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 12 – ELLIS DEVLIN PT 4

Part 1  His Early Rugby Career

Part 2  His Memories Of Playing At Salford

Part 3  He Remembers Some Of His Former Teammates

Part 4  His Experiences Of Playing In France & Return To Salford

Part 4 HIS EXPERIENCES PLAYING IN FRANCE & RETURN TO SALFORD

Ellis’s time at Salford, came to a temporary halt in 1975, when he uprooted himself to move to France  for a season, to continue his rugby career, there, playing for Roanne, following a direct invitation from the French club to join them.  He had come to their attention in Salford’s aforementioned 1971 match against the French international side.

“I had gone on the transfer list at my request, in late ’74, and Roanne came in for me.  I was allowed to go there, on loan, for the season, while still being retained on Salford’s playing register.  I really enjoyed my time with Roanne, and was pleased to be playing in their team every week.  In addition, it was a real novelty living over in France.

“I settled in really well, and they seemed pleased with me, so much so that they contacted Salford to ask for a further one year’s extension to the arrangement.”

“The setup there was very different from everything I had experienced in England.  Before the match everyone met up for a meal, which would immediately strike most people as being rather stupid before a game, but you had to remember that there was a lot of travelling for teams and individuals to be able to get there.

“Away matches were a considerable trek, particularly for Roanne, in the centre of France.  It was over ninety kilometres to Lyon, which was the nearest other club, with the rest of them being much further south.  Winning away from home was a rarity, because if you hadn’t been worn out by the journey, the refereeing there in those days would determine the outcome.

“On one occasion when we did win, and, after a lengthy journey by plane, we arrived back at eleven o’clock at night and then promptly held an impromptu party to celebrate the fact that we had won an away match, so unusual was it to have done so.

“There was an occasion, I remember, when the referee had awarded a goal-line drop-out because we had made the ball dead by grounding it over the line, and, as we were going to collect it, an opponent came and dived on it, to which, unbelievably, the referee immediately awarded a try.

“If you did win away from home, you then had to protect the referee because they would get not only considerable verbal abuse but also, on occasions, physical attacks by the odd person with an umbrella.  I’ve seen referees knocked to the ground, and one referee had to be surrounded by his family to shepherd him off the pitch.

“There was, despite this, a much more casual attitude to the game in France, because it was still in need of development.  Having said that, it was extremely enjoyable and we had an absolutely great time whilst we were over there.  It is hardly surprising therefore that now top English players, when coming towards the end of their careers, move to France to join Catalans Dragons, or even Toulouse.  It is likely that had we stayed for a further year, we might never have come back.”

“While we were there I became great friends with Robert Fassolette, an ex-international referee. We still meet annually.  In fact, back in November, he was interviewed by the BBC,as part of the World Cup event, as it was he who had ‘invented’ wheelchair rugby league.”

There are times when circumstances just conspire to provide the most unexpected outcomes, either for better or for worse.  Unfortunately, on this occasion, it turned out to be the latter, with Roanne’s request for a further twelve month extension coinciding with Salford’s, on yet another occasion, finding themselves without a first team hooker, and consequently calling him back to Salford whilst removing the possibility of his staying there,.

What actually made this seem all the more dejecting, however, was that before he could get back in time to stake his claim for the vacant place, another well-known hooker became available to them.

“They had signed Colin Clarke and he became Salford’s next hooker for a couple of seasons, so I went back to being called upon whenever they needed me, which, by this time, was wearing thin, especially after having had such regular first team recognition while playing in France.

“Things came to a head, in September ‘76, when after being recalled to the first team for a BBC Floodlit game, away at Leigh, in which I had had a particularly good game, setting up one try and scoring another even though we still ended up losing 22-18.  I was the one player who was dropped for the following week, and so decided that it was time to finish, which I did, even though Swinton got in touch with me and attempted to get me to go there.   I had made my decision and I stuck with it.”

Looking back, from the vantage point of hindsight, there are many people of Ellis’s generation, including players, who regret that Ellis did not get the opportunity of a lengthy run of games, in order to cement his place into the team.  Had he done so, outcomes could have been considerably different, but sadly that was not to be.

When he finished with Salford, he also finished with rugby league, and although he does watch the occasional game on TV, he has not really been involved in any other respect.  He was, nevertheless, part of the wonderful Salford side of the early to mid-seventies and had a career here equal in length to many other players who became household names, all of which is something in which he can take considerable, pride, which nobody, who knew him as either a player or as a person would deny him.

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