Salford’s Former International Fullback, Paul Charlton, Recalls Memories Of His Rugby League Playing Days
Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER
Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD
Part 3 – HIS INTERNATIONAL CAREER
Part 4 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER
Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER
A native of the County formerly known as Cumberland, Paul Charlton grew up in the coastal, rugby-loving, town, of Whitehaven, where he spent his early years, accompanied by his grandfather, watching his local team.
“I was only seven, when I first started watching Whitehaven, but it was really enjoyable from the very start, and I quickly got hooked, so much so that when asked what I wanted for Christmas, that year, I immediately said a rugby ball. That, then, enabled a few of us to go onto the back field, on a Sunday afternoon, to have a game of touch rugby, which would last nearly until bedtime.
“It might be hard to believe now, but, in those days, there were some really good players playing for Whitehaven, and to me I thought they were superstars, which simply added to the thrill of watching the team. It really took a grip of me, and I just wanted to become a player, myself, though I never really thought I would because I was only a small, skinny, little lad. Being a Whitehaven supporter, however, I only ever wanted to play for them.
“Unlike many of the friends with whom I had grown up, I was much more interested in pursuing this ambition than going out to the pub with them, so that eventually, at the age of seventeen, I went over to my local amateur club, Kells ARLFC. I was quite amazed at everything that went on there, with the training and the structure they had, so decided to join them.”
It was not very long before he got his first chance for a game in their U19s side.
“One of the team cried off and I was called into the side, which was quite daunting because two years’ difference at that age is a considerable amount, and I wasn’t even ten stone, at the time.”
It was not only to be his first actual match, it was also to be his first appearance in the number one, fullback’s jersey.
“If I hadn’t taken up this opportunity, I would very soon have been given the boot. Even then, I was not only still lacking in size, I also had no pace whatsoever; even the prop forwards were faster than I was.”
Far from being disheartened by this, Paul just buckled down to address his physical shortcomings, with sheer intensive, hard training, interspersed with the odd game.
“It all progressed from there, and I honestly don’t know how I did it, but I progressed from zero to two hundred, in seven years. Possibly, it was because I was playing alongside others who had been playing for a while, and who gave me great encouragement to do well.”
Unbeknown to Paul, a scout for, of all clubs in the league, Workington Town, Jim Kitchen. had seen him playing and had been really taken with his talent and attitude. When broached about a possible move there, however, Paul, then aged twenty, thought the whole notion of that to be something of a wind-up.
“I was barely eleven stone in weight, and still quite slow. I didn’t even consider myself suitable for ‘A’ team football, let alone first team, so I just kept hanging off making any commitment. Apart from anything else, both my dad and my grandfather were big supporters of Whitehaven so in no way could I see myself playing for the arch-enemy Workington.”
His father, however, could see the sense in following the offer through, so, with tribal loyalties dispensed with, Paul made his way up to Workington, who simply were not prepared to take ‘No’ for an answer.
“It was very much contrary to the dictates of my heart because I’d always wanted to play for Whitehaven. I’d even trained with them occasionally, whilst playing with Kells, but nothing had ever been forthcoming from them, so I took up the offer of going to Workington.”
One benefit of moving to a semi-professional club was that the lack of pace, which had been so much of a hindrance to his progress, improved beyond all recognition to the extent that he was soon beating some of the speedsters of the side, over a hundred yards.
“I was so unbelievably slow when I first signed but I must have put on over fifteen metres, and that gave me my first chance in the first team, in 1964, at Rochdale, where we won 12-8. The players and the support staff at Workington were all really good guys, and so very encouraging, and fair, in the way they treated me.
“The extremely flamboyant, Tom Mitchell, was the chairman, and throughout the world of rugby, he was regarded as the sort of guy for whom you would give an arm and leg. It was a great move by Great Britain, when they appointed him as manager to their 1966 tour.
“Among the players there was Syd Lowden, who later moved to play in the backs for Salford, a few seasons before I signed there. I got my next call into the first team, in 1965, when he cried off for an away match at Wigan, which, against all the odds, we won. That was my breakthrough, and when Syd was once again fit, he was played in the centre, and I retained the fullback spot. My self-belief soared from that.”
By the later part of the sixties, the name of Paul Charlton had become widely known across rugby league circles, culminating in his winning the most prestigious ‘Players No 6, Player of the Year Award’, which was an early forerunner of the present day, ’Man of Steel’. (The photograph above shows Paul being presented with this award)
“That was an absolutely unbelievable achievement, and moment, in my playing career. Words just cannot describe the feelings that go with being regarded as the top player in the whole of British rugby league. It was a culmination of all the hard work that not only I had put in, but, equally so, that of so many people who had helped me along the way. I just hope that they were able to share in my elation at such a success.”
The only person, who, it seems, was unaware of his widespread notoriety, appears to have been Paul himself.
“I lived in Whitehaven, remember. I didn’t even know what was going on in Manchester, let alone across the whole of rugby league. I was just enjoying playing my rugby, and in fact, had Salford not come in for me, I would have been quite happy just being a one club player with Workington Town.”
Not even Whitehaven, by this time could have lured him away, because the sheer acrimony between the two rival Cumbrian clubs was so intense.
“On one of my first visits with Town to the Recreation Ground, I was standing behind the posts while Whitehaven were taking a kick at goal, and a couple of bottles came flying at me from behind, along with a whole diatribe of verbal abuse hurled at me for having dared join Workington and turning out for them against my hometown club. Whoever threw those bottles just never realised that Haven had had their chance to sign me but had never shown any interest in doing so.
“Fortunately, the bottles did miss me, but only just, and even worse, they were empty.”