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.”

Rest in Peace, David Watkins.

Salford Red Devils are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of club icon, David Watkins.

One of the very greatest to represent our club, and to ever play our game.

David made over 400 appearances for the Club between 1967 and 1979, breaking multiple records during his time at The Willows, with his 1,241 goals scored still stands as a club record today.

Captain of Salford in our 1969 Challenge Cup Final against Castleford Tigers, Watkins was a key figure in Rugby League and represented both Great Britain and Wales at international level – and was last year inducted into the Men’s Rugby League Hall of Fame.

He was also awarded an MBE in the 1986 New Year Honours list and represented multiple sides domestically and internationally at Rugby Union.

All our thoughts go out to David’s family and friends at this truly difficult time.

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 12 – ELLIS DEVLIN PT 3

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 3 He Remembers Some Of His Former Teammates

Among the players whom Ellis recalls with affection, is Johnny Ward who had signed for Salford from Castleford, having been in our opponents’ ranks in the 1969 Wembley Challenge Cup Final, between the two clubs.

“John was a really nice guy, whom it was a pleasure to be with.  He came to Salford as a prop, which was where he had played at Wembley, but he could also play at hooker, so we had something in common with that, and it helped our relationship.

“He was a really tough player on the field; he would never let anybody mess with him, and his ball handling skills were top rate.  He could always put someone through a gap he had created.”

Captain of the ‘A’ team was the ever popular, Jimmy Hardacre, who many years later became chairman of the Red Devils Association.

“Jimmy was another prop and a player who was happy playing in the ‘A’ team, having been made captain, which was just reward for his dedication to the club and the team.

“Mick Hennigan was another popular player, who was often called into the first team, and had been a regular first teamer before the arrivals of Mike Coulman and Colin Dixon.  He left soon after I came to The Willows to join Warrington, where he had a long and successful career.”

One player whose experiences at Salford were somewhat similar to Ellis’s was centre-cum-winger, Iain McCorquodale.

“Corky was a most incredible goal-kicker.  The power he could put into his kicks, and with the accuracy to go with it, was quite incredible, and after he left Salford in the early seventies, he had a tremendous career with Workington Town, where he is still remembered with great fondness.

“We, in the team, often felt that he never got a proper chance because, of course, Salford had David Watkins in the team and he was the goalkicker, and also one of the main stars in the side, so when you also consider the amount of money the club had invested in him, it isn’t surprising that he retained his position throughout his lengthy time with us.”

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 (PT4)

Part 4 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER

After a decade of regular appearances in the first team, things started to take a downward turn for Alan, as new coach, Alex Murphy, looked elsewhere for his blindside front-rower, and Alan suddenly found himself with virtually no game-time.

“I was neither in the first team nor the ‘A’ team, even though I was still training with the first team, so I went to speak with him and made it clear that I just wanted to play, no matter which of the two sides I best fitted.  It seemed to make little difference and I still remained side-lined because he was looking around to replace many of the players who had been with the club for any great length of time.

“It was he, who had first given us the name of the Quality Street Gang, and he used it to refer to players of my generation as being one of those.

“I was fortunate that David Watkins had recently moved to play for Swinton, and he recommended me to them.  Moving there, at that particular time, however meant that I would have to miss out on my Salford testimonial, later in the season, but I just wanted to get back playing so I went there, and the new contract compensated me to some extent for what I had missed out on at Salford.

“I never had any regrets about doing so, because I got treated extremely well when I got there, though I had very mixed feelings when we knocked Salford out of the John Player Trophy.  Despite having left there, I still always looked to see how Salford had gone on, each week, so it was quite an uncomfortable situation, which got worse for me when I made a break to their line, and from the play-the-ball Green Vigo went over for the winning try in the corner, but I felt quite awful about it.”

Unsurprisingly therefore, he stayed for four more seasons, which gave him the magnificent professional playing career total of fourteen years, which is quite incredible for a prop forward.

“It was eventually down to a knee injury, which led to my finishing, at the age of thirty-six, because at that age I couldn’t really get over it.”

Not that it was to be an end to his links with rugby league; far from it in fact, as a whole new avenue opened up before him, at first in his home locality of St Helens, within the local amateur club set up.

“I went back to Blackbrook after I finished playing, and coached all the aspiring young coaches around the local district, to get their first step on the coaching ladder, before going onto the National coaching setup, at Loughborough.

“I also took over the coaching of the team, but despite successes on the field, and winning a number of trophies, because they were amateurs they didn’t share my whole-hearted commitment to the game.  Playing had to take its place within each person’s individual priorities in life, and that was something which I found so frustrating that I decided to finish, once the season was over.”

The news of his pending withdrawal quickly came to the ears, of Salford’s chief scout and director, Albert White, who wasted absolutely no time in contacting him.

“The very next day Albert was on the phone to me inviting me to a meeting, the following week, with the Chairman, John Wilkinson, from which I came to work alongside Albert as a scout.

“The very first person whom I drew to their attention to was Gary Connelly, and they made a strong offer to him to come to Salford, but unfortunately he hung out for more money from Saints.”

After a few years away from the club, it was to a different set-up to which Alan returned, with Andy Gregory at the helm, supported by Steve O’Neill and John Foran.

“I had played against John Foran, when he was with Widnes, and he had become a really good coach, since then, so much so that he soon took over as head coach.  After that, we would keep in touch with each other so that I knew exactly where priorities were and also keep him informed as to ensuing progress.

“One of the players I did bring in was Alan Hunte.  I had heard he hadn’t been offered a new contract at Warrington so got in touch with him to come down.  We had to swallow our pride in doing so after he had knocked us out of the Cup with a last-minute try, two or three seasons before.”

Although he no longer has the degree of input to the club that he has had over the decades now past, Alan is not only still a regular attender at all Salford home games, he is also extremely willing to fly the flag for the club in a number of other capacities.  Indeed, it was at the unveiling of The Willows Memorial on the site of the old ground, back in 2015, that his remarks at the conclusion thereof became the inspiration and catalyst to this writer, for the Rugby League’s Quality Street Gang series.

It is only fitting therefore that, the first of our seventies stars to be highlighted in this, our hundred and fiftieth anniversary season, should be Alan Grice, the player who was a mainstay of the club on the field for almost a decade, and who then returned to continue a lifetime’s contribution right through to the present day.

“For the whole of the time I was at the club I thoroughly enjoyed playing for Salford.  It was such a nice environment with really great guys who were fabulous players.”

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

Part 3 –HE REMEMBERS HIS SALFORD TEAMMATES AND COACHES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 2 – HIS PLAYING CAREER WITH SALFORD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“For the whole of the time I was at the club I thoroughly enjoyed playing for Salford.  It was such a nice environment with really great guys who were fabulous players, and because of that we were able to win so many matches.  We would no sooner come to an end of one winning run having unexpectedly lost to somebody, than we would start yet another possibly even longer run still.”

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

Part 3 – HE REMEMBERS SOME OF HIS FORMER SALFORD TEAMMATES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG – 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.”

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