RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 11 – ALAN GRICE (PT4)

Part 4 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER

After a decade of regular appearances in the first team, things started to take a downward turn for Alan, as new coach, Alex Murphy, looked elsewhere for his blindside front-rower, and Alan suddenly found himself with virtually no game-time.

“I was neither in the first team nor the ‘A’ team, even though I was still training with the first team, so I went to speak with him and made it clear that I just wanted to play, no matter which of the two sides I best fitted.  It seemed to make little difference and I still remained side-lined because he was looking around to replace many of the players who had been with the club for any great length of time.

“It was he, who had first given us the name of the Quality Street Gang, and he used it to refer to players of my generation as being one of those.

“I was fortunate that David Watkins had recently moved to play for Swinton, and he recommended me to them.  Moving there, at that particular time, however meant that I would have to miss out on my Salford testimonial, later in the season, but I just wanted to get back playing so I went there, and the new contract compensated me to some extent for what I had missed out on at Salford.

“I never had any regrets about doing so, because I got treated extremely well when I got there, though I had very mixed feelings when we knocked Salford out of the John Player Trophy.  Despite having left there, I still always looked to see how Salford had gone on, each week, so it was quite an uncomfortable situation, which got worse for me when I made a break to their line, and from the play-the-ball Green Vigo went over for the winning try in the corner, but I felt quite awful about it.”

Unsurprisingly therefore, he stayed for four more seasons, which gave him the magnificent professional playing career total of fourteen years, which is quite incredible for a prop forward.

“It was eventually down to a knee injury, which led to my finishing, at the age of thirty-six, because at that age I couldn’t really get over it.”

Not that it was to be an end to his links with rugby league; far from it in fact, as a whole new avenue opened up before him, at first in his home locality of St Helens, within the local amateur club set up.

“I went back to Blackbrook after I finished playing, and coached all the aspiring young coaches around the local district, to get their first step on the coaching ladder, before going onto the National coaching setup, at Loughborough.

“I also took over the coaching of the team, but despite successes on the field, and winning a number of trophies, because they were amateurs they didn’t share my whole-hearted commitment to the game.  Playing had to take its place within each person’s individual priorities in life, and that was something which I found so frustrating that I decided to finish, once the season was over.”

The news of his pending withdrawal quickly came to the ears, of Salford’s chief scout and director, Albert White, who wasted absolutely no time in contacting him.

“The very next day Albert was on the phone to me inviting me to a meeting, the following week, with the Chairman, John Wilkinson, from which I came to work alongside Albert as a scout.

“The very first person whom I drew to their attention to was Gary Connelly, and they made a strong offer to him to come to Salford, but unfortunately he hung out for more money from Saints.”

After a few years away from the club, it was to a different set-up to which Alan returned, with Andy Gregory at the helm, supported by Steve O’Neill and John Foran.

“I had played against John Foran, when he was with Widnes, and he had become a really good coach, since then, so much so that he soon took over as head coach.  After that, we would keep in touch with each other so that I knew exactly where priorities were and also keep him informed as to ensuing progress.

“One of the players I did bring in was Alan Hunte.  I had heard he hadn’t been offered a new contract at Warrington so got in touch with him to come down.  We had to swallow our pride in doing so after he had knocked us out of the Cup with a last-minute try, two or three seasons before.”

Although he no longer has the degree of input to the club that he has had over the decades now past, Alan is not only still a regular attender at all Salford home games, he is also extremely willing to fly the flag for the club in a number of other capacities.  Indeed, it was at the unveiling of The Willows Memorial on the site of the old ground, back in 2015, that his remarks at the conclusion thereof became the inspiration and catalyst to this writer, for the Rugby League’s Quality Street Gang series.

It is only fitting therefore that, the first of our seventies stars to be highlighted in this, our hundred and fiftieth anniversary season, should be Alan Grice, the player who was a mainstay of the club on the field for almost a decade, and who then returned to continue a lifetime’s contribution right through to the present day.

“For the whole of the time I was at the club I thoroughly enjoyed playing for Salford.  It was such a nice environment with really great guys who were fabulous players.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (9) – ERIC PRESCOTT PT 5

Part 5 – THE PROUD FATHER OF STEVE PRESCOTT MBE

Fondly as Eric is remembered and respected, it also has to be borne in mind that he is only one of a whole family of Prescotts, of which his uncle, Alan Prescott, was  the famous St Helens prop, who, when on international duty with Great Britain in 1958, suffered a badly broken arm, but who, because this was in the days before substitutes were allowed, chose to stay on and, despite his impediment, succeeded in helping The Lions to Test Match victory over the Australians.

“He was quite exceptional in doing that, even then, because he had absolutely no use in that arm whatsoever; it just hung there, while he had to do all his tackling with the other one.”

More recently, Eric was followed into the game by his son Steve Prescott, MBE.  As father of someone who commands such admiration as Steve does, for all that he has done, firstly as a player, and then in both his fight against his own personal illness allied to his work in raising awareness of the condition, Eric, understandably, has very mixed feelings.

“I loved helping him along as a young, up and coming, player, going along to matches with him and giving him encouragement and guidance along the way.  Probably not all my advice was as helpful as it might have been, because he was a different type of player from me, with him being predominantly a back, whereas most of my career was spent in the forwards.

