Salford’s Former Goal-Kicking Loose Forward, Ron Hill, Recalls Memories Of His Time At The Willows
Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER
Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD
Part 3 – SALFORD’S 1969 CHALLENGE CUP RUN
Part 4 –HE REMEMBERS HIS SALFORD TEAMMATES AND CHAIRMAN
Part 5 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER
Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER
Welsh-born loose forward, Ron Hill’s time with Salford might not have been as lengthy as many other players of his era, but not only did this period include the 1969 Wembley Cup Final, he was, at that time, the club’s first choice goalkicker. With the team struggling to break down the Castleford defence, on the day, the Reds had to rely on the sure-footed boot of Ron to slot over three penalty goals, to keep them in contention, which thereby made him the only player in a Salford shirt, post war, to score at Wembley.
Being a native of Cardiff, it is unsurprising that it was via rugby union, at the age of eleven and a pupil at a Cardiff High School, that he first became involved with the oval-shaped ball.
“I came from a footballing family and living so close to Ninian Park was keen to become a footballer like my father, so was most disappointed when I was told that Howardian High School, to which I had gone, played only rugby.
“I started off as a stand-off half, in what proved to be a really good side. We got to the Final of the U13s Cup against St Illtyds, which was played on the famous Cardiff Arms Park, and I scored the only try of the game.”
Although he received some genuine praise for winning the game for the team, his sports teacher, Walter Locke, was rather critical of the number of times he had kicked the ball, and consequently moved him to fullback.
“When I had played soccer, I was either a goalkeeper or centre forward, so fullback was not dissimilar to that of a goalkeeper, and I have to say I did quite like it there. I was not the only aspiring footballer to have had his energy and enthusiasm diverted to rugby, either, for while I was still in junior school I had played against the one and only Big Jim Mills, who also was a goal keeper. I even had the task of taking a penalty against this giant of a lad, and scored, to give us a 2-0 victory.
“We later met up in rugby trials for a representative trip to Frankfurt and Heidelburg, in Germany, for which we were both selected, for what we understood to be the first sports team to play in Germany after World War II. This was the start of a long friendship with Jim, which is still as strong today. We later went on to play together for Cardiff RFU Youth Team, and then into the Senior Teams. I distinctly remember playing against David Watkins, in a fixture with Newport, at Rodney Parade.”
Their relatively close association did not end there, though, with its continuing after Mills had made the trip north to sign for Halifax. Two months later, Ron had followed him to Yorkshire for trials with Castleford, which was not the done thing if you were from Wales, in those days. Arriving at Castleford for the game, Ron was unaware of whom they were playing against and had the shock of his life when Big Jim got off the Halifax coach.
Ron was playing under the name of S.O.Else, so Jim greeted him saying,
“Run at me Ron and I will make you look good”, to which Ron responded,
“Jim, I have known you too long, so I will take my chance on the OTHER side of the field.”
Castleford won the game, with Ron contributing with four goals and a try, following which he went on to sign for Cas. One of the attributes which he was able to bring to the team was his goalkicking, which was to so distinguish him for Salford, at Wembley.
“I had kicked goals from being a school-boy, and had continued to do so, whilst at Cardiff. I was a toe-ender, which was the only style of kicking in those days. I think having been a footballer had developed my skill in this direction.
“The modern-day styles of kicking, such as Marc Sneyd, uses is quite alien to me. In fact, it was David Watkins who broke the mould, in this respect, when he took over goalkicking duties from me when I was side-lined with a second broken jaw.
“When I was kicking, though, I wanted everything in line so that I could hit it straight and true, with a good follow-through, which was vital because we played with those big leather balls, which were really heavy, especially on a wet day, when it was like playing with a medicine ball. In fact, when I came to Salford our coach, Griff Jenkins took me to aWalsh’s a company in Bolton, who specialised in making sports footwear. He measured my feet. The right boot had a square steel toe-cap, and the left boot, was normal soft leather.
“I first noticed a change starting to take place in the Wembley Final, because there seemed to be something different about the ball. It seemed smaller and lighter, and the old leather ball seemed to disappear quite quickly after that.
“The other thing which has changed has been the introduction of the kicking tee. In my time, you had to make your own mound to stand the ball on, which was a great inconvenience on dry days, and on wet days you had to contend with the wrath of the groundsman.”
The move to rugby league from rugby union has, on a number of occasions proven to be too great a wrench for some individuals to settle sufficiently well and continue in the game. That, however, was not the case, with Ron.
“I don’t think we thought too deeply about it at the time, which was probably a good thing. It helped that I got married around the same time so there was all-round change in my life, to which my wife was a willing partner. It would have been a lot different had I come up as a single lad on my own, having been looked after at home, all my life.
“As it happened, it proved to be a good time in my life, and I got a good job as a sale’s representative in the buildings materials industry, which I continued to work in all my life. Although breaking my jaw in my first outing for Castleford, at Hunslet, rather delayed the start to my league career, it was part of the game back then, and broken jaws were two a penny.”
The fixture list, in those days was defined by geographic location, with all Yorkshire teams playing one another, and all teams west of the Pennines doing likewise, with just a handful of cross-Pennines fixtures per team, based upon like finishing positions, at the end of the previous season. As a consequence of this, he had never played in a game against Salford, prior to arriving here.
It was towards the end of his time with Cas that he was moved from fullback up to loose forward, and he believes that it was shortly after this that he was noticed by Salford coach Griff Jenkins, playing in a Yorkshire Cup tie, against Halifax, and it was as a loose forward that Salford wanted him.
In all he played with Castleford for four years having signed up in December 1964, and then leaving to join Salford in December ’68, a mere five months before they were to play in their one and only post-war Challenge Cup Final, at Wembley.