RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 14 – JOHN TAYLOR (PT3)

Part 3  He Remembers His Former Salford Teammates From Those Days

Limited as his opportunities in the first team might have been, John still had sufficiently frequent involvement with the players to get to know them all really well, and the very first name to his lips was that of the player who has so frequently been regarded as rugby league’s best ever fullback, Paul Charlton (RLQSG#9).

“Paul would come to training and without speaking to anyone would just start running, and it was only when we got to the moves we happened to be working on that session, that he would actually join in with what everyone else was doing.  Because of that though he became so fit that he must have been the fittest player in the team, by far.  He would try anything, fitness-wise, to get the best out of himself.

“On the field he was phenomenal.  He always had the happy knack of being in the right place at the right time, and he always seemed to be in control of everything, no matter what happened.  He never panicked at all.  His change of pace was exceptional and players who thought they were going to tackle him were just left totally in his wake.  I can’t, in the foreseeable future, see any player matching him in what he was able to do.

“I used to do quite a lot of training with Colin Dixon.  He was such a really nice person who never even thought about how good he was.  He just used to think of helping other players along, especially the younger ones.  No-one ever had a bad word to say about him.”

The two players, who, between them were responsible for John’s constant struggle to get that extended run in the first team were the two incumbent half backs, Peter Banner (RLQSG#4)and Kenny Gill (RLQSG#10).

“Peter was the quiet man of the team but on the field he was incredibly good.  His service from the scrum with his wide passing was a considerable asset to the team because it gave them extra time and space in which to work.  He was also a clever, tricky runner with a good turn of acceleration and pace to get him through the gaps.

“Kenny was an incredible passer of the ball, who was able to put players through gaps that no-one else even realised existed.  I had the pleasure of playing scrum half to him, on one occasion, and I remember him saying to me before the game to just get on with what we had to do, and not worry about anything else.  I found that most reassuring, just as we were leaving the dressing room.”

Another of the team’s stars also features very highly in John’s memory.

“Keith Fielding (RLQSG#6) was a fantastic person to know.  He and I used to train together, which he always took really seriously and worked himself extremely hard because he always wanted to be the fastest on the field.  I used to try to keep up with him and even overtake him.  The best I managed was finishing within a yard of him over the hundred metres.   I shall never forget him and, in fact, a few years ago, he invited me down to visit him at his home in Cornwall.”

When not commanding a place in the first team, John was still happy to be playing at ‘A’ team level, because the Salford ‘A’ team was as good as any first team, and, in their own way, equally as entertaining to watch as their senior counterparts.

“We had a lot of really good players in that team, and we really were something extra special at the time.  Jimmy Hardacre is the first of those who come to mind; he was an absolutely cracking bloke.  I remember him giving me a lift to an evening away match in Cumbria, and I’ve never been so frightened in all my life.  We flew there, despite the fact that the only stretch of motorway was around Preston.

“In fact, we were pulled up by the police, who, once they realised the reason behind our haste ended up giving us an escort to ensure that we got there in time.”

“Iain MacCorquodale was another player similar to myself in that he was often drafted into the first team, when required, usually on the wing.  His great asset was his goalkicking, which he showed to the full when he moved on to play for Workington.

“Sammy Turnbull started off in the ‘A’ team before cementing a place in the first team, at centre, later on, and he wasn’t the only one.  Alan Grice (RLQSG#11) started off there as did John Knighton, who had to use his time there to adapt from union to playing league, but then became a first choice second rower. 

“Ellis Devlin (RLQSG#12) was possibly the most under-rated player in the club, because he never got a really extended run in the first team, despite the number of other hookers who came and went during his time.  For some reason, the club never fully gained the benefit from having such really talented players in reserve, ready to step into the void, at virtually no cost, when first team players moved on or had lengthy injuries.  They always seemed to splash out a lot of money on star names, not all of whom fitted in that well.

“Like Alan Grice, Peter Frodsham was a prop forward who also had a spell in the first team, whilst fullback, Frank Stead, would have benefitted any first team, as previously had Kenny Gwilliam, who was our fullback in the Wembley Cup Final before transferring to St Helens.

