In The First Of Four Episodes, David Clegg Meets Up With Former Salford Captain, And Now CEO, Ian Blease, Who Looks Back Over His Playing Career
When you look back to the playing days of our Chief Executive, Ian Blease, and consider all he achieved in the game, over a not inconsiderable length of time, it seems incredible to learn that throughout his formative years, he was not at all keen on the game, despite attending a Moorside High School, which boasted a strong RL culture. Even more surprisingly, it was the physicality of the game which did not appeal to him, and so, for many years it was football which was his first love.
“The whole of my family were big City fans, and when an aunt bought me a pair of George Best boots, at the age of six, I became completely football mad,” he recalls. “By the time I transferred to High School, at eleven, I really believed I could make it as a soccer player, particularly when I got selected to play for the town team.”
That Moorside rugby league culture, however, was not to be gainsaid, and pressure was brought to bear upon the youngster, whose sports teacher considered to have all the physical attributes to strengthen the school side, and so by his last year there it had become a battle of wills between them.
“I was told that if I didn’t start playing rugby, I wouldn’t be allowed to continue with my soccer, at school,” he ruefully relates, “so I just didn’t play either of them, all year.”
Friendship with one Mike Holliday, brother to Les and son to Bill, however, was a much greater influence on Ian than any threats and sanctions at school, so when Mike invited him down to Folly Lane, he found himself accepting, and, within a matter of weeks, had started really enjoying it. Indeed, on only his second outing, operating in his to become accustomed position in the second row, he scored his first try.
Three months later, his performances had come to the attention of professional clubs, and scouts from a number of local sides were starting to keep tabs on him. He however, had business still to do at Folly Lane, and in fact he stayed there long enough to progress through the U18s, 19s, and 20s. During that time, the team won the Lancashire County Trophy and were promoted to the first division.
But his playing did not remain solely within the Youth setup, and by the time he was eighteen, he was being called upon by Open Age Coach, and former Salford loose forward, Graham Rees, to bolster his team, with Ian turning out against fully grown men.
“It was pretty full on at that time, playing Open Age on Saturdays, and U19s on the Sundays,” he reflects, “The Open Age games were extremely physical, but you just had to learn to take care of yourself, which I did pretty quickly.”
This was all to the good, as he, consequently, not only became a lynchpin in the senior side, but also a regular try scorer.
“I couldn’t understand how I was doing it,” he confides, “but I’d come away from games thinking that I’d scored yet again.”
Little wonder, then, that he was suddenly the centre of attention from virtually every local professional club, all seeking his signature on contracts, whilst his aspirations to become a professional footballer had, by this time, fallen by the wayside.
“It was a most exciting time for a young nineteen year old,” he divulges. “I’d known by the age of sixteen that I wasn’t going to make it in football, but the camaraderie at Folly was fantastic and totally absorbed me into it.”
Not only that, there were significant representative opportunities outside the club, of which he was to relish becoming a part. The first of these came with the Salford Town Team, under the coaching of the late Don Preston.
“With the playing resources of all the local amateur clubs available to form the squad, we made a great Town Team,” he reflects, “and got to the semi-final of the National Cup, in 1984.”
Selection to Lancashire County followed, for the 1983 fixture against Yorkshire. Although victory went to the white rose county, the occasion carried such prestige that he still possesses the red and white striped jersey form the game.
With considerable interest from all the local clubs in obtaining Ian’s signature on their contract, it was local rivals Leigh who first came closest to doing so, and for whom, in fact, he played a trial game. In fairness, the Leythers at the time were a quite high-flying, first division side containing players of the calibre of international stand-off, John Wood and Des Drummond, and so were a quite attractive option to the young Blease.
The trial match, against a Wigan side containing present Head Coach, Shaun Wane, was as far as things went, however, for lo and behold, along came Salford, in the form of then Head Scout, Albert White, and Coach, Mike Coulman, with an offer that sealed his future direction, particularly after having sought advice from Graham Rees.
And so, a trial, ‘A’ team game against Featherstone Rovers served to satisfy all their expectations, and he was quickly signed up for a move to The Willows, where he met up with the squad of players amongst whom he was about to embark upon his professional career.
“There were a number of local lads among them,” he recalls. “Sammy Turnbull was there, with Paul Fletcher at fullback, and Nigel Lamb in the second row.”
Having signed as a second rower himself, it was always the case, for most of his career, that Ian turned out there, usually in the number twelve shirt because he liked operating on the right-hand side of the field.
“I did, on odd occasions, swap over to number eleven to have a run out on the left, because you do get better ball coming to you along the left edge,” he reflects.
Next Time, Ian Blease Relives Some Of His Most Memorable Experiences Playing For Salford