“He and his older brother, Neil, used to come training with me, in their early playing days, as teenagers, when I was playing at Runcorn Highfield, and I can remember Geoff Fletcher coming to me with the suggestion of Steve’s playing on the wing, on one occasion, but I considered he was far too young for that then.  That shows, though, just how talented he was, even at that young age, but it would, nevertheless, have been really nice for us to have played alongside each other.”

Neil started out playing rugby league, but then went on to play soccer, and later rugby union, eventually becoming an Iron Man Triathlete in the fifty to fifty-four age group.  Steve, meanwhile, stuck with rugby league, signing, much to his father’s pride and joy, with St Helens.

“Like many a lad, he always wanted to try to improve on what I, as his father, had done, and he certainly got one over on me by winning his way to Wembley, in 1996, and not only winning the Cup, but also scoring two tries.  No father could have been prouder than I was, and not just on that day.

“He stayed at St Helens for four years, and also won the Regal Trophy and the First Division Championship with them, in the final season before the inauguration of Super League.  At the end of his time with Saints, he moved over to Hull, along with Alan Hunte, which made it more difficult for us to get to see his every game, though we did our best to do so.”

One remarkable similarity Steve has with his father’s career is that just as Eric returned to Salford after having played with Widnes, so Steve, returned to Hull for a second stint, having had a season away playing for Wakefield.

“He never seemed to mind who he was playing for.  So long as he was enjoying his rugby and getting good game-time he was perfectly happy, wherever he was.  He finally sustained a serious knee injury, playing for Lancashire, during his second spell with Hull, and that proved to be his final game.”

It was shortly after this, in 2006, that Steve was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and given only a matter of months to live.  Such tragic news was very hard for Eric to take.

“I just wished it could have been me because I’d had most of my life; Steve should still have had his in front of him.  It just never works like that though.”

What Steve achieved in the remaining time he had left, which proved to be considerably more than the few months originally estimated, by means of the Steve Prescott Foundation, was absolutely phenomenal, and he was awarded the MBE for his services to rugby league and charity, in the 2010 New Year’s Honours List.

“It really was phenomenal what he achieved, particularly in aid of Manchester’s Christie’s Hospital.  He loved doing it though, which, when you consider that his body by this time was well past anything like its physical peak, is incredible.  I did a marathon in four hours and ten minutes, and his immediate response was that he was going to beat that, which he did, not at the first attempt, because he was very low with the cancer at the time, but at his second attempt.”

Living with the illness he had, and all the inevitable consequences which go with it, understandably brought out a different side to Steve’s character.

“He became more open in his conversations with me, and he had a greater awareness of others, because he relied on other people for the support he needed to undertake all he was wanting to do.  The way the rugby league community rallied round was absolutely superb.  They were all totally brilliant.

“The fact that he was so actively involved in all the challenges he undertook did go some way in providing us, his parents, and Neil, his brother, with some element of comfort, that he was achieving so much.

“It’s also rewarding that the Foundation is still going strong, under the direction of his wife, Linzi, and also that since 2014, the top individual rugby league award has been known as the Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel.  In addition, the bridge leading into the Totally Wicked Stadium is named after him, which is utterly brilliant because you can never forget him, every time you go over that bridge and into the ground.

“I can’t say it was a shock, when Steve passed away in 2013 because we had seen him going downhill for a while, but it still takes some coming to terms with, because we are not ‘programmed’ for anything like this to happen.  It is just so very sad, but there are memories of him all around.  Even when I do the National Lottery each week, I can still hear him deriding my chances of winning it.  He just always wanted to be better than me.”

Eric, therefore, was the yardstick by which his remarkably splendid, younger, son, measured himself, and what greater form of flattering acknowledgement can there be, for any father.

Flashback: Salford Red Devils 21-20 Huddersfield Giants

Ahead of this weekend’s Super 8s clash with Huddersfield we look back to a memorable yet narrow victory for the Red Devils over the Giants back in 2013.
Salford went into the game bottom of the pile in Super League however caretaker coach Alan Hunte managed to mastermind an upset against a Huddersfield side who’d started the season well.
The Red Devils managed to race into a 14-6 lead in the first-half. Shaun Lunt opened the scoring but on-loan debutant Lee Gaskell raced 40 metres to put the hosts ahead before Jodie Broughton and Ashley Gibson extended Salford’s lead.
Jermaine McGillvary went over just before the break to reduce the arrears however Hunte’s men regained their lead after the interval as Jordan James forced his way over.
The Giants notched back-to-back tries in quick succession through, then Giant, Craig Kopczak and Danny Brough to draw the scores level at 20-20 going into the closing stages. Brough did have the chance to put Huddersfield ahead but his conversion came back off the post.
However, Red Devils full-back Marc Sneyd stepped up and managed to kick a one-pointer to secure a victory for Salford and helped them earn just their second win of the season.
Despite the impressive result it would be one of just six victories for the Red Devils in the 2013 Super League season while the Giants would go on to win their first ever Super League League Leaders’ Shield.
The team that day: Sneyd, Murphy, Gibson, Gaskell, Broughton; Fages, Foran; Griffin, Godwin, Neal, Ashurst, Dixon, Wild. Interchanges: James, Boyle, Owen, Nero.

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