TRIBUTE TO PETER WALKER

It was with great sadness that Salford Red Devils learned of the passing, on 7th May, of their former hooker Peter Walker.

Born in Hull on the 9th August1946, Peter joined Salford in September 1972, having turned professional with Hull KR, in 1963, before going on to play first for York, and then Bradford Northern.   His debut at The Willows came on 29th September 1972 for a home game against Huyton.

His time here coincided with some of the greatest post-war honours the club was to achieve, and it was whilst playing at Salford that he achieved all the honours he gained as a professional.

These started in his very first season, within months of arriving, with the lifting of the Lancashire Cup, after beating Swinton 25-11, and they returned to the final, the following season when Wigan were the 19-9 victors.

Undoubtedly, the greatest achievement for both Peter and the club was their winning of the First Division Championship, in 1973/4, his second season here.  As hooker, he played a big part in this, ensuring a good supply of the ball from the scrum, whilst, in the loose, being a fine handler of the ball and also possessing a surprising turn of pace for someone in his position.

That same year, having missed the initial 0-0 drawn Final, at The Willows, he played in the replay against Warrington, at Wilderspool, which saw Salford win the BBC2 Floodlit Cup, after winning 10-5.

Unfortunately, he suffered a series of setbacks through injury, which limited his appearances to 74, two of which were from the bench, as replacements.  Tragically, in the very first league game of the 1975/6 season, 15th August, he suffered an extremely bad leg break, which prevented him from playing any further games, that season.

Although, at one point, he had had aspirations to resume his career the following year, he, instead, made the decision to retire, in order to avoid any further injuries.

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

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Graham Morris – Club Historian

TRIBUTE TO DAVID WATKINS MBE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TRIBUTE TO ERIC PRESCOTT

Everyone at Salford Red Devils has been greatly saddened at the news of the passing of the their marvellous, former loose forward, Eric Prescott.

A member of the great Salford team of the 1970s, the club is extremely proud that, of his incredible twenty year professional career, Eric chose to spend half of it with us. In special tribute to him, we reproduce an excerpt from an interview with him, first published last year, in which he describes his time playing for Salford and also shares his memories of his late son, Steve Prescott MBE:

Although not the only Salford player of the 1970s to have done so, both loose forward, Eric Prescott, and Salford RLFC, had such a high regard for each other, that he not only had one lengthy spell at the club, as their first choice loose forward, from 1972 to 1980, he also returned in 1983 for a further season.

A native of Widnes, it was however St Helens who first recognised his potential and talent, but competition for places there led to his transferring to Salford, where he very quickly made his mark.

“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 practiced moves enabled attackers 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, 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 and three, which put Salford out of the competition.

“Another problem was that, in those days, 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 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 were always wanting to win something.

“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 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.  I still had the hankering to play at Wembley, and, 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 they were 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 of 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.”

Many years later, Eric was followed into the game by his son Steve Prescott, MBE.  As father of someone who commands such admiration as Steve did, for all that he had done, firstly as a player, and then in both his fight against his own personal illness allied to his work in raising awareness of the condition, Eric, understandably, has very mixed feelings.

“I loved helping him along as a young, up and coming player, going along to matches with him and giving him encouragement and guidance along the way.  Probably not all my advice was as helpful as it might have been, because he was a different type of player from me, with his being predominantly a back, whereas most of my career was spent in the forwards.

Tragically, in 2006, Steve was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and given only a matter of months to live.  Such devastating news was very hard for Eric to take.

“I just wished it could have been me because I’d had most of my life; Steve should still have had his in front of him.  It just never works like that though.”

What Steve achieved in the remaining time he had left, which proved to be considerably more than the few months originally estimated, by means of the Steve Prescott Foundation, was absolutely phenomenal, and he was awarded the MBE for his services to rugby league and charity, in the 2010 New Year’s Honours List.

“It really was phenomenal what he achieved, particularly in aid of Manchester’s Christie’s Hospital.  He loved doing it though, which, when you consider that his body by this time was well past anything like its physical peak, is incredible.  I did a marathon in four hours and ten minutes, and his immediate response was that he was going to beat that, which he did, not at the first attempt, because he was very low with the cancer at the time, but at his second attempt.”

