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.