“Paul Jackson had been our left winger at Wembley but had lost his place to Maurice Richards, when he came, but continued in the ‘A’ team for a while.

“With first David Watkins and Jack Brennan, and then Kenny Gill and Peter Banner, holding the half back slot, there was seldom the opportunity for David’s former rugby union stand-off half, Bob Prosser, and he, too, made most of his appearances in the ‘A’ team, in his later years with us.”

With such talented players on which to draw, it is therefore little wonder that Salford swept all before them, at ‘A’ team level, nor also that the entertainment value of that side was a widely recognised attraction to fans to come and watch them. 

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 MIKE COULMAN

Everyone at Salford Red Devils is most deeply saddened to learn of the passing of our magnificent, former second row forward, and British Lions Rugby Union forward, Mike Coulman. Back in September 2018, Mike became the first of thus far eleven players of the flamboyant late sixties late seventies Salford team to share their memories of playing for the club, at that time, In tribute to his outstanding contribution to Salford, in a number of capacities, we reproduce here an extract from the finished article, first published 28th October 2018.

Mike takes up the story a few months after his return from a highly successful international rugby union tour of South Africa, with the British Lions:

“I was at home, washing my car on a lovely sunny day, when a Jenson Interceptor Coupe, containing a person who turned out to be the Salford Chairman, drew up at my home,” he relates.   “He didn’t immediately mention signing for Salford, but instead invited me down to watch a couple of games.”

So, a few days later, Mike could have been found at The Willows, gaining his first experience of a rugby league match.  One extremely important catalyst in his willingness to agree to doing so, and then consequently proceeding to sign for the Red Devils, was that he knew that the club’s captain was none other than Welsh Rugby Union International half back, David Watkins, who, it turns out, had been instrumental in shaping Brian Snape’s initial overture.

On his very first visit, Mike found that, not only was the game quite different from union, but so, too, was the whole environment in which he found himself.

“Stafford is a very rural area,” he points out, “and the club ground consists of a couple of acres of land which had been donated to the club, but it had little in the way of facilities, other than a small clubhouse and bar.  In contrast, The Willows was in a residential, urban area, with The Willows Variety Centre at the hub of everything that was happening.  It was all highly professional and impressive, and I quickly became keen to become a part of it.”

The only drawback was that, as a policeman, he was not able to have another job alongside that, so, having made his decision to make the move, it was also going to involve not only the end to his rugby union career, but also a complete change of lifestyle involving a move up north to live in Marple, and taking up a new career working in The Variety Centre.

His first match came immediately after making the change of code, away at the old Athletic Stadium, former home of Rochdale Hornets, in a Division 1 league fixture.

“Nowadays, you would have been required to have put in at least a week’s worth of training,” he considers, “but for me, back then, I was put straight into the team.   Although we were professional to a degree, we were not as professional as things are now.”

It was in this game that he donned, for the first time, the number eleven jersey which was to become his own, until making the move up front to open-side prop, in the mid-seventies.

“I was always number eleven, because that was the second-row position on the blindside of the scrum,” he explains.  “Obviously, it was a very steep learning curve for me.  I just went through the game being told to stand here, and then there, and when the ball did eventually come to me, I just had to go forward and make as much progress as a I possibly could.

“It took around a quarter of the season for me to begin to feel settled into the game and begin holding my own in the team.”

His arrival at the club coincided with that of a player, who, not only was to become a very close personal friend, but who also, as his fellow second rower in those early days, was to become Mike’s mentor and guiding light, died-in-the-wool rugby league international, Colin Dixon.

“He was my best pal throughout my whole time with Salford,” Mike confides, and, pointing to a small tree in the middle of his lawn, continues, “I planted that in memory of him.  That is his.”

So close did the two become that Mike attributes much of his later success directly to Colin.

“He was such a great help, not so much for anything he said, but in his actions.  I always kept my eye on him and noted the things he did, and then tried them out myself.  I just owe so much to him.”

