David Clegg Meets With The Ultimate Of Utility Players, Alex Gaskell
Even though Shevington is situated on the outskirts of Wigan, the lure of a winning team still carries impact even in this outpost of the borough, and those fortnightly pilgrimages to watch the Warriors remains undiminished. For the very young Alex Gaskell, following his arrival up north from his birthplace of Guildford, Surrey, it quickly became a way of life, to the extent that, by the age of seven, he was keen and eager to take up the game himself.
With his father having originated from Orrell, and still having strong contacts with what had been his local club, it was to that stronghold of the amateur game, Orrell St James’s, to which Alex turned, and with whom he remained right through, to the start of last season.
Although his early playing days usually saw him turning out in the second row, or at centre, during his lengthy stay there, he actually played in every one of the positions on the team, including, incredibly, at prop. Indeed, he can claim to be the most versatile of utility players, although, when pressed, admits that his favourite position is fullback, because of the involvement with the attacking backline, not to mention the frequent kick-returns required.
Of that remarkable outing as a prop forward, he tells me it was good fun at the time, as there was lots of involvement, throughout. Having said that, however, he hastily qualifies it with the comment that it was fine as a one-off, but playing there regularly would be a totally different kettle of fish, not least for the fact that he was physically shattered by the end of the game.
Of all the time he was with the club, the 2009 season stands out in his memory, when, as U12s, they reached the final of the North West Counties’ Cup, beating the three best teams in the competition, Blackbrook, Wigan St Pat’s, and Rylands, en route. Having already disposed of such illustrious opponents, one might have expected that the final would have been a mere formality, but things did not turn out that way, and, sadly, their co-finalists, Widnes Moorfield, stole the show by running out victors.
This disappointment was more than compensated, however, by the success he had with his Wigan school team, St Peter’s High, with whom, as U16s, he won not only the Wigan Schools’ Cup, which they had already won over the previous two seasons, but also the National Schools’ Cup.
In addition, two of those three Wigan Schools’ Finals, and the National Schools’ Final, turned out to be personal successes for Alex, as he was won the Man of the Match award on all three of those occasions. All of this was supplemented by his being voted Players’ Player of the Year, in successive seasons at U15 and U16 levels, and in the second of these two, also being awarded Coach’s Player of the Year.
Unsurprisingly, Alex’s name came to the attention of scouts from his home town professional club, and, after watching him in a game against Wigan St Pat’s, he joined the Wigan Warriors’ Scholarship, coincidentally, making his winning debut against Salford, at a time they were playing their home games, at this level, at Sale RU ground.
Graduation to the Wigan Academy followed, but not with the success for which he would have hoped, as competition for places proved too great. Consequently, a DVD of his performances was compiled by his father, and ended up in the hands of last year’s Salford U19s’ Head Coach, Martin Gleeson, who invited him down for trials. As a result, he ended up on the bench for the opening game of the season, away at Hull, and then at home, the following match, against Wigan, after which he was signed up, on a two year contract.
Although he appeared predominantly on the wing during last season, his versatility is fully recognised here, and occasional appearances at half-back, and at centre, have also been in evidence, as indeed they have been during this season.
Now, with a few weeks of the season still remaining, he is hoping that his talent and versatility will earn him a further contract, this time with the first team.