In The Second Of Four Episodes, Over The Christmas Period, CEO, Ian Blease Recounts His Experiences As A Player Here At Salford
Upon putting pen to paper, Ian was promptly drafted into the ‘A’ team, under the coaching of Bob Welling, for his professional debut in a home victory over Dewsbury, which he marked by scoring a try.
“I remember coming on from the bench,” he recalls. “Micky McTigue really looked after me right through the game.
“The whole environment off the field, at that time was a real laugh, but you had to really man up and look after yourself or you just wouldn’t have survived. Injuries, for example, just had to be laughed off, and I had a good deal of practice in that respect, because in my first couple of seasons I picked up a fair few, which rather limited my game time in those early days.”
Most serious of these involved a full shoulder reconstruction, and then a similar reconstruction of his ankle, both of which combined to sideline him over a couple of seasons.
Despite these setbacks, his promotion to the first team followed, possibly aided by the fact that they were, at the time, playing in the second division having failed to gain promotion at their first attempt, the previous season. Kevin Ashcroft was the coach, and among the players were a number whom Ian knew from his time with Lancashire County as an amateur, such as Paul Groves and Gary Disley.
His early days at The Willows also coincided with the early days of Chairman, John Wilkinson, aided by his right hand man, Albert White.
“Albert had an aura about him, and when he spoke everyone listened,” Ian reflects. “John, on the other hand, had a much softer and gentler approach, and with the two of them together it worked extremely well and provided the basis for the club to progress.
“In fact over the following years there was considerable progress, and the quality of the players who were signed over the coming years, including Gary Jack, Neil Baker, Kieran O’Loughlin, and John Pendlebury, bears testament to this. Through their involvement you could just see the standards going up and up, so that when we did get promotion at the end of my first season, we were able to be competitive within the the first division, and with the exception of just a couple of slips we spent the rest of my playing days in the top flight.”
“There may not have been massive successes but we had some great teams over the years, which, when you consider the low ebb from which John Wilkinson had been trying to rebuild it, was no mean achievement.”
Over his time as a Salford player, Ian played under the direction of four coaches, Kevin Ashcroft, Kevin Tamati, Gary Jack, and Andy Gregory, but being a forward like himself, it is Kevin Tamati whom he holds in greatest esteem.
“He was absolutely uncompromising as a forward, and I’d had a couple of dust ups with him in his playing days, but he respected me because I’d stood up to him,” he recounts.
“He also gave me the captaincy in 1991, when previous skipper Mick Worrall left, which was a massive honour to me, especially being Salford born and bred, but it was his forward mentality which he bred into me, in his early days as coach, which stood me in such good stead.
“Under him we were at the forefront of a new era of the game, and twice we played at Old Trafford in the curtain raiser to the Premiership Final.”
In all, Ian spent a grand total of twelve seasons as a Salford player, with many marvellous memories being established for him, now, to look back upon.
“We always kept trying and along the way we got a few really good results, but the season which stands out in my mind above all others was 1990, when we beat Halifax at Old Trafford,” he assesses. “The team was particularly strong that year, and in fact we did the double by finishing top of the league, as well.
“Unfortunately, this was the Wigan era of winning everything, and good as our top players over the years were, with the likes of Paul Shaw, Geoff Selby, Steve Kerry, and Ian Sherratt, we always seemed to lack them in sufficient numbers, at any one time.
“The team which Andy Gregory coached at the start of Super League also contained some really good players in Andy Platt, Steve Blakeley, Peter Edwards, Scott Naylor, Steve Hampson, and Cliff Eccles.”
Although all the silverware on offer was confined, during this period, to the likes of Wigan, Leeds, and Saints, Salford were always a factor in competitions, reaching Lancashire Cup Finals, semi-finals of the Challenge Cup, and the semi-final of the Regal Trophy, at Bradford City.
“Mike O’Neill coming on at half time changed the game for Leeds, in that last one, and we lost on goal kicks,” is his judgement, “but we were an up and coming team, whilst they were well established.
“In the Lancashire Cup Final against Widnes we matched them throughout, despite facing the likes of Paul Morriarty and Andy Currier, until Martin Offiah snatched the win for them in the last minute, which was heart breaking as I had always wanted to win that Lancashire Cup.”
Despite their overwhelming dominance, Ian had the pleasure of a number of victories, over the years, over Wigan, of which that 1996 second round Challenge Cup tie is the most readily called to mind.
“It was a really good time to be playing as we were building towards becoming quite an impressive team,” he proudly concludes, “and I was able to help towards this.”
Next Time Ian Blease Recalls Some Of The Many Players He Played Alongside