful night, and the conditions really didn’t suit us, but we overcame both Warrington and the weather to lift the trophy, with a 10-5 victory.”

Out of all the trophies he won with Salford, he singles the ‘72/3 league Championship out as the greatest prize the team won.  Salford had gone into the late Easter weekend with St Helens in pole position, but by the final encounters, on the Easter Monday, it had gone right down to the wire with Salford needing to win away at Wigan and Widnes to defeat Saints, at Naughton Park. 

The Reds did as much as was in their own hands by overturning the Riversiders in the afternoon, and then the team, and a whole contingent of supporters, travelled over to Naughton Park, Widnes in the evening, to watch as the Chemics overcame a half-time deficit to hand the trophy to the Red Devils, for the first time since the war.

“For three years I’d ended up having to play fifty-three / fifty-four games a season; that was a real challenge.  To lift that prize, at the end of it all, was a wonderful reward for us, after all the effort we had put into the season.”

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