Part of the arrangements under which Mike came to Salford was that during the week he would work for Chairman, Brian Snape, in his Stanneylands restaurant in Manchester city centre, where he started to learn, in considerable detail, everything connected with the catering industry.  This was to stand him in good stead ahead of a flourishing career throughout his life, in this area.

“I went on to work for Whitbreads, for whom I managed twenty sites, some with hotels.  That carried great responsibility as there was well over a million pounds tied up in them all.  The move from union to league totally transformed my life.”

Not only that, he also found that once he had settled into the game, there were aspects of it which he much preferred to rugby union, particularly the high level of professionalism throughout the sport.

“I found rugby union far more sociable, but lacking professionalism in terms of the game, and, as a player, you want to be able to progress and develop to the best you can be.  I certainly have no regrets whatsoever about having made the move, although the three months British Lions Rugby Union tour still remains my lifetime’s highlight.”

Nevertheless, there were highlights still to be gained in his newly found affection for rugby league, starting in 1969 with what was destined to be Salford’s first post-war visit to Wembley, which remarkably he can remember in detail.

“The game went by in a flash but I didn’t play well at all.  Certainly not as well as I think I should have done.  I didn’t do enough tackling, probably because the big strength of my game was my physical prowess in carrying the ball, but even in this I felt I lacked aggression, on the day,” he ruefully reflects.  “I just would have liked to have played better than I did.”

Wembley is a hard place to go to and then to come away with nothing, as it is always going to be for fifty percent of the protagonists.

“I never liked losing any match, but you just have to be resilient, put it all in the past, and then turn your attention to the next season, which thankfully is what all the lads did,” he comments.

And indeed, with two First Division Championship successes in 1973/4 and again in 1975/6, to come, there were still successes, aplenty, awaiting him.

“The longevity of that Championship Trophy, coupled with the style with which we won it, on those two occasions, made it very special to us all.  To win it twice, and so close in time, was absolutely marvellous,” is his wholly justifiable assessment.

“We played with a great deal of skill and considerable guile in that period.  I scored a hundred and forty tries in my time with Salford, most of which came during that particular period of the early to mid-seventies, and which I consider was the peak of our time together as a team.”

In sharp contrast, he readily acknowledges that they failed to do themselves justice in the one-off rugby which is the Challenge Cup.  Every year, the atmosphere around The Willows was electric with the anticipation that, that year, they would be getting to Wembley, which was not only every player’s dream, but also every fan’s – only for these hopes to be dashed by ball number twenty-three, without any variation  from season to season, being drawn out for a second or third round journey to West Yorkshire, to face might of Leeds, at Headingly, or Castleford, at Wheldon Rd.

This, however, was the only blip in what was an exceptional period of the club’s history.  And so it should have been with the star studded side which they were able to raise, week in and week out, for, as so often happens with a team brimming with talent, injuries were few and far between.

Indeed, pace was the ingredient throughout the whole team, with Mike himself and Colin Dixon, in the second row possessing the pace of any back to score long distance tries during which they would draw further and further away from their chasing opponents before invariably grounding under the posts.

As the season’s passed, and the years started to catch up on them all, changes within the squad and around team selection understandably, took place.  For Mike, this led to a change of position, with his making the move up front to prop. In 1977.

“Throughout my rugby union career, I had always played at prop, and during my time in the second row, it had always been in the back of mind that I would one day return there, which I did for my final three seasons.”

Obviously, as certain players reached retirement age, and others moved on to join other clubs, a gradual dip in performance and results started to become apparent.  For Mike though, there were other problems with which to contend.

“It was about that time I started to develop injury problems with my knees.  I started to miss more and more games, and eventually had to undergo surgery.”

Nevertheless, what he achieved as a player was absolutely outstanding, with, most remarkably, his attaining an international cap, at every level from schoolboy, right through to full international level, in both codes.

He even attained a most unusual international experience, alongside the rest of the squad, playing in a friendly against the French, in a Salford jersey, down in the south of France.

