RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (6) – KEITH FIELDING
Salford’s Former High-Flying Winger & ‘Superstar’, Recalls Memories Of His Time At The Willows
Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER
Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD
Part 3 – HE REMEMBERS HIS SALFORD TEAMMATES
Part 4 –HIS INTERNATIONAL CAREER
Part 5 – HIS INVOLVEMENT IN BBC TV’S ‘SUPERSTARS’
Part 6 – HIS POST RUGBY CAREER
Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER
Born, and brought up, in the West Midlands, as a child Keith Fielding had always wanted to be a footballer. He had his sights set on joining West Bromwich Albion, once he was old enough. Indeed, he progressed as far as playing at County level, while still at primary school, but success in the 11+, leading to his transferring to the rugby-focused, local grammar school, fortunately led to a reshaping of those ambitions.
“Rugby just suited me,” he says quite simply, and then goes on to explain:“You didn’t have a ball at your feet which you had to control. You had hold of it, and this left you free to express yourself – provided, of course, that you caught it in the first place.
“I might not have been the greatest exponent of rugby skills, but I had one thing that others didn’t have, and that was my above average speed.”
That final comment, however, might well seem rather overly modest of him. To those of us who remember many of the tries he scored, which required much more than just fleetness of foot.
Not that he found progress through the ranks particularly easy. In fact, he really struggled to get into the school team, in his early years at his grammar school.
“It was not until I got to the fourth year that I suddenly blossomed. My pace increased and I bulked up physically, to become a regular scorer of tries from that point onwards. By the time I was in the upper sixth, I was called up into the England Schools’ team, to play Wales who included the likes of soon to be household names such as J P R Williams and J J Williams, in their ranks.”
From schoolboy rugby, Keith made plans for a career in teaching, which, allied to his love of sport, made Loughborough College the ideal place for him to continue with both pursuits, in tandem.
“I went to train as a PE teacher and in my first year I managed to get into the first fifteen, which was unusual when you consider the age difference involved, to play alongside some considerably talented players, such as Steve Smith, who later became captain of Sale.”
Being among such accomplished individuals not only helped Keith’s own progress in the game, but also led to the team gaining wider recognition by going through the whole season without defeat.
“During the first Christmas break I went back home and contacted Moseley RUFC, and, because their winger had picked up an injury, they put me straight into the first team, and I scored a hat-trick in my first game, against Headingley. I played again the following week and scored another couple, before returning to college for the new term.
“A North Midlands County representative had, however, seen me playing in one of those matches and I was invited to take part in a series of games against other local counties. The following year, I returned to play for them again and this time was seen by some England selectors, who invited me to go for trials for the international team.
“The final trial, England versus The Rest, was held at Twickenham, on New Year’s Day, all of which made it quite an auspicious occasion for me as a nineteen year old.”
As far as rugby league offers were concerned, Keith is grateful for his inclusion, four years later, in the first World Sevens Tournament in which he drew global attention to his tremendous turn of speed.
“I know that Wigan, to name just one club, saw me there, and it was shortly after that that Salford Chairman, Brian Snape got in touch. I had watched rugby league on TV so I knew quite a lot about it, and there was much that appealed to me in the game.”