RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 14 – JOHN TAYLOR (PT2)

Part 2  His Memories Of His First Time At Salford

John’s arrival at Salford coincided not only with his brother, Mark’s, coaching appointment to the ‘A’ team, but also coincided with the appointment of Cliff Evans as coach to the first team, whilst Les Bettinson was brought in as his assistant.

“The Salford team I had joined was absolutely fantastic, and I knew from the very outset that I had got a really big job on even to get into the first team.  I knew that I had to work with both the players and the coaches even to put myself in the position, ever, to play for them.

“As a half back, ahead of me, and in possession of the two first team half back positions, were Peter Banner (RLQSG#4) and Kenny Gill (RLQSG#10), which was the most incredible challenge for both Dave Harris, who was my half back partner, and I to have to face. 

“In the early days of my time there I was being selected at fullback, centre, and even loose forward on one occasion, in order to see where I settled in best.  I think that that is a good thing to do anyway, because it gives you an insight as to the demands of each position.  If you are a winger, for example, you want that ball, but you want it at the right moment, and in the right conditions where you can make something of the chance.”

Despite, however, the seemingly almost impossible task of unseating the pair of future internationals, currently occupying the half back roles, John did make it into the ranks of the first team on many occasions, but one, in particular, he recalls with great pride.

“Owing to an injury to Kenny Gill, I played at stand-off in the Lancashire Cup Final, at Central Park, Wigan, when we lost 6-2 against Widnes.  It was a cracking game, despite the fact that there was only one try scored, which proved to be decisive in the result.

“After the game Kenny came up to me and congratulated me on my performance, which he claimed would keep me in the side for the following week.  I knew that I had played well but it was also pleasing to have had it acknowledged by him, so, right through the next weeks’ training sessions, I was hopeful of being called up to join the first team, but it never happened.

“That was really quite deflating because it had been such a great occasion the week before.  I had especially enjoyed being greeted by all the supporters when I arrived at the ground, asking whether I was playing, and being able to say that I was and then receiving their best wishes for it, all of which sets you up to give of your best.  It was, in fact, the pinnacle of my career at Salford, and I believe it should have got me an extended run in the team.”

There are many who might have been so discouraged at this turn of events that they might have done something they later regretted, such as demanding a transfer elsewhere.  John, however, is made of sterner stuff than that, and also with a love for the club, so he just continued to work hard at his own game, being rewarded with a number of other occasional call-ups.

“Just walking out onto that field with over ten thousand fans generating so much noise in such a relatively small space, gave you the greatest high you could imagine.  The greater the noise the more you wanted to do your best for them all, and that feeling would spread right through the team.  The greatest aim was always to entertain – even possibly above winning – because it was the entertainment value that people especially wanted.  Even on the occasions we ended up losing, we always felt that we could walk off with our heads held high.

“Going into the Social Club after the game, though, was for me rather overpowering and I can’t say I really enjoyed it probably because I find being the centre of attention difficult to handle.  We had a truly magnificent team, and to be part of that squad was the main thing of all for me, and I did eventually force my way into the game day squad on a regular basis, usually as substitute.

“I really felt an actual part of the team one night after training, when Chris Hesketh invited me to join them in their regular visit to a pub in Boothstown, which I quickly accepted.  When we arrived, I was absolutely astounded to find none other than George Best sitting there; I nearly passed out.  Not only that, but alongside him were Peter Reid and Mike Summerbee.  I just felt as though Chris had taken us to the stars.

“That was around the time we won the First Division Championship for the first time, in 1972/3, and I was involved in quite a few of the games throughout that season, even if it were only a case of being on the bench.

“Every time I got an opportunity to step up to first team level, I told myself that this time I was going to nail it and secure a regular place in the side, but it just didn’t happen.  Then, much to my dismay, in 1975, they signed another player, whom I thought an average union player.  Had he been anything more than that, it would not have upset me so much when he was promptly put into the first team.

“Consequently, I handed in a transfer request, and, within two weeks, Leigh had come in with an offer.  I signed for them and went there, after having been at The Willows for a period of five years.”

Catch up on previous parts.

Part 1  His Early Rugby Career

Part 2  His Memories Of His Time With With The Team Of Stars

Part 3  He Remembers His Former Salford Teammates

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 13 – TERRY OGDEN PT 4

Part 4 He Remembers Players In The ‘Team Of Stars’

With so many big stars in the team, in the later stages of his time at Salford, Terry, understandably, finds difficulty in singling out individuals because each of them had so much to offer in their specific roles.

“Mike Coulman and Colin Dixon absolutely shone in the engine room of the pack.  Their pace was exceptional for guys of their size, which made them so difficult to stop once they had got into their stride.  I was very fond of Colin especially, as he was a really great guy.  He had a reputation of being extremely strong of physique, and you usually came off worse if you came up against him.  His presence on the field was always a considerable attribute to the team, as indeed was the case with Mike.

“With Mike it was the sheer power he possessed.  He had a low centre of gravity, which made him very difficult to knock off balance.  His legs and thighs were massive; he once split the seams of a pair of trousers he was trying on in a gentleman’s outfitter where a few of us were trying on new suits.

“Out wide, we had an abundance of pace, with Bill Burgess and then shortly after I had left, Maurice Richards.  I had, though, been impressed by Maurice when I saw him run in four tries for Wales in a rugby union international against England, at Cardiff Arms Park, and even though we never actually played together, we have since become really good friends and very much enjoy meeting up at the occasional players’ reunions to which the club invites us.

“Even at halfback, David Watkins’s speed was noteworthy, but that was also supplemented by his extremely tricky footwork, which would mesmerise defenders as they tried to bring his progress to a halt. 

“The night he made his debut against Oldham, I was on crutches, having damaged ligaments in my ankle, so was not playing.  He later told me that I had been the first person he had met on coming to Salford, and seeing me on crutches had made him wonder what on earth he had come to.

“Chris Hesketh had been little more than a fringe player when he had been at Wigan.  That was possibly because he could be a difficult player to follow, as on occasions he would run away from his support rather than keeping with it, but, from the moment he came to Salford, he seemed to progress beyond all expectations.  The environment just seemed to suit him, and with the backs amongst whom he was playing, we were able to have sufficient players backing him up to ensure there was someone nearby, whichever route he decided to take towards the line.”