“We travelled down by private jet, and the whole trip down there was a most enjoyable experience, even though we were on the receiving end of a hefty defeat.”

His proudest claim to fame of all, however, came in what was the third and deciding test match against the Australians, in The Sydney Cricket Ground, when he got the better with a perhaps questionable tackle on one of the opposing Australian forwards (thought to be the formidable Artie Beetson), who was left lying prostrate on the ground, for a number of minutes.

“The referee warned me that if he didn’t get up, I would be walking up the tunnel.”

Fortunately for Mike, the Australian medical staff were up to the challenge, and Mike duly remained on field to contribute further to the remainder of the game. IIt was, nevertheless, most out of character for the usually calm and compliant Coulman, who in this day and age, would have suffered a spell in the sinbin, at least, had things not been so different then.

“I was geed up purely by his stature.  Also, the fact that we were playing on an Australian cricket ground, which was rock hard, because unlike Headingley, where they are two separate pitches, this was all on the same area, and I was determined to make an impression.”

With so many of his Salford teammates in the Great Britain side – indeed the Red Devils commanded almost the whole of the backline, with Mike and Colin Dixon pairing up in the back row – playing for his country seemed little different than any away game for Salford, particularly when they found themselves staying in the same hotels used by the Red Devils.

After having played under various coaches, 1982 saw Mike, by then in his fourteenth year, appointed to the position of player-coach, before eventually hanging up his boots to concentrate on coaching. Not that he looks back on his coaching career with any great satisfaction, as he did not really find himself best cut out for the position.

“I simply am not an aggressive person, and I do feel that that was the problem throughout my whole rugby career. I always felt that it was best just to play each other without ever having the desire to inflict physical harm on anyone. Consequently, in the role of coaching, that required degree os aggression was lacking.

The playing career of a professional sportsman is exceptionally short, with most rugby league players managing a maximum of ten years at the top, but Mike found that the reputation and aura he had built up in the local area, during his days in the red, number eleven, jersey have followed and stayed with him throughout his life, and, that he then has had more time to return to  the club for occasional games, where he has been overwhelmed by the respect and bonhomie he has received.

“The number of people who come up to me wanting to speak and shake hands is unbelievable, and it makes me feel so proud that I could almost cry.”

Those of us who know him, or have had the pleasure and privilege of seeing him play for the team, would undoubtedly respond by saying that this is merely fitting respect for a truly great man who throughout his playing days, and beyond, has been an absolute credit to rugby league, rugby union, Salford, and himself.

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 – 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 – KEN GILL (PT2)

Part 2 – HIS MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Joining such a star-studded side as Salford, in the wake of signings such as David Watkins, Mike Coulman {Rugby League Quality Street Gang #1), Colin Dixon and Maurice Richards, would most certainly have been a significant challenge to any young, unknown player, but the young Ken Gill was helped through that initial settling in by one of the other, more experienced, of the squad.

“Tony Colloby was a Cumbrian, who played in the three-quarters, and was one of the best centres I ever played alongside.  He was my type of player, which made it easy for me to continue to play my own game alongside him.  He also gave me lots of good advice which helped me along.

“I spent my first season playing in the ‘A’ team, with the likes of Jim Hardacre and Micky Hennigan.  Jackie Brennan was at the back end of his career by this time, so he was also in the team.  He was a really good scrum half who had so much experience to contribute, and that helped me progress to becoming a first team player.”

Brennan, having been Salford’s scrum half at Wembley, had been replaced in the first team by a young Peter Banner (RL Quality St Gang #4), and it was not long before he, Banner, was joined by his fellow half back from the ‘A’ team.  The only problem was that the stand-off berth at the time was occupied by the mercurial David Watkins, in whom the club had invested a most considerable amount of money in obtaining his signature.

“It was always going to be a case of finding David another role in the team, and that turned out to be in the centre, which I think suited him, better than stand-off half had done, because he had more space there.”

Replacing such a highly regarded player would have overly daunted the majority of youngsters, but Ken had sufficient self-confidence to be able to take this in his stride, though the assertive, highly vocal organisational skills, which he brought to his role, possibly took a number of the team by surprise.

