RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (5) – RON HILL – PART 2

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (5) – RON HILL – PART 2

by | Apr 30, 2020

 Part 2 – HIS MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Leaving a top club like Castleford, to move across to Lancashire to join a club still in the process of its development, might have seemed to some as something of a risk, but Ron was quite confident that he was doing the right thing, though without the M62, he had not given any consideration to the amount of travelling he would have to do, two or three times a week.

“It all went through within a week.  I went across and found that the whole set up was so different from how things had been at Castleford.  For a start they had that wonderful Variety Club, which was the best in the north of England.  I was introduced to Mr Brian Snape, who was a wonderful man, and also his brother Keith, who was a Director.

“Salford were the up and coming team, and they had certainly signed some great players, and very shortly after my arrival they signed Colin Dixon, who I had known since our school days back in Cardiff.  He had changed codes as a seventeen year old, to join Halifax, where he quickly moved from his union position of scrum half, to centre. 

“As a player he possessed everything a rugby league club could have wanted from him.  He had skill and pace in abundance, he was tough and uncompromising, and had an in-built sense of the game.  From the moment of kick off, he was all action in every game.

“It was great to meet up with him again, upon his signing, and we promptly started travelling from Yorkshire, together.”

“The team consisted of a number of players who had formed the foundations for the club’s progression, such as Jackie Brennan, Terry Ogden, Stuart Whitehead, Kenny Gwilliam, Paul Jackson.”

“Left centre, Chris Hesketh, became a very good friend of mine and he also worked in the buildings materials industry.  He always maintained throughout the rest of his life that he had definitely scored a try in the Wembley Final, which the referee, Deryck Brown, determined to have been a double movement.”

In order to accommodate Ron into the pack, it became necessary to move second rower, Peter Smethurst, onto the substitute’s bench, and upon the arrival of Dixon, Peter’s fellow second rower, Stuart Whitehead, moved into the centre to partner Bill Burgess.

“We didn’t train at The Willows, because we had the use of Man City football ground with running facilities, in Urmston, so that made it all the more special when we came to play our home games.  

 “I can remember my first game for Salford; it was in the Players’ No 6 Competition, and I ended up being awarded Man of the Match, the prize for which was a sleeve of cigarettes.  That definitely would never happen these days.”

“I especially had to adapt to a quite different style of rugby, which was prevalent in Lancashire from that in Yorkshire.  The Lancashire sides had become adept at turning the ball back inside, at certain times on attack, and which I was required to be aware of, and often, involved in.  Once I had mastered it myself, though, I was able to help David Watkins get to grips with it, in his early days.”

Salford’s enchantment with playing on a Friday night was in parallel with Ron’s former club, Castleford, who had also taken to playing under floodlights, so there was no change for him to get used to in this respect, unlike many other players who had to adapt.

“I was fortunate to have played for clubs who both played on Fridays because it meant that I had the rest of the weekend to myself.  We used to get such really good attendances throughout the whole season, so it also led to a really good night in the club afterwards with many people wanting to speak with you about the game, and we players just loved talking to people who had enjoyed watching us. Even the renowned, George Best and Alan Ball, were regular spectators at our Friday night games.”

Of course, The Willows Social Club was the ideal setting for all that.

“It was a great environment, with music, and occasionally you might be invited up onto the stage to say a few words, while the Man of the Match would go up into the restaurant, to give the diners there some involvement in the after-game experience.

“And all this was enhanced by the fact we had usually won.  In fact, upon my joining in the December, we won eleven consecutive matches, in the run up to our Wembley Cup Final.  The last time the team had lost had been in an away match at Oldham, in the November, and they didn’t lose again until the week before the Final.”

The reliability of Ron’s kicking boot was certainly a factor in this, particularly at a time when the value of a try was three points only, while all goals, including drop goals, were still rewarded with two.  A penalty in front of the posts, in the days prior to the ‘differential penalty’ rule, at a scrum, was always worth the taking of a kick at goal.

Whilst he was with us at Salford, the really resounding successes he had were in the pre and post-season seven aside competitions, of which Salford were the most outstanding exponents.

“We had everything you needed for Sevens – speed and attacking flair – with Bill Burgess, Chris Hesketh Maurice Richards , David Watkins  and Bob Prosser in the backs, along with Mike Coulman, Colin Dixon, Stuart Whitehead and myself in the forwards. These nine players were rotated throughout the tournament

“David Watkins had the unbelievable record of never having lost in any game of seven-aside in either code, whilst I was still at Salford, and at that time these tournaments came up with great frequency, especially at Headingley, Leeds, and Central Park, Wigan, though there were others, at various other grounds.

“I really enjoyed playing in them, and they certainly helped with ensuring your fitness level for the coming season.”

Far more prestigious and of much higher profile, though, was Ron’s selection, alongside Colin Dixon, to the emerging Welsh Rugby League International side to play France in Perpignan, where they won as a result of a quite interesting dressing room incident before the game.

“Bill Fallowfield was the Secretary to the Rugby Football League, which was the equivalent then of the present Chief Executive, and he had made the journey down to the South of France with us, and in his extremely high role within the RFL, proceeded to commence the pre-match team talk.

“He had barely got into his first sentence when our hooker, Tony Fisher, put his hand on his shoulder and said, ‘Bill, this is a Welsh matter.  You are not Welsh; I’ll do the team talk.’  Bill looked quite aghast at that, but one glance at Tony’s face got the message home, and he stepped down.

“Tony then proceeded to explain, ‘Right boys, at the first scrum, me, Jim (Mills) and John (Warlow), are going to sort out their front row, Colin (Dixon) and John (Mantle) you are to finish off anything we’ve missed, and Ron, your job is to scatter the ashes!  And we’ll have a wonderful evening tonight, boys.’  That’s how you do a team talk, because you win the game when you do it like that.  The most interesting part about it is that is what actually happened.

“Dickie Thomas was the referee, and the crowd got so upset they started throwing bottles onto the pitch, at which our fullback, Terry Price, started pretending to drink the remnants and then throwing them back.

“At the end of the game jerseys were exchanged between opposite numbers and I ended up with the one belonging to Georges Alliers, their big number eight, who had been up against Jim Mills all afternoon.  I’ve no idea how that happened, but the rest of it was all down to that team talk.”

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