In the later years of his career, Terry would be found packing down on the blindside of the scrum, whilst his fellow, openside prop, was former Oldham international, Charlie Bott.

“Charlie and I complemented each other ideally.  My strength was my skill with the ball, but my weakness was my tackling, whereas tackling was Charlie’s greatest strength. 

“As an international he had been on tour of Australia with Great Britain, in 1966, and later emigrated there when his playing career was coming towards its end.  Coincidentally, just as I was involved in the development of the social club in the sixties, I understand that Charlie, for the few months prior to his move down under, was equally involved in the construction of the then new North Stand.”

Terry’s move up front was possibly attributable to the acquisition of another former Oldham forward, Stuart Whitehead, who held the second-row position for a couple of years before moving to centre, on the arrivals of Coulman and Dixon.

“The fact that Stuart was part of that attacking line up of such speedy backs as Watkins, Hesketh, Burgess and Richards, showed the considerable pace he had as a second rower, when he first came, and he continued to hold his position in the centre until he was replaced by David Watkins’s move there from stand-off, in 1971.

One prop who actually outlasted Terry’s length of time with the club, was fans’ favourite, Jimmy Hardacre.

“Jimmy was at the club when I first arrived here, and he was still playing in the ‘A’ team when I left – in fact by then he had become captain of them, which was quite an honour when you remember just how really good that ‘A’ team was.  Coach, Ernie Critchley, thought the world of Jimmy with his hundred and ten percent endeavour in every match; he was such a wholehearted player.

“One of the best hookers we had in my time at Salford for getting the ball from the scrum was Colin Bowden, who came to us around the same time as David Evans, but who remained for only a very brief spell.

“Paul Murphy, our left winger, was the first of the really fast wingers we were to have, having come to Salford from Preston Grasshoppers.  He also turned out to be a good goalkicker, which was only discovered by chance.  Towards the end of his playing career, he was involved in working in the social club, which led, in turn, to his marrying Jill Snape, one of Brian Snape’s daughters.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 13 – TERRY OGDEN PT 2

Part 2 He Recounts The Story Of Salford’s Rebirth

Joining the club so shortly after Brian Snape had become Chairman, Terry was in the most fortunate and almost unique position of experiencing the full growth of the Salford club, following its near collapse, in 1964, right through to its first post-war Wembley appearance, six years later.

Not only that his move brought about a complete change of lifestyle for him.

“I had been a joiner at the time, pushing handcarts, which were still very much in use in those days, but when Mr Snape found out he found me another job working for his brother, Keith, who later took over from him as Chairman. 

“I became heavily involved in providing advice on a number of their building projects, one of which was The Willows Social Club, at the south end of the ground, in conjunction with Greenall Whitley’s, the Warrington-based brewery company. 

“On the field, the team was struggling in those early days, but there was always an optimism that things were going to get better.  I was always in the team, except for when Jim Mills was signed, in 1967, and I was dropped down into the ‘A’ team.”

It was to be the highly selective process of acquiring experienced and talented players over a five-year period which was to lay the foundations for a most remarkable and significant improvement in playing standards throughout the club.

“Each player added to the squad during this period, brought something significant to the team, which enhanced on-the-field performances, and a momentum developed which at one point seemed almost unstoppable.

“One of the first was Ernie Critchley, who was a centre, and then later on became ‘A’ team coach before eventually becoming manager of the Willows Social Club.  I played under a number of coaches, but I really do believe that Ernie was the best coach of them all.  Once he had taken charge, he moulded that ‘A’ team into an absolutely great side, which went two whole seasons without losing a single game, and he certainly improved my game.”

A number of the players recruited at this time turned out to be players alongside whom Terry had played, prior to coming from Salford.

“Geoff Simms was a goalkicking centre during my time at Oldham, where he was one of a number of players from Leigh, who were in that team, which was coached by future Salford coach, Griff Jenkins.  He, it was, who was responsible for bringing Geoff to The Willows, in late 1965.  On his arrival he became co-centre to another former Oldham player Vince Nestor, who had already joined Salford and cemented himself in the team.

“Bob Burdell joined us in 1966, bringing a fresh exuberance to the squad from his role at hooker.  I think his presence in the team for the ’69 Cup Final would have helped us considerably, on the day.  We really missed him as it turned out, but he got his own trip to Wembley twelve months later with Wigan.”

It was during this period of development that, at the instigation of Griff Jenkins, Terry moved from the second row to prop forward, where he became a most accomplished ball handling forward.

“We had acquired a couple of second-rowers, one of whom was Colin Dixon.  Meanwhile, prop Frank Collier, who had also joined us from Widnes in 1966 decided to retire two seasons later, and although we had already brought in Charlie Bott, another former Oldham player and prop, there was still a berth for me alongside him in the front row.

“That really boosted me because I really thought I might lose my place altogether, but taking Frank Collier’s place was a great privilege, and in my first game there – an away match at Workington – I sought to repay the faith shown in me by having a really good game, ending up scoring two tries.  Even Griff complemented me afterwards.”

As the acquisition of players proceeded, victories over opponents one would never have imagined beating, started to make everyone sit up and take note.

“Fullback, David Evans, was quite a character with us back in the days of the mid-sixties, and played very much in the style of Paul Charlton, who joined us just about the time I left.  David saved the day for us in a first round Challenge Cup replay, away at St Helens, when he won the race to ground a Saints’ kick over his own line to make the ball dead before they could get their hand to it, and we went on to win against all the odds, thanks to centre, Les Bettinson, scoring the winning try, mid-way through the second half, by ducking under a defender’s arm and going over close to the posts.

“I played in both of those games.  In the first game, at The Willows, we had been winning 5-2, with only a minute or so to go, when their left winger, Len Kileen, got clear and scored in the corner to level the scores and force the replay.

As the calibre of new players continued to improve so too the style of play started to change, but not quite in the manner that might have been expected.

“Each new signing added much to the squad but, the more who came in, the less things changed because we had already developed such a lot that they had to fit into our patterns of play.  In their individual positions, though, they always brought an improvement which progressed things along further.

“One considerable improvement was the acquisition of Bill Burgess, who during his time with Barrow had become an international, and he brought a quality to the attack, on the right wing, that caused real problems for every club to have to defend against us.