“They probably had something of a shock with this newcomer coming in and taking over.  I used to tell them to do things which they really could not believe, such as running at an opposition player rather than at the gap, because you can then deploy your running and rugby skills to get around him, but he has to stand still, almost rooted to the spot, because you are coming straight at him.

“Players just could not get used to this and they kept trying to go between opponents, particularly when things were not going as easily as they usually did.

“I looked on myself as being like the conductor of an orchestra,  as I was able to determine which player was most likely to be able to make the break, and, by the timing of my pass to him, draw his opposite number away from him.

“It wasn’t something you could practise in training because every situation in a game is different, and you just have to react to what presents itself in front of you, at the time.”

Little wonder then, that when Salford were in possession, the ball always found its way into his hands, and most fortuitous for him was that, in Cliff Evans, he had a coach who fully appreciated his many skills, and, in particular, his vision.

“Cliff was absolutely great for me and he helped me settle into the first team so easily.  Because he showed that he had faith in what I was bringing to the team it made everyone attentive to my on-field instructions, both at training and in the games.

“He was extremely encouraging in the way he dealt with all the players.  It was always a case of an arm around the shoulder and a few quiet words of advice.  He was certainly very good to me.

“There were people, even odd ones in the team but mainly amongst opponents, who did not like the way I played, simply because they couldn’t do likewise, but Cliff always gave me his support, far more so than other, later coaches did.”

Not that things always went completely to plan, and, on the occasions when it all went awry, there were always people on the side-lines ready to criticise.  Such individuals were very much in the minority, for the greater number, by far, accepted that such errors are inevitably part of that style of play.  Certainly, the other players were of this opinion.

Friday nights at The Willows for those home games were really special occasions for everyone who attended, but for the players the experience was all the more so.

“The whole place was absolutely buzzing and you always felt on edge beforehand.  I was always full of confidence, though, no matter who we were playing against, and this seemed to rub off on everyone else, which was a great boost to us as a team, so much so that I used to be given the opportunity of contributing to the pre-match address.

“This, in turn, led to my being given the captaincy on a few occasions, and I was given the chance of being made club captain, but I turned it down, as I also did later on with an offer to be captain of Great Britain.

“At the time I wanted to be free to of the responsibility it brings, in order to be able to concentrate on my game, but now I wish I had taken those opportunities, especially the one to be captain of Gt Britain.”

What he produced on the field was, however, far in advance of what other players, at any other club, could envisage, and consequently the rest of the team held him in great respect.

“Mike Coulman was one of the first in the side to cotton on to me.  He quickly found that if he followed me around and followed my directions it would make his role both easier and more fruitful.  He had both the strength and pace to be able to make it pay.

“Once we got out onto the field, we would get the most marvellous uplift from the crowd, which had packed in, in their droves.  Friday nights at Salford were tremendous, and we used to live from one Friday to the next, because the next match couldn’t come round fast enough.

“Playing under the floodlights also added considerably to the atmosphere around the ground and gave a sense of occasion which we found quite motivating, almost as much as the fans were.  Once the game got underway, though, I would forget all about everything else, because I was just so focused on the game.

“I can remember that after one of my earlier games, I had gone into the club for a drink and was absolutely astounded at the way the fans immediately swarmed all over me.  I had really never expected, nor experienced, anything like that before.”

This was most understandable, though, because rugby supporters know their game extremely well and the Salford fans back then were not slow to recognise an exceptional talent when they saw one.

Half backs, as a breed, are required to be extremely vocal throughout the game, as part of their organisational skills, and Ken freely admits to being the person in the side who took it upon himself to challenge his teammates to higher levels of performance, or extra effort, whichever he felt necessary at the time.

“The dressing room at half time was where it all happened, especially if we were losing.  I certainly let people know if they were falling behind in their endeavours, especially the forwards, because, without them laying a platform, we backs had a much lesser chance of success in our role.  Those were the games when the fans would see a second half rally that racked up thirty points, or so, for us to win.”

