RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (8) – PAUL CHARLTON (PT 2)

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (8) – PAUL CHARLTON (PT 2)

by | Dec 26, 2021

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Comfortable and happy as Paul was plying his trade with Workington, things were about to change, as attention in his direction had been attracted one hundred and twenty-five miles south, in Salford, where club chairman, Brian Snape, was making massive strides in rebuilding the club and its team.

“Mr Snape had already assembled an extremely good team together, but was always looking at ways to improve it, and in me he saw someone who would strengthen the back line, so he made contact with Tom Mitchell, with whom he had a good friendship, and a deal was eventually concluded between them.

“I hadn’t wanted to leave Workington at all but wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of going to Salford, particularly when Mr Mitchell told me how in need of the money Workington were, with decreasing crowds putting their finances under considerable strain.

“My wife and I were invited down to Salford, to visit the club and have a look around, and we were most impressed by what we saw, all the more so when we went into the restaurant to see Manchester City coach, Malcolm Allison, in there, having his lunch.  We spoke, and he wished me all the best on my signing and urged me to make the most of my opportunity with Salford.

“Kenny Gwilliam had been Salford’s regular fullback, for a couple of seasons, and had played for the Reds in their Challenge Cup Final, at Wembley.  With my arrival, however, he was, most deservedly, rewarded with a transfer to another top Lancashire side – his hometown team, St Helens.

“Once all the details of the transfer had been ironed out, we moved down to Salford.  At first, we lived above Brian Snape’s offices, but he also owned a couple of houses in Kildare Rd, and he sold one of these to us.  He certainly did all he could to help me settle into the area, and he really was a lovely person.

”I even remember from my very early days, that he had installed his son-in-law, and former Preston Grasshoppers, and Salford, winger, Paul Murphy, as manager of The Willows; a position which he then held for several years.”

Settling into the area is always quite crucial for any player moving to a different part of the country, and in the early days of ultra-short motorways, the distance he found himself from Whitehaven could have been problematic.  Fortunately, that proved not to be the case.

“We settled quite quickly.  I was a joiner by trade, and I soon had a job where I fitted into the company very well.  The boss was a big Salford supporter so that helped.”

Moving to a top side in any sport brings with it a wide range of rewards, and experiences, to be enjoyed.  Apart from the financial benefits there are also on-field successes and a certain degree of notoriety, whilst playing among top quality players brings out the best in everyone’s performance, as Paul readily acknowledges.

“Without any shadow of doubt, I became a far better player for having gone to Salford than I had been, when at Workington.  I had been one of the top players there, but, when I went to Salford, we were all equally as good as one another. We consequently encouraged, and inspired, one another to improve, week by week, season by season.

“We would train occasionally at The Willows, but more usually it was at the Cliff, in Urmston.  It was a playing field, with a shed for us to get changed in.  Going in there for my first session was a memorable experience.  Just being among all those stars was an incredible feeling in itself, but to be playing alongside them was the best thing I can ever remember.

There, nevertheless, was a short period of adjustment and settling in to be gone through, in order for him to become totally conversant with all that was happening around him on the field, and why.

“This sort of thing just doesn’t happen overnight.  New players, coming into a team, often try too hard because they are unsure of all that is going on in the game.  Because of that they then stiffen up, and that reduces their performance level.  Within five or six weeks of playing with Salford, however, I’d become totally relaxed, and everything just came as normal.  I didn’t even have to work for it; it just worked itself.

“That was thanks to the other players.  They taught me a considerable amount from the very start – stuff I’d never come across before, which pushed my performance level up further still.  No-one ever stops learning but when you’ve got players of that calibre, all together, the opportunities to do so are absolutely rife.

“We also had extremely knowledgeable coaches.  Griff Jenkins was the coach when I arrived.  He had had the great success of taking Salford to Wembley for the first time in thirty years, the season before.

“He was replaced twelve months later, by Cliff Evans, who had previously been coach at Swinton.  He was a schoolteacher, and an extremely nice guy.  He produced some fabulous moves for us, which took the whole team to another level again.  Everyone knew their own role, and one another’s, the circumstances of when to employ each move, and the calls that went with them.  It all just came together so well, which developed a tremendous team spirit.

“Brian Snape was fundamental in the building of that.  On one occasion, we had lost at home owing to a poor refereeing decision, and he eradicated all the feelings of dejection and dissatisfaction by giving us winning pay, as a form of consolation.

“Our second-row pairing of Mike Coulman (Quality St Gang No1) and Colin Dixon was exceptional, and I used to follow them around the field, and got quite a number of tries by doing so, because they would drive the ball up and then feed it to me alongside them, and, of course, by this time I had acquired some pace, so was able to race through for the score.

“Winning the First Division Championship, in the 1973/4, season was the highlight of my time at Salford.  They repeated the fete, two seasons later, in ‘75/6 but by then I had returned to Workington, so missed out on that one.”

There has always been a general acceptance, that, in some respects, the team slightly underachieved in terms of trophy successes, and that there should have been more occasions, and seasons, similar to that of ‘73/4, but Paul has his own particular view on that.

“In the time that I was with the club, they had success in a number of ways, in particular by being a significant factor in most competitions, and also by getting to the finals and semi-finals of tournaments such as the Lancashire Cup, Regal Trophy and BBC2 Floodlit Cup, in which we did have our successes in winning a number of those.

“What I would say, though, is our playing style was not particularly suited to the grind of winning enough games in any one competition, because we were far more flamboyant as a team than any other club, but that came at the expense of a hard-work ethic.  Consequently, when we came up against the likes of Leeds, Castleford, and St Helens, we just lacked that toughness that was necessary to overcome these sides, especially on one-off occasions.”

What, of course, Salford fans had, far in excess of any other club at the time, was the sheer entertainment value in the rugby the players provided.

“On those Friday nights at The Willows, you certainly couldn’t have got anything better, and with an average attendance of around eleven thousand, people certainly must have felt that they were getting value for their money.  There certainly weren’t many empty seats left by the time of the kick-off.”

Despite all his claims to having been short of pace, in his early days, by the time he came to Salford, Paul had pace to burn.  Add to that the degree of acceleration he possessed, once described as ‘his change of gear’, which all too often foiled an opponent, who thought they could snuff out the threat he posed, with an early tackle.  Then, whilst in full flight he would employ a swerve to get round a fullback, and in a matter of seconds he had changed the whole balance of the game.

“Once I got in the clear, I could then slow down a little to conserve my energy, but I could also side-step off either foot.  That’s a great asset, if you can do it, because it’s not something you can teach.  I’d be going forward and there would be a guy in front of me, and I would just find myself going to the left then immediately to the right, and I’d be past him.  It’s an inner skill, and I’m fortunate to have been one of those people to have had that.”

It was not solely on attack that he used his pace to such significant effect; it was also in defence.  Many is the time that a fullback is faced with an oncoming winger, but Paul knew exactly how to deal with the situation.  He would hold back, thereby allowing the winger to keep to the touchline thinking he could get to the try-line, but then Paul would accelerate to top speed and the pair of them would end up in one heap, over the touchline.

“In my early playing days, I could never have done that, but it was all down to having the ability to go from idle to full-throttle in an inkling.  Once I found that it worked, I developed it so that I was able to stop top class wingers like John Atkinson, of Leeds, in full flight.  I just thought to myself, push him over to the touchline, don’t give him too much room, and then crack him.

“It was the timing of my acceleration which was the crucial item. It worked almost every time, but it was something that seems to have been unique to me because, to this day, I have never seen anyone else do that the way I did it.”

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