“The biggest single step forward the club ever made though was in early 1967, when Brian and Keith Snape together with Aiden Breen and I, went talent spotting at the Davenport Sevens, where a Welsh team, containing a certain David Watkins, was taking part.  You could see from the outset that he was of star quality, and, credit to them, the club lost absolutely no time in getting him signed up.

“I was living in a small cottage in Dobcross at the time, and David and his wife, Jane, came to live with us for a while.  In fact, they did look to try to find a property they liked in the area but never found anything that took their fancy and eventually ended up relocating to Wilmslow.

“It was his signing for the club which turned out to be so crucial, for although there had been a number of other impressive signings, not least future Great Britain captain Chris Hesketh and David’s former union half back partner, Bob Prosser, none carried quite the impact that our acquisition of David carried.

“Alan McInnes had been a union county fly-half, who was in possession of the stand-off position with us until David arrived, and he then moved to centre, which, remarkably, is exactly what was to happen with David a few years later.”

With so many such players on an almost continual move to The Willows, those who had been there for some time were always under threat of being replaced, and Terry was no different from anyone else, in this respect.

“I was always looking over my shoulder to check on who might be coming to take over my place in the team, and that did happen a few times in that period.  The signing of Jim Mills in 1968 led to my dropping down into the ‘A’ team, but in the long run that proved to be a blessing in disguise, because Ernie Critchley so intensified me during that period, that when Big Jim moved on after only a few months, I came back and believe that I played my best rugby in that ensuing period.”

It was his undoubted ball-handling skills that, at this point, became so crucial to the Salford attack, as he worked to prise open defences with his beautifully timed passes, which frequently put the receiving player through for tries.

“Ball-handling was my main attribute, and it was because of this, and certainly not my speed, that I made it into the seven-aside team, which had become quite a hallmark of the club in those days, with regular tournaments both pre-, and post-, season at Wigan and Leeds.  There was even a mid-season, televised sevens competition run by the BBC, which featured solitary fixtures on a weekly basis on a Tuesday evening.

“The tactic we used in those games was that I would draw two or three defenders in to tackle me and then slip the ball out to a supporting player to exploit the space that it provided him.  It did work quite a bit of the time, but not always.”

Playing alongside such pacey, talented players, who played at such a tremendous speed – particularly in sevens – unsurprisingly sharpened his own ball handling skills.

“It was just the fact that one or other of them got themselves there to receive the ball.  If no-one else is on the same wavelength as you, you are left standing there on your own, looking rather foolish.  Certainly, the more skilled players you have around you, the better chance you have of showing off your own skills.

“Scrum half, Jackie Brennan was someone who was always there to receive the ball and we worked rather well together. It even worked the other way round at times, too.”

Brennan had joined the Reds in 1961 from Blackpool Borough, for a then club record amount of £5,000, and despite all the difficulties the club had in the following two or three years he remained loyal to Salford through the whole decade, thereafter.  If there were one player around whom the team of stars was built, therefore, it must most assuredly have been he.

 “Jackie was the lynchpin in the team, throughout the whole of this time, and he was also the joker in the squad.  He was such a good scrum half, though when he first joined Salford it was as stand-off with the scrum half slot in the hands of Terry Dunne. 

“In those days you would start your career as a number six, and then as you began to lose your speed, you would move to scrum-half as an organiser from the play-the-ball.  Of course, nowadays, that role is undertaken by the hooker, which stands to show just how much the game has changed over the years.”

The peak of his time with Salford was, undoubtedly, being involved in the club’s return to Wembley, on 17th May 1969, their first post-war visit, but, to a certain extent, it also proved to be something of a swan song for him.

“I didn’t play a great deal after that.  I don’t know whether it was the disappointment at the outcome of the Final, but things were definitely changing.  For example, Griff Jenkins was replaced as coach by Cliff Evans, who was obviously coming in with other ideas, and I seemed to fall out of favour somewhat.  I could see the end was coming.

“The lead up to the Final, though, was great.  Manchester City had played in the FA Cup Final the week before, and there was such enthusiasm throughout the whole area that both Cups could be coming back here.

“We had been very fortunate to have had three home ties against Batley, Workington, and Widnes before facing Warrington in the semi-final at Central Park, Wigan.  From the outset, I was still very much aware of what had happened to me in my first season at Huddersfield, when we had been knocked out by Whitehaven in the first round, having won the Cup itself the year before, so even against Batley there was some caution there, but we were still reasonably confident.

“The home draw against Workington was crucial in our proceeding further, because had the fixture entailed a trip to Cumberland, as it then was, it would have been a different kettle of fish.  I remember the Widnes match particularly well, because I had quite a good game, and was involved in a couple of our tries. 

“Of course, for the semi-final there was no home advantage, and the competitiveness of that match was enhanced by the inclusion of two of our ex-players, loose forward Arthur Hughes and hooker Len McIntyre, who had joined us from Warrington and then returned there.  It certainly did not turn out to be as easy as we had thought it would be, but nevertheless we got the job done and got to Wembley.”

TRIBUTE TO DAVID WATKINS MBE

Everyone at Salford Red Devils is so greatly saddened at the news of the passing of one of its greatest icons in the history of the club, David Watkins MBE, aged 81.  Frequently as superlatives are often attributed, David fully warranted every single one ever used about him, rising to become a dual international in both rugby league and rugby union.

Heralding from South Wales, he quickly developed, to play 202 top-flight union matches with Newport, going on to gain his first representative honours with Wales, for whom he played on twenty-one occasions, together with a further six for the British Lions, all in his recognised position of fly-half.

His move to join Salford in 1967 absolutely transformed what, at the time, was an up-and-coming team into one of the top sides in the league, certainly in the entertainment stakes, if not in the winning of trophies.  Such was the esteem in which he was held throughout the country that, upon his signing, the attendance of 3,500 at The Willows, for the previous week’s game v Castleford, rose to an incredible 10,500 for his home debut against Oldham, the following Friday, as sports fans travelled from all around the north-west, to witness it, and he did not disappoint, turning in a try-scoring performance after only two training sessions with the team.

