In The Third Of Four Episodes, Over The Christmas Period, CEO, Ian Blease Recalls Some Of The Many Salford Players Of His Era
In the twelve years during which he was with Salford, Ian played alongside a considerable number of fellow players, and among them some quite absolute quality players, from whom he selects one individual who stands out above all others.
“Peter Williams was absolute quality for me,” he professes. “He was a former England Rugby Union half-back, who had a fabulous kicking game, great hands, and was as hard as nails. He certainly stands out for me with the quality he brought to the team, even though he signed late in his career.’
Another player whom he also remembers with the utmost respect was long-serving fullback, Steve Gibson.
“He had an extremely elusive running style, and, thanks to that, scored a lot of tries,” Ian continues.
One of those, in the 1989/90 season, in an away match against Oldham, saw him take a kick virtually on the dead ball line and, having ghosted through the advancing line of defence, completed a one hundred and ten yard run to score under the posts. Later that season a film of this try was shown to the players as they arrived at Old Trafford to face Halifax in that promotion-determining play-off final.
“We got changed at the Lancashire Cricket Club, that day,” Ian reveals, “and then had the short journey to the stadium to make. A motivational video had been put together to the music of Nessun Dorma.
“The whole thing was timed to perfection, for, as we were pulling into the tunnel, that try was in full flow to the crescendo and climax of the music, and as screen and sound faded out you could cut the atmosphere with a knife. I knew then, as we all trooped off the coach that we were absolutely ready for it; it was a great moment.”
As has already been mentioned, Mick McTigue was the person, who, from Ian’s arrival, had taken it upon himself to assist and guide the new recruit, while Ian, for his part, has always shown his mentor the greatest respect as a player.
“Micky was someone I really looked up to,” he confides. “He was just like his father, Brian who had been an international prop forward with Wigan, as hard as nails.
“He was in the same calibre as the likes of Shane Hansen, Mick Worrall, and John Pendlebury. They were all forwards, while Kieran O’Loughlin was a three-quarter in similar vein.
“Other players, who were equally good in their positions, but who had different attributes, included Martin Birkett, Steve Kerry, and Tex Evans. Mark Lee was a real quality player, who over the years played lengthy spells at hooker, loose forward, and scrum half.”
Ian’s professional playing experience, however, was not confined solely to Salford, for in 1992 he followed up his amateur county representative selection of almost ten years earlier, when he played for Lancashire, in the War Of The Roses.
“We had Sean Edwards and Bobby Goulding at half back, with Richie Eyres and Denis Betts in the second row,” he recalls, “whilst the Yorkshire team included the likes of Lee Crooks and Gary Schofield.
“Even though we lost, It was a great experience to play alongside such talented players. I can remember getting my first pass and thinking to myself that I really did have plenty of time and space to work in.
“It was a really good era to be playing the game in general, with so many quality players around. Tony Holliday, Jonathan Davies, and John Devereux, are ones who immediately come to mind.”
It is not just the high calibre of the players on the field which is etched so firmly in Ian’s memory, and made playing then so enjoyable, but also the many and varied personalities of the people inside the jersey.
“Ii now seems unbelievable some of the things we got up to in those days,” he reminisces. “People such as Steve Gibson, Paul Forber and Mark Lee were absolutely hilarious in the comments they made and the things they got up to, while Tex Evans was a star in his own right.
“On one occasion we worked out a blindside move from a scrum, which required Tex to pretend to tie his shoelace until the ball came out to his wing. When we tried it in a game, though, it failed abysmally because when I looked round for him to pass to, he was ten yards back down the field fastening up his laces.
“There are still characters in the game now, but our dressing-room was full of them then.”
In Part 4, Ian Blease Concludes His Memories With His Reflections Of The Game Back Then