RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 14 – JOHN TAYLOR PT 4

Part 4  His Later Rugby Career And Subsequent Return To Salford

Hastily arranged as John’s move to Leigh had been, when he got there, he found he settled in really quickly, and he is seen below holding the pre-season friendly, charily trophy contested annually in those days between Widnes and Leigh, similar to Salford’s Red Rose Cup annual friendly with Swinton.

John Taylor holidng a trophy

“I absolutely loved it there.  Kevin Ashcroft was the coach, and we had a really good team.”

Over the whole of his five years with them, the game he most enjoyed was turning out for the first time against Salford, who had Kenny Gill and Stevie Nash in the half backs, in a home league game at Hilton Park.

“Cliff Sayer was my scrum half partner, and we really gelled extremely well that afternoon.  I was absolutely up for the game, as I felt that it was my one chance to show just what I could do and what Salford had missed out on.  Together, Cliff and I got completely on top, early on, and maintained it right through the game, so the Salford back line never really got going, and in the end we won quite comfortably.  My first thought after the game was that if we could play like that I should have stayed and earned my place at Salford.

“The worst thing that happened, though, was, in a game against Warrington, having my cheek bone broken, which also resulted in a concussion.  My immediate reaction was to pick myself up, run after the player concerned and hit him on the back of the head.  I always could lose my temper very easily, and this time it ended up with me being locked in the changing room, having got myself into such a blaze.

“I found out afterwards that I had been sent off whilst I was in there.”

All good things eventually come to an end, and for John, his time at Leigh came to a sudden abrupt end, with a change of coach.

“Kevin Ashcroft moved on and was replace by John Mantle.  Things did not work out so well, so I decided to move on, also.”

The club which came in for him was Widnes, which had been an up-and-coming team from the mid-seventies onward before starting to accrue silverware towards the end of the decade.

“Dougie Laughton was their coach, who came to my house and told me he wanted to sign me.  I was a bit reluctant, at the time, because I knew they had Andy Gregory in their ‘A’ team, scoring three tries a week.  When I queried this with Doug, I was told that Andy wasn’t yet ready for first team rugby.

“That was all I needed to know, and I accepted the offer, because it was still a really good team.

“It didn’t turn out to be the best move I could have made, however, because, having achieved so much, the team was starting to break up, and the inception of the new Fulham Rugby League Club, became quite an attraction to many of their talented players, such as Reggie Bowden, Roy Lester, and Keith Elwell among others, who made the move south.

“Despite this they were in no hurry to promote players from the reserves, when they still had players like Mick Adams, who was a tremendous player and Eric Prescott, who had moved there from Salford, and then, in addition, a young John Myler coming through.  Even Andy Gregory was still left playing week in week out in the ‘A’ team, and there still seemed no sign of him being moved up, so there didn’t really seem to be a place at all for me.”

So, enter Salford who seemed to have had a penchant for re-signing former players, and in 1983, John became another of these, when he returned to play for a further couple of seasons.

“It was a different Salford club, though, when I came back.  Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the two seasons I had, because Kevin Ashcroft was now the coach, with whom I had built up such a good working relationship, at Leigh, so the fact that he was now in charge at The Willows was the determining factor in my returning.

“An equally important factor was that I still wanted to prove myself, and I really believe that this time I did.  I was now thirty-two, but I still had enough left in me to acquit myself well and do the job at hand to my satisfaction. 

“I continued playing right through to the 1985/6 season, when my career was eventually brought to an end, after I cracked a bone in my neck and that finished it all for me.  I don’t remember how it happened, but I just remember being flat on my back on the field, thinking I had broken my back, whilst the medical staff even thought I had broken my neck.  The game was held up for around half an hour, and, to this day, I still have to take painkillers as a consequence.”

Damaging as the injury was, it did not herald the total end of John’s career in rugby league, merely a change of direction and emphasis.

“I had already started coaching one of the young sides at Rose Bridge amateurs, and, a couple of years after finishing playing, I returned to Salford as part of the scouting team, alongside John Blackburn and David Clegg, under the direction of head scout, Albert White. 

“We each had our own areas, and I had the Wigan area, where I had been successful in picking up quite a few talented youngsters for Rose Bridge, including fullback, David Halstead, who eventually went on to Warrington, and also former SKY Sports pundit, Phil Clarke.

“Phil was only small when he was a young lad, but his talent was more than evident.  His father, Colin, was a cracking bloke and had been a hooker at Salford in the late seventies.  Sometimes though, you find that the small guys turn out to be the best because they have to develop their rugby skills to a much greater extent to be able to cope against the big blokes.  Phil later benefited from this in his professional career, by which time he had also developed physically.”

His one coaching role with a professional club was in 1992, when he was selected to take the reins at Chorley Borough.

“The current speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, was their Chairman, and he was a very good Chairman, too. If I wanted to buy a player, he would always be prepared to pay half of the fee, on the condition the other Directors would provide the other half.  They were not always as willing as he was, though.”

Settled as he was to become there, events can develop in ways you never expect, and the first of these for John, came at the end of his second season, with the chance of a better job at Leigh, where he had always been remembered with great fondness and respect.

“I had an interview with Leigh, and it really looked as if I had got the job, but then within a few days, I suffered a brain haemorrhage and was rushed to hospital.   From that point onwards rugby became a much lower priority to me, as all I wanted to get myself back to full health.”

This, thankfully, turned out to be the case, and he was able to celebrate by returning to coaching, a few years later, with Wigan St Patrick’s second team, until yet another unexpected event brought another turn for the worse.

“Believe it or not I most foolishly tried to make an on-field come-back, until part way into the game I found myself coming round in the changing room, wishing I had never bothered.  That brought everything to its conclusion, and since then I just have contented myself watching games.  I do still have an interest in the young lads coming through and enjoy watching their progress onward and upward.”

Looking back on what has been a lengthy career covering three decades, and which surely must have been one of the most wide-ranging, covering as it did, not only a fine playing career at three top clubs, but also a considerable number of off-field roles of those which were operational at that time, it is still nevertheless his spells at Salford, which stand out in his memory.

“Salford was undoubtedly the reason I grew to love rugby league and will always be extremely special to me.  They were the best team by far at the time of my first spell there, and it was a such a pleasure and brought me so much pride to have played in it among all those great players who donned the Reds’ jersey back in those days.”

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.”

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