Within eighteen months of joining Salford, he was leading the team out at Wembley, as captain, in the 1969 Challenge Cup Final v Castleford, having defeated Batley, Workington Town, Widnes, and Warrington, along the way.  Although the trophy was eventually lifted by their Yorkshire opponents, Salford’s very presence on that great stage was evidence of the significant development, of which David had been a catalyst, within the team, in the interim.

Successes in other finals, such as the Lancashire Cup Final over Swinton in 1972 and the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy Final replay over Warrington, in 1975, eventually came as some tangible reward.  Sandwiched in between those two was the winning of the club’s first major post-war trophy, the First Division Championship for the 1973/4 season, under his captaincy, which they then repeated two seasons later in 1975/6, after he had relinquished the captaincy to Chris Hesketh, but with his then becoming the league’s leading points scorer for that season.

Such was his talent on a rugby field that it superseded anything required for any one position so that over his ten-year tenure, in 1971 he moved from his initial stand-off half berth to centre, and then in 1974 to fullback.  It was in the centre, however, where he made his greatest contribution, revelling in the greater spaces that the position afforded him, and he repaid the club by notching a total of 30 tries in his very first season, ‘71/2, in that position.

It was in a match against Barrow, in December 1972, that he came on at centre from the substitute’s bench, ten minutes from time, to score the fastest hat-trick of tries – within 5 minutes – in any game, to that time.  His first international representation came against England in November 1968 at The Willows, and he went on to be selected for international duty with Great Britain on 6 occasions, and Wales 16 times, both of whom he later coached.

Individual records needed to be rewritten for him, as one after another was broken.  In the 1972/3, he kicked a world record of 221 goals in a single season and during the period from 19th August 1972 to 25th April 1974, he established the longest running record of scoring in every one of 92 consecutive club matches with 41 tries and 403 goals bringing him 929 points.

In 1979, after making his final appearance for Salford, in an away match at Rochdale Hornets on 1st April, he transferred to Swinton, where he spent a further season, before retiring having amassed a total of 2907 points..  In 1986 he was awarded the MBE for services to rugby league, and more recently, in December 2022, he was inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame.

Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends at this really sad time.

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 11 – ALAN GRICE (PT 3)

Part 3 –HE REMEMBERS HIS SALFORD TEAMMATES AND COACHES

Of all the star players within the Salford side throughout the seventies, the first player Alan picks out, to pay tribute to, was another prop forward he played alongside in his early days, Terry Ogden.

“Terry had been a regular in the first team, and had propped, along with Charlie Bott, at Wembley, but he had started to play in the reserves by the time I arrived.  He had always been a very clever ball handler, and had lost none of this skill, even then.  He was an extremely likeable and amiable guy, and helped me a lot with various aspects of playing in the loose.

“He showed me how much easier it was if you ran at the outside individual, in a group of three or four players, because you could rotate and spin round in the tackle to get the ball out to someone coming up on the outside.  I’d always run at the middle one, before he drew this to my notice.”

Fullback, Paul Charlton (RLQSG#8), impressed Alan not only with high level of skill and talent, but also with his incredible fitness level.

“On one occasion, he arrived having run all the way there to then take part in the session.  He would have run home, too, but he had taken a bit of a knock in the match before, so I ended up having to drive him home.”

Paul was a joiner by trade, and his fitness level, showed itself to Alan, even through that.

“He used to get me work on occasions, but when he did I always ended up having to explain to the bosses that there was no way I could work at the rate that Paul could produce things, because that was all down to his incredible fitness.  I think he could have stayed at Salford a bit longer than he did, and he would have continued to contribute so much to the team, had he done so.”

Both Paul, and prop Graham McKay, were Cumbrians by birth, but both apparently had different attitudes to their native county.

“Paul absolutely loved Cumbria, and to a certain extent pined to be back there, whereas Graham really had no fondness for it at all.   It was the lure of his home county that was the catalyst in Paul’s returning back there, so soon.”

There was no doubt in his mind just where the absolute strength within the team lay.

“Colin Dixon was incredible.  He could side-step off either foot, had great pace, and considerable strength – everything you would want in a rugby player.  He and Mike Coulman (RLQSG#1) were a tremendous pairing in the second row.  Mike, for his size, was incredibly fast and his size and speed together made him almost unstoppable at times.

“We were also fortunate to have two really good half-backs in Peter Banner (RLQSG#4) and Kenny Gill (RLQSG#10), and then later, Gill partnering with Stevie Nash, though that did not work quite as well as had been expected.  Steve was more like an extra forward, whereas Banner had been a better passer of the ball, and as one of the players who was used as first receiver, I knew first hand just how good he was.”

The one problem area throughout the period was that of hooker, and there was a succession of players brought in, in the hope of solving the problem.  Probably the most successful of these was Peter Walker, but even his tenure was brought to a premature conclusion by injury.

“The most important part of a hooker’s role was getting the ball from the scrum, and Peter was first rate at this, with a strike rate of well over fifty percent.  Then out of the blue we lost him after he had a very bad leg break, caused by somebody stamping on it, as he put it across a scrum, whilst trying to rake the ball.  It was damaged so badly that it finished his career.

“Ellis Devlin was a great player, particularly in the loose.  He was a quick passer and fast runner, and now that raking the ball is no longer the vital part of the hooking role that it was back then, Ellis would have been absolutely outstanding in this day and age; the modern game would have really suited him.

”From that point on, there was a succession of players brought in but they seldom lasted more than a couple of seasons, and at one point even I was put there to fill the gap, which I was happy to do, and did quite well in winning possession for us in my first match.”

It was not only the quality of the players which was so instrumental in the success of the team, but also the quality of the coaches, and Alan was fortunate enough to have played under a number of them, including some former teammates, including Chris Hesketh and Colin Dixon.  From all of these, however, it was Cliff Evans, whom he picks out as being the real standout leader among them all.

“Cliff was a marvellous coach who understood rugby inside out.  He always instilled into the players the importance of supporting the player on the break.  He always expected it of both wingers in particular to be up with everyone of these.

“He would draw up the outline plan of a scripted move but would then leave it up to the players to take it on from there.  Kenny Gill would always add his ideas into it and would also come up with a few of his own because he was really good at spotting weaknesses in the opposition’s line, such as a defender limping back to get into position.