All of which was sadly missing in one game, when he had to withdraw very suddenly on the day of the match, owing to a most serious accident, at work.

“I have no idea how I come to still be here, because I was an electrician by trade, at that time, and someone, whom I was working alongside cut through a live wire, and I was thrown back off the ladders, onto some benches below.  The next thing I knew was waking up in hospital, because the charge had been shorted to earth through me and the ladders I was on, though the lad who cut the wire survived, unscathed.”

The many highlights of his lengthy career with Salford started with their winning their first post war trophy.

“One of the first trophies we won was the Lancashire Cup in 1972, at Warrington, where we played Swinton in the final.  They gave us a really tough challenge, especially at the start of the second half, but we stuck to our task, and ended up winning with some comfort.”

That was followed up, eighteen months later with, of all things, their winning the First Division Championship, at the end of the 1973/4 season.

“That was absolutely magnificent, especially in winning all those games throughout the season.  I started thinking above myself from that, and getting ambitions, which I had never even dreamt of before.

“When we won it again, two years later, it was equally enjoyable, but this time it was more a case of having done what we had expected of ourselves.  The nerves had gone by this time, and we had matured as a team, so we were able to take every game in our stride.”

They certainly needed that for the season’s final fixture at Keighley, which they had to win to lift the trophy, whilst their opponents had to win in order to avoid relegation.  The nervousness among the fans, and even people within the club was intense, especially with their needing to make a trip into Yorkshire, which so often had heralded the dashing of everyone’s dreams and aspirations.

“As far as we were concerned, I always used to say that if nerves got the better of you, you shouldn’t be playing.  Players go out to do a job and they should be so focused on that that nerves shouldn’t even come into it.  With that mindset, then, we did win, and we did lift the trophy for a second time in two years.”

By this time, though, other clubs had become fully aware of the incredible impact that Kenny had brought to Salford, and his skills and vision became much sought after.

“I was for ever getting people coming up to me asking me to go down to first one club, then another.  Wigan even tried twice to get me to sign, and I even turned Saints, my home team, down, because I liked it so much at Salford.”

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 (9) – ERIC PRESCOTT PT 2

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

The abundance of talent within the St Helens team, during the first couple of years of the 1970s had reached levels that were almost an embarrassment with highly ambitious players vying with one another for places within the team, the back couple of rows in the scrum being of particular concern, as Eric discovered.

“We had players like Eric Chisnall, John Mantle, and Kel Coslett, all of whom would have commanded places within any team, so I was finding myself confined to the bench, where a position in those days would not necessarily mean you would get a game.

“Substitutes back then were there solely to cover for injuries, and if no-one actually got injured, the two bench players might go for weeks without getting onto the field.  I began to become frustrated at not getting much game time, so went to the St Helens Chairman to request a transfer.

“He didn’t want me to leave at all, and to this end he put me on the list but at the price of £15,000.  That didn’t deter Salford, though, and chief scout, Albert White, came and asked whether I would join Salford to which I readily agreed knowing the quality that was present in the rest of the team.  The whole backline, from one to seven, were internationals, and with the likes of Mike Coulman and Colin Dixon in the forwards I knew I was joining a great team.

“I already knew one or two of the players, but turning up for my first training session, I was made really welcome.  The whole group of players was more like a family than a sports team.

“I already knew coach, Cliff Evans, from his days at St Helens, and I knew the way he wanted his teams to play, which was particularly helpful, because there was certainly a similarity in what he was advocating at Salford.”

Salford had brought Eric to the club with the firm intention of playing him at loose forward.  There was, however, already a regular incumbent of that position.

“Colin Dixon had been playing there for quite a while, and I really felt sorry at moving him from his position, but he was a real gentleman – you couldn’t wish to meet anyone better – and he just accepted the situation with the utmost grace.  For me, having players like him alongside me was just absolutely marvellous.

“My first game with them all was against Rochdale, which we won, 46-18, at The Willows, all within the same week as my signing for them.  When you sign for a new team, there is always a settling-in period as you get to know everything, and there is no way that you can possibly acquire all that in only two training sessions.