“Cliff was particularly good at accepting information from other people around him and that was crucial in his getting the team to gel well together.  On my promotion to the first team, he arranged for Charlie Bott to sit with me on the bench, in order for me to gain his insight and greater experience for my role in the team.

“Charlie had been an international with Great Britain and was a mine of information as he had been packing down all his life.  I found everything he said extremely helpful, and it was like having my own mentor alongside me.

“As a consequence of that, he took me under his wing and tried to look after me.  He even tried to get the pair of us the additional bonuses which all the contracted players used to get, though without much success on that particular occasion.

“He emigrated to Australia in 1971, but in the six months prior to his going, he left his profession of metallurgist, and worked on the building of the brand new, North Stand.  Then in his final Salford game, against Halifax, in the last match of the 1970-71 season, he took the final conversion of the afternoon from in front of the posts, to score the only goal of his career, by kicking it over bar into the stand he had just spent six months working on.”

One player whom it could be easy to overlook is still remembered fondly by Alan.

“Tony Colloby had made his name in the mid-sixties, as a centre, with first Whitehaven and then Workington before moving to Blackpool.  When, our right winger, Bill Burgess, was side-lined with a shoulder injury Tony was drafted in to take over from him, which he did for a couple of seasons until Keith Fielding was signed.  Tony was a really talented player, who showed he could adapt to virtually any position in the backs, and he stayed with us for a further couple of seasons before going to Barrow.

“He was part of a backline that would more than match any other, either then or since.  Maurice Richards was such a talented winger and rugby player, who could make a try out of very little, while Keith Fielding (RLQSG#6) was the fastest in the game.

“On one occasion, I was questioned by an uncle of mine as to why I had passed up a try scoring opportunity by giving the ball to Keith to score.  He very quickly understood my reasoning when I pointed out to him that Keith had grounded the ball under the posts, whereas I would have had to struggle to have got over in the corner.

“Centres, Chris Hesketh and David Watkins both had spells as our captain, with Chris going on to become captain of the international side.  As a centre, he was quite unconventional and consequently really difficult to defend against, while David was just a star, wherever he played though centre was possibly his best position also.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 11 – ALAN GRICE (PT 2)

Part 2 – HIS PLAYING CAREER WITH SALFORD

As with all up and coming players, there were a number of hurdles which Alan Grice had to overcome, in his endeavours to become a professional player, before a contract of any kind was forthcoming.  These included playing a set number of trial games, and, in the run up to that, undertaking a series of training sessions, in preparation.   Alan’s induction into the team at his first training session involved a meeting with the renowned former Wigan, Widnes, and Great Britain prop, Frank Collier.

“He was a massive fellow, and he had an equally big reputation.  We were all sent off to start with a couple of laps round the pitch, but as we were about to start, he came up to me to inform me that it would be in my best interest to finish after he had done, as he didn’t want to be last.  Comparing the difference in our sizes, I was only too happy to oblige, and so contentedly jogged round behind him.

“He was a formidable player and had brought to the Salford team a presence on the field which ensured respect from every opponent, at that time.”

Alan’s last trial game was in the Final of the Lancashire Shield, against Swinton, at Swinton, which Salford unfortunately lost.

“Swinton were a good side in those days, but so too were Salford, which made it a really closely fought game.  Neutral venues were not used for ‘A’ team finals and so the home advantage Swinton had, helped them to their win.”

Playing in the Salford ‘A’ team in the late sixties and early seventies brought with it a status quite of its own, with Friday evening crowds often in excess of a thousand, because word soon got round that the rugby this side played was also of an extraordinarily high quality.  Indeed, the players were well incentivised to do so with a number of bonuses on offer, as encouragement.

Promotion to the first team came in his winning debut against Featherstone Rovers, at The Willows, in October 1970.

“It came earlier than I expected, but the  coach, Cliff Evans, spent a lot of time coaching individuals, and I had benefitted from that.  When we played our pre-season friendly, he had included a number of the newcomers, including me, in the squad.  He clearly had everything under control in everything he did.

“He was the thinking man’s coach because he knew exactly what he wanted.  He was a schoolteacher, by profession, and this showed through in the way he spoke to, and handled, his players.  He had been at Swinton, before coming to Salford, so he already had a good deal of coaching experience behind him, and that helped too.

“All the moves he taught us were ones he had worked at Swinton, but as other teams came to recognise them, they started to produce these themselves, only with different names by which to identify them.”

It was Cliff, in fact, who recognised Alan’s potential as a front rower.

“He was a little unsure, at the outset, as to which position best suited me, but after a short while decided that I would make a prop, and he selected me on the bench a few times, to gain experience, alongside Charlie Bott and, occasionally, Colin Dixon.

“Scrummaging was a great factor in the game, because back then scrums were keenly contested, and getting possession for you team at each one was absolutely vital.  Just how you stand and how you distribute your weight when packing could help your hooker get an earlier strike at the ball.  Similarly, the angle at which you packed down by turning slightly was another way of gaining him an advantage.”

“The really special thing about the Salford club was the friendliness of the whole place, and the good spirit among all the players, which always helped us in our games, and which also contributed to the longevity of our careers, either here, at Salford, or elsewhere.”

The role Alan undertook within the team was to be that of first receiver from dummy-half, at each play-the-ball.

“They had me as the link between the two half-backs.  Peter Banner (Rugby League’s Quality Street Gang #4) had an exceptionally long and accurate pass, and I then had the role of sending the ball on to Kenny Gill (RLQSG#10), which gave him a bit of extra space he found of benefit in organising an attack.  David Watkins and Chris Hesketh, outside him, then, had even more space in which to operate, so that our backline became absolutely phenomenal.

”They had one particular move, known as ‘Torquay’, from which they scored every time.  It involved Charlton coming on a dummy run with the ball actually going out to either Watkins or Hesketh, via Gill, and ending up with the centre concerned going in, under the posts.”

Not that the forwards were totally excluded from the attacking moves, and Alan, himself, was involved in some of these.

“One was based on the back row pair of Mike Coulman (RLQSG#1) and Colin Dixon, who were used as foils in order to prise an opening for one of us props to go through.  Although everyone would have the right to call a move, it was always Gill who would have the final say in this.

It was however the bonhomie within the side which Alan feels was the most significant factor which cemented them together, as a group.

“We all did quite a lot of socialising together and enjoyed one another’s company, which was so beneficial to our success as a team.  Much of that was down to our Chairman, Brian Snape.  He was such a decent person, and whenever it turned out that we didn’t have a game, we would have a weekend’s training away at an hotel in Cheshire, Mottram Hall, which he owned.  I would room up with Mike Coulman, who worked for the Chairman.”

During his total of ten years at the club, Alan was involved in many of the successes of that period, not least winning of the Lancashire Cup, in 1972, the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy in ’73, and the First Division Championship in both 1973/4 and ‘75/6.

“I still have all the medals from those occasions.  We were unlucky not to have won more, because we played in four Lancashire Cup Finals, but won only the one.  We were really close in all the others, with us ending up only a couple of points behind the opposition.

“One of them was against Widnes which they won 6-4, at Wigan, and even though they beat us, we played really well that day.  Some days you just don’t get the luck you need to win through.

“The games which stood out most to me were the two Floodlit Cup Finals, with a replay away at Warrington on an absolutely dreadful night, after we had fought out a nil-nil draw at The Willows the week before.   Even though no-one scored in that first match, it was a great game, with the tackling of both teams being extremely high in calibre.

“Warrington were certainly favourites for the replay, because they had a really good pack with the likes of Kevin Ashcroft hooking for them, which was always going to ensure them a good supply of possession.

“I remember standing outside the ground with the water level rising and rising, quite convinced it would be called off, but then Eddie Waring walked in and told us we needed to get changed because the game was going to be on.  It was only played because it was on TV.

“It was alright for the first half hour, but after that it was just a quagmire.  It was very much a forwards game in those conditions and the forwards tackled every bit as well as they had done the week before.  We were fortunate that we scored fairly early in the game, after Watkins had made a good break, because after that you just couldn’t run on it.”

As something of a break from normal league and cup fixtures the Reds were often chosen to play warm up games against touring sides.

“I really enjoyed playing against the tourists, and we had some really good matches against them.  In one of them New Zealand were ahead 28-0 at half time but we ended up winning 30-28.   Then on another occasion, we played against the Ausie touring team, and they won it with a try in the last couple of minutes.

“Those games were at a different level from the norm, being so much faster and much more intense, not to mention our coming up against the strength of the individuals involved.

“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, and because of that we were able to win so many matches.  We would no sooner come to an end of one winning run having unexpectedly lost to somebody, than we would start yet another possibly even longer run still.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG – KEN GILL (PT3)

Part 3 – HE REMEMBERS SOME OF HIS FORMER SALFORD TEAMMATES

Within that team full of stars there were a number for whom Ken had special regard for their exceptional talent and how also that affected his own levels of performance.  The first of these was his fellow half-back partner from his time in the ‘A’ team, Peter Banner (Rugby League Quality Street Gang #4)

“I was very fortunate to have Peter Banner as my scrum half.  We had developed a really good understanding of each other in the ‘A’ team, and we took that directly into the first team.  The service he gave me from the base of the scrum, or from dummy half, was outstanding and that gave me so many opportunities to set up attacks.

“Stevie Nash, when he came, was much more of an individualist, almost like an additional forward, and I missed the on-field relationship I had always had with Peter.  Peter wasn’t without pace himself, either; he used to follow me around and I’d drop the ball off to him and he would shoot off.

“I was really disappointed, when he was transferred to Featherstone; all the more so, when I was moved to scrum-half for a few matches, with Chris Hesketh taking over at stand-off.  It was the only time in the whole of my career that I played scrum-half and I really did not enjoy it.

“The backs were the real strength of the team, mainly, but not entirely, due to their speed.  The likes of Keith Fielding (RLQSG #6) and Maurice Richards ensured that whenever they were put through the line, they would score.  With Keith it was just sheer out and out pace, but Maurice had other additional facets to his game.

“I often used Keith’s pace, off the ball, to put him over for tries by means of short, angled, grubber kicks behind the opposition, into his corner.  Nowadays, the short kicking game is quite prolific, but back then it was much more unusual.  I had developed mine from quite a young age, from having watched older players and the tricks they used to do

“Chris Hesketh in the centre was an incredible player.  Rather like me, his will to win was most intense, so he and I, after training, would go to the Greyhound for a drink and then we would sit down and plan how we were going to beat the following week’s opposition.  We would work out which moves would be most likely to be effective against them.

“He was no orthodox centre, which made him all the more difficult to defend against, and he was unbelievably strong, owing to the amount of time he spent on the weights.  He did more than anybody else, including the forwards whose job it was to provide this.

“As captain, not only of Salford but also the international side, his personality was ideal, because he was so likeable and also extremely articulate.”

“Paul Charlton (RLQSG #9) at the back, was tremendous.  His acceleration was incredible, and he could keep that pace up for the length of the field.   He was a really great player, and an equally great fellow to have around the club.  The only drawback to him was being able to understand him, because his Cumbrian accent was difficult to follow.”

Paul’s return to Cumbria saw the signing of another international half back, John Butler (RLQSG #2), who took over, not at stand-off but in the centre, which then allowed David Watkins to move to fullback, to replace Charlton.

“John was built like a second rower, but played most of his rugby for us, as centre.  Despite his size, he was still most speedy, and that was beneficial to Keith Fielding on the wing.  The three of us gelled very well together, on that right flank.  I instilled into them both, to watch what I was doing, because that was their clue as to what they needed to do themselves.

“There was many a time that the opposition would be drawn into tackling me, only to find that I had put first John into the clear, and that he had then passed on to Keith to romp in under the sticks.”

Besides boasting a back line of internationals, there was also some considerable talent within the pack, not least in the back three, where Ken singles out Colin Dixon as someone who was most special to the team and the club.

“It wasn’t just what he did on the field, it was also his contribution to the ethos of the team within the club.  He was really articulate, and always had a well thought out view, to put forward.  Everyone listened when he spoke; he was always good company and interesting, and we all had some great times with him.

“On the field he was incredible.  His speed for someone of his size was exceptional, and once he was in the clear there were very few who were able to catch him.   He also ran with power, and, although he was not as big as Mike Coulman (RLQSG #1), he was every bit as strong.  He was absolute class, because he too had the vision as to the best plays to use at various times.”