“Salford had a lot of moves which they would deploy at various times in the game, which made for a really good setup.  They would call these moves out and everyone really needed to know their part in them.

“Defending teams, at that time, were kept only three yards back, which meant that they were able to get up onto the attacking team very quickly, and so having their practised moves enabled them to fox the defence in some way.  Nowadays, being up to ten metres apart moves are rather less effective as there is so much time for defences to read what is happening.

“Salford played really good football and the ball always went through a lot of hands in every match.  We were always at our most dangerous in our own half of the field because when the other team were lying up on us, Kenny Gill or John Butler would put a kick through for Keith Fielding, and there was no-one going to catch him.

“Everyone had their own job within the team.  I liked tackling.  I liked the physicality involved, and also in aiming to get my technique just right on each occasion.  There was also the benefit of limiting the effectiveness of the opposition’s attack.

“Tackling round the legs was probably the best way of tackling in those days, because you can’t go without your legs.  Nowadays, it is regarded as more important to stop an offload, so tackling has drifted to the upper body.  Elbows, back then, were far too discouraging to make that type of tackle worthwhile.

“I got my nose broken in my early days, in a match against Warrington.  I was just getting up from a tackle to play the ball, when someone came in and smashed me across the face breaking my nose.  You have to learn from those incidents.”

As with many of his teammates, Eric still regrets the fact that the team never managed to fulfil its promise of winning trophies, and having come from a club like St Helens, this sat a little more uneasily on his shoulders.

“We should have won a whole lot more than we did, considering the talent that we had in the team, and having left St Helens to come to Salford, I had to sit and watch their success from afar.  They went to Wembley in 1976, and against all the odds won the Challenge Cup, and I remember thinking to myself that I’d missed out on that one.

“One of the reasons for my coming here was that, with the team packed with all those internationals, I was expecting much the same from us, but we just couldn’t get through those early rounds of the Challenge Cup to get to the final.  One season we were knocked out by St Helens themselves in what was, for us, a home match.  That really hurt.”

Invariably, though, it was a trip into Yorkshire, to face Leeds or Castleford, around Rounds two or three, which put Salford out of the competition.

“Another problem was that, then, virtually all the teams were of a similar playing standard, so whilst we were one of the top sides, and, on our day, probably the most entertaining of them all, the remaining fifteen teams in the first division were not far behind.  If we had an ‘off’ day, any one of them could have won.  I remember Rochdale coming to the Willows and beating us, on one occasion.  That sort of thing hardly ever happens nowadays.

Wembley may have had a hoodoo cast over it as far as the Salford team was concerned, but the calibre of the side was twice reflected in their winning the First Division Championship, in 1973/4 and 1975/6.

“That was certainly handsome compensation and probably worthy of greater notoriety than it received at the time because the equality in standards throughout the league made it all the more challenging and difficult to achieve.  Doing it twice, and so quickly after each other was a tremendous achievement.

“The first time was at the expense of St Helens, for once.  It was a late Easter Weekend at the end of the season, and we needed to win at Wigan, on the Easter Monday, and then for Widnes to beat St Helens, later that evening, in order for us to lift the Trophy.  We did all we could for ourselves in defeating Wigan, and then we all went over to Naughton Park, Widnes, which was so packed that we had to stand behind the posts to watch.

“It was quite absorbing because the game was so tight, with Saints in front at half time, but Widnes, with nothing but pride to play for, came back in the second half to win.  Saints were such a good team at that time we couldn’t really have expected anything other than for them to win, but they came unstuck and we became Champions.

“We also won other trophies.  We lifted the BBC2 Floodlit Cup, in 1972, with a win over Warrington, at Wilderspool, after drawing with them the week earlier at the Willows.  That came very shortly after I had moved to Salford and was a real reward for my having done so.

“The Lancashire Cup and the John Player Trophy were other competitions in which we also had successes, at least in reaching the final and semi-final.  I think it is a loss to the game that these competitions have gone by the board, because they brought a bit of variety to the season, whilst as a player you always wanted to win something, and there was something there to be won.