Prop forward, John Ward, had played most of his career for Castleford, including against Salford in the Wembley Challenge Cup Final, before moving to Salford, two years later.

“I didn’t play many games alongside John, but I was really taken with his slight-of-hands skill.  He would almost stroll up with the ball, before sending out a slick pass that opened up a gap for the recipient to coast through.  He was such a talented player, in this respect.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (9) – ERIC PRESCOTT PT 3

Part 3 – HE REMEMBERS SOME OF HIS FORMER SALFORD TEAMMATES

The strong camaraderie, which existed throughout his time at the Willows, manifested itself in many ways over the seasons.

“John Butler (RL Quality St Gang #2), Bill Sheffield (RL QSG #7) and I, all lived in St Helens, and we had all played for Saints before ending up at Salford, so we did all our travelling together, both to training and matches.  We all got on really well together, and the friendships which developed between us have continued ever since.

“We would get to The Willows, on a Friday evening at around quarter to seven, in readiness for the seven-thirty kick off.  With only around half an hour in which to get ready, you were out on the field before you had had time to think about what was happening.

“After the game you’d go back into the club and meet spectators who would come up to you for a chat.  It was like a family, all with the same motive. All the players used to enjoy this, and they would all talk to people at some length, because the fans were always so complimentary.”

Unbelievably, despite all of this attention that they all received, Eric insists that none of them ever felt in any way like the stars, which was how all of the supporters truly regarded them.

“To us, it was just a case of each one had had a job to do, and we had just got it right.  We didn’t claim to have anything more than that.  The most crucial thing to us was that this was a team game, and everybody just got on well together.  The involvement of the spectators, after the game, was just an extension of this.  We even got requests to go along to amateur clubs or youth teams to present awards to their players, which was also really enjoyable.”

In common with many of his colleagues, Eric subscribes to the view that the redoubtable Colin Dixon was one of the mainstays of the team, at that time.

“Although he was without doubt a gentleman, he was an extremely good player.  Whenever you looked at a newspaper report of any of our matches, Colin was always mentioned; that was how good he was.

“He was also good at explaining himself well.  I was a bit more reticent in speaking up, but Colin had such an assuredness that he was always willing to put his suggestions forward for people to consider.”

Alongside Colin in the pack was his second-row partner, Mike Coulman (RLQSG #1), who was to move up to prop, shortly after Eric’s arrival on the Salford scene.

“Mike was a mountain of a player, and he was so powerful; his legs were immense.  Opponents were totally in awe of him.”

Although fullback, Paul Charlton (RLQSG #8), returned to his native Cumbria a couple of seasons after Eric joined the club, they played together long enough for Eric to enjoy the opportunity of having such a skilful player in the side.

“His speed and his fitness were exceptional, and he could accelerate so quickly from an almost standing start.  He was also really tough, as are many people from that part of the country.  Tony Gourley, who played in the second row for us, was equally so.

“As a loose forward I would have to do a lot of covering across the field when we were defending, and so that provided me with many occasions on which I could do nothing but marvel at the way that Paul would seem to come from nowhere to effect last-ditch, try-saving tackles on wingers who were convinced that they were on their way to a score.  He just had that off to a tee.”

Another remarkably tough individual was the centre who went on to captain not only the Salford side, but also Great Britain, Chris Hesketh,

“Chris’s defence was uncompromising.  When he tackled a player, they knew about it, and he became a very good captain for us.  He not only would talk to people to reassure them, ahead of the game, he would do what he could to help you out, and then give you encouragement during it.  He certainly helped a lot of young players who came into the side. I would say he was the best captain I ever played under.

“His running style, with an incredible sense of balance, was such that it really confused opponents, and his hand-off was so powerful and effective that, all-in-all, it made him so difficult to tackle.  He just seemed to have everything you could possibly want in a player.”

Alongside Chris in the three-quarter line were some of the fastest players in the game, including David Watkins, who had been club captain, immediately prior to Chris.

“David was of a very similar style, as captain, and really eloquent in the way he put his points across. Keith Fielding (RLQSG #6), on the wing, just had out and out speed, and he used to put himself in a position to get on the end of a break from the likes of John Butler, or myself, to score try after try.

“Maurice Richards, on the other wing, was a quite different style of player.  He would just run at people and then, at the last minute, deploy his remarkable footwork to wrong-foot them and sweep past them.

“Everything on attack, though, used to come from Kenny Gill, at halfback.  We were well off for stand-offs, because John Butler was an international stand-off, but he played at centre for us, which was really good because he could read a game extremely well.  With so many former rugby union players in the side, he gave the team the stability that it needed at times of pressure, because, like Kenny, he had played league all his life.”

Another quite long-serving of the many second-row forwards of that period to play for Salford was John Knighton, who had come from rugby union into the ‘A’ team, and subsequently the first team, where he became a regular in the starting line-up.

“He was a really good player, was John, and, once he had secured an opportunity to play in the first team, he kept his place.  He did a considerable amount of tackling and grafting, which often does not get recognised on the terraces as much as wingers racing through to score tries.  As players, we just turn up to play in the way we are told, and then at the end of the week that is what we get paid for.  So, we forwards had to make the chances to get the ball out to the backs for them to score tries.

“Out of the whole time I was there, the player with whom I was most friendly, was centre, Frank Wilson.  We had known each other whilst we were at St Helens, and then rekindled our friendship, when Frank came to Salford in 1979.  We played in the Centenary game together, against Widnes.”

Over his first period with the club, Eric played, in the main, under the direction of two coaches, Cliff Evans and then Les Bettinson.

“They were both extremely good coaches, and in much the same style as each other.  Everything was kept interesting for us because they varied things so much.  In addition, they were both extremely approachable and had a good relationship with the players.  If something was going wrong, we would talk it out calmly and sensibly, there was none of the bawling and storming that used to go on with coaches at other clubs.

“When Les eventually decided to finish, Alex Murphy was one of a number of coaches who came in to try their hand with us.  I was absolutely made up for the club that we had been able to get someone of his rugby league stature, and he had done so well with both Leigh and Warrington.”

Over the years he was in the game, Eric won a total of six medals, whilst with Salford, but the one he really wanted, which was, of course, the Challenge Cup winner’s medal, eluded him, until eventually he went to Wembley as a Widnes player and helped them to lift the cup, to get even that one.

The success of the team, throughout the seventies, in his view, was thanks, in part, to the great team spirit that existed throughout the whole squad.

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (7) – BILL SHEFFIELD PT 3

                       Part 3 – HE REMEMBERS HIS SALFORD TEAMMATES

Despite his two periods with Salford covering almost a decade, it is perhaps unsurprising that the players who most readily come to Bill’s mind are those who played alongside him during his first spell at the club.

“I can honestly say that that Salford side was the fastest team I have ever played in.  It is claimed to be a much faster game today than it was back then, but, believe me, that team would probably beat the majority of the present day sides.  They were just so fast, not just of foot but of thought too.

“Kenny Gill certainly wasn’t the most fleet of foot, but he was by far the quickest thinker.  He was doing things long before anyone else realised what was afoot.  He certainly had a great rugby brain on him.

“Chris Hesketh was lightning quick, and had a side-step to go with it.  He was also strong, and, off the field, was the most comical of people.”

A variety of hookers turned out for the Reds over a short period of only a few seasons, before moving on or finishing their career.  One such was Peter Walker.

“Peter was an extremely good hooker, who, in the days of contested scrums could rake the ball with consistency.  I knew his brother Malcolm Walker, who played for St Helens, from my time there, very well.  Sadly, Peter’s career was brought prematurely to an end when he broke his leg.

“By contrast, his understudy in the ‘A’ team was another St Helens lad, Ellis Devlin, who was equally good in the loose, and in today’s game would have revelled in the role.  Unfortunately, the necessity to ensure a steady supply of the ball took precedence over that, and so Ellis was restricted to occasional call ups to the first team.

“Dickie Evans, my former work colleague, was another player to secure the hooking role for a couple of seasons, and it was great to link up with him again after all the years.”

Undoubtedly, of all the players in the team over that era, the absolute stalwart among them, from his teammates’ perception, appears to have been Welsh international forward, Colin Dixon, and Bill, too, has very fond memories of him.

“Colin was always someone who would talk to you.  It would be frowned upon in this present day, but back then, after training a group of us would all go for a drink and a chat together.  Colin was one of us, and it was in that environment I began to notice his dry sense of humour which was really quite funny.

“He had a pub in Halifax, and whenever we played over there we would call in, on our way back, and then Colin would take on the role of host and look after everybody.

“He actually became coach, towards the end of his career, for a brief spell, during which we played an away match, at Warrington.  For some reason, we all seemed quite lethargic during the first half, and when we got into the dressing-room he shut the door and delivered a few home truths, followed by the challenge to do something about it, which we did by turning the game around and winning.

“It was the way he had addressed the players, though, in such an adult fashion, which invoked the desire and determination within each of us, for make no mistake about it, Warrington were a really good side at that time, and to go there and win was a real achievement.”

Right winger, Keith Fielding (Quality St Gang No 6), was another person who earned Bill’s respect both on, and off, the field.

“As far as speed was concerned, though, they didn’t come any faster than Keith and once he was in the clear, there was no-one going to stop him.

“Off the field, he too was a friendly chatty bloke, who always had time for you, and he certainly knew how to tell a story.  On one occasion, while travelling to an away match, he had Eric [Prescott] and me completely bewildered by a card trick, which seemed impossible, until we found out that he was getting signals from behind us, from Dickie Evans.”

With both of them hailing from, and living in, St Helens, and also having played together at Rochdale, before signing together on the same day for Salford, it would be most surprising if John Butler had not been one of the players of whom Bill has long and numerous memories.

“When he moved from Keighley to join Rochdale, we were all quite surprised, because we already had a couple of good halfbacks, but he slotted in really well, and within six months of joining, he was selected to play for Great Britain, and went on tour with them.

“He had a really nice sidestep and was very quick over thirty or forty yards, both of which made him ideal as a centre because of course, as a stand-off – and an international one at that – his handling skills were excellent.”

Bill also recalls a couple of other three-quarters, who, in any other side would have had far more first team opportunities than they ever had alongside the star-studded Salford pack line.  Gordon Graham was a rugby union convert who was brought to the club by his former schoolteacher, who, by then, had taken over the reins as Salford coach, Les Bettinson.

Gordon, who had been signed as a centre, played on the wing just as much as he did there, but more often than not had to be content with a place on the bench, which in those days often meant that he remained there for the whole game, as was the case with fellow three-quarter, Tony Redfern, whose signature was so sought after by the whole of the league that Salford had to sign him on his sixteenth birthday.

With David Watkins successfully making the transition to fullback, ‘A’ team fullback Frank Stead, a native of Widnes, whom Bill readily brings to mind, was another player who also had to be satisfied with only occasional outings in the number one jersey.

Willows Wall | Chris Hesketh makes the wall

Salford Red Devils double Championship winner from the 1970’s, Chris Hesketh is the fourth name on the ‘Willows Wall’ Heritage Team after narrowly edging out 1938 Challenge Cup winner Gus Risman.  
Hesketh made a mammoth 443 appearances for Salford scoring 128 tries adding up to 384 points. He joined Salford from hometown club Wigan for £4,000 and would play his first Salford game against his former side.
The legendary centre featured in the 1969 Challenge Cup final defeat to Castleford but would enjoy success with the Red Devils in the 1970’s as he was a part of the Championship winning sides of 1974 and 1976.
Hesketh also won a Lancashire Cup winners medal and a Floodlit Trophy medal in his time with Salford. He proudly captained the side from 1974 until his final game on May 13th, 1979 at St Helens.
The former international was awarded in the 1976 New Years Honours list when he was handed an M.B.E. Hesketh’s story is all that more remarkable as he contracted polio at the age of seven and spent twelve months in hospital.
The voting results in full are as follows:
Chris Hesketh – 38.20%
Gus Risman – 37.58%
Peter Williams – 10.56%
Nathan McAvoy – 9.32%
Kris Tassell – 2.17%
David Stephenson – 1.55%
James Lomas – 0.62%
Emlyn Jenkins – 0.00%
Bob Brown – 0.00%
John Cheshire – 0.00%
 
If you’d like to get your names alongside a host of Salford Red Devils legends contact John.Blackburn@Salfordreddevils.net and get your name on the ‘Willows Wall’ for £25. 

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