“The Lancashire Cup win was one of my best memories.  I had been injured just before, and came back to play in the final, against Swinton, at Warrington.  We controlled the game well, and apart from the first twenty minutes of the second half, when they really came at us, we were on top throughout, and fully deserved the win.”

By the later years of the seventies, there was a fairly noticeable deterioration in the team, as players got older, some retired, and others moved elsewhere.

“The mid-seventies were extremely good, but standards did start to decline over the coming seasons.  I still had the hankering to play at Wembley and still felt we had a good team then, but we just couldn’t get past those three or four clubs which had always been our downfall.  As time moved on, I began to realise this was not going to happen at Salford, so I started to look round for another club.

“Working, as I did, for Widnes Council, I sounded out the possibility of my moving there, because it was a club which was making significant progress, by then.  The response from them was that they were quite willing to take me on board, if I were willing to play in the second row, which I was, and so I made the move to join them.”

Nothing is for ever, though, and a couple of seasons later he returned for one more spell, with prop, John Wood, transferring over to Widnes, in exchange.

“Salford approached me with a view to returning, and because I had been so very happy there, for so long, I agreed.  Coming back again rekindled the memories of all those good times, and even though it was different this time around, I had absolutely no regrets in having done so.

“I liked the type of rugby Salford have always played, and alongside that, the people who were there were all so very friendly and approachable.  I also still believed that we could have made up for the lack of trophies previously, by winning something this time around, but sadly this was not to be.”

SALFORD RED DEVILS 34-10 HALIFAX PANTHERS | FRIDAY 21ST JANUARY 2022

Salford Red Devils retained the Colin Dixon Memorial Trophy this evening with a 34-10 victory over Betfred Championship side Halifax Panthers.

Paul Rowley’s men opened the scoring after six minutes with an impressive bit of link-up play between Ryan Brierley and Ken Sio. Salford worked the ball right with Brierley finding Sio on the wing, who then returned the ball with a neat grubber kick into the in-goal area that Brierley was first to dive on.

Brierley doubled his try tally for the evening just four minutes later after Brodie Croft broke down the middle, weaving through a handful of Halifax players in the process, before kicking the ball towards the right wing for our number 1 to scoop up and stroll over with.

The visitors pulled one back in the 23rd minute through Joe Keyes, who spotted a gap and darted over to the left of the sticks.

Five minutes later, King Vuniyayawa powered through three Halifax players to crash over under the sticks just minutes after coming on.

Half-time: Salford Red Devils 16-4 Halifax Panthers

Halifax started the second forty on the front foot and were boosted when Joe Burgess saw yellow in the 49th minute for a professional foul.

Salford responded well though with another try just two minutes later. Amir Bourouh, who spent a loan spell at Halifax in 2021 during his time at Wigan Warriors, bundled over in the right corner to put Salford back in control of the arm wrestle.

Welsh international Rhys Williams got himself on the scoresheet for Salford 10 minutes later, after some fast hands down the right from his teammates gave him an almost clear route to the try-line.

The last Salford try of the night came courtesy of Matt Costello, who was gifted the ball from Halifax just metres out from their try-line.

The visitors responded just before the hooter with a try in the right corner, scored by James Saltonstall, but it was merely a consolation.

Full-time: Salford Red Devils 32-10 Halifax Panthers

Salford Red Devils: Brierley, Sio, Cross, Costello, Burgess, Croft, Sneyd, Gerrard, Ackers, Lannon, Wright, Taylor, Johnson, Akauola, Burke, Addy, Vuniyayawa, Atkin, Ormondroyd, Wells, Williams, Escare, Luckley, Bourouh, Stevens.

Halifax Panthers: Martin, Walmsley, Worthington, Arundel, McComb, Jouffret, Keyes, Murray, Wood, Tangata, Kavanagh, Barber, Knowles, Morris, Gwaze, Calcott, Fairbank, Larroyer, Oakley, Garside, Tibbs, Whitton, Saltonstall.

Image credit: Steve McCormick

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