“It is so rewarding that the Foundation, in his name, is still going strong, under the direction of his wife, Jean, and also that since 2014, the top individual rugby league award has been known as the Steve Prescott Man of Steel.  In addition, the bridge leading into the Totally Wicked Stadium is named after him, which is utterly brilliant because you can never forget him, every time you go over that bridge and into the ground.

“I can’t say it was a shock, when Steve passed away in 2013, because we had seen him going downhill for a while, but it still takes some coming to terms with, because we are not ‘programmed’ for anything like this to happen.  It is just so very sad, but there are memories of him all around.  Even when I do the National Lottery each week, I can still hear him deriding my chances of winning it.  He just always wanted to be better than me.”

Eric, therefore, was the yardstick by which his remarkably splendid, younger, son, measured himself, and what greater form of flattering acknowledgement can there be, for any father!

TRIBUTE TO DEAN RAISTRICK

Salford Red Devils were most saddened to learn of the passing, recently, of former hooker, Dean Raistrick. Dean joined Salford in 1975, and on arrival became an integral part of the famous team of the late sixties and the seventies.

Indeed, his signing was extremely crucial to the club at that time, because they had found themselves without a hooker, with a number of players from their squad having endeavoured to undertake the role.

Dean’s arrival, however, not only enabled him to fill the gap, he also turned around the fortunes of the Reds that season to the extent that they went on to win the First Division Championship, for the 1975/6 season, two years after having won it for the first time, post-war.

Dean had forged his reputation, whilst playing for Keighley, for whom he had made ninety-nine appearances, and where he had twice gained representative honours for Yorkshire, as a result of his ability to win the ball from the scrum.

His transfer to Salford was initially on a month’s loan deal between the clubs, but such was his talent that he immediately brought a stability to the team, beginning with his debut away at Bradford on 7th December 1975, so much so that the move became permanent.

During his time at The Willows, he not only won a Championship medal, he was also in the team which played against St Helens in the 1976 Premiership semi-final, at Station Rd Swinton, although on this occasion it was the Saints who progressed to the final, having run out victors by 15 point to 2.

Sadly, difficulties with the travelling from his home in Bradford, two or three times a week, gradually proved too much for him and on 11th March 1977, he played his final game for the Reds, in a home fixture against Featherstone Rovers, after having made thirty-six appearances, and then joining Bradford Northern in the August of that year.

The culmination of his time at Odsal came with a winning appearance in the Premiership Final over Widnes in May, 1978, before transferring to Halifax, that August, where he developed a talent for kicking drop-goals, twice scoring hat-tricks, and registering a total of fourteen in his twenty-eight appearances.

On 3rd February 1980, he returned to where it had all begun, back in 1972, with a second spell at Keighley, with whom he completed his playing career, in a home match against Carlisle, on 9th September 1984, having played in eighty-one matches, alongside two others as substitute.  During this time his unabated talent for kicking drop-goals saw a total of twenty-four successful attempts, whilst he also registered two tries.

Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family at this sad time.  His funeral will take place at 2pm on Friday 28th July, at Scholemoor Cemetery, Bradford.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Graham Morris, Club Historian; Paul Whiteside, Photograph.

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 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 (PT5)

Part 5 – HIS POST SALFORD RUGBY CAREER

The constant demand for him to relocate elsewhere did eventually, in 1978, lead to Ken Gill making the move to up-and-coming Widnes, where he went on to add a further First Division Championship medal to the two he had already won, in 1974 and 1976 with Salford.

“Doug Laughton was playing for them at the time, and he just caught me at the right time, when things at Salford had been a little less settled, and he persuaded me to give it a try at Widnes.  Away from rugby I had got into the pub trade and that was starting to take over a large proportion of my time, whilst bringing in significantly more money than I was getting playing rugby.

“The change was just what I needed at that time, and I went on to have a tremendous, few months with them, and I became the only player in the game then to have won three Championship medals.  Widnes were absolutely made up when we won because they had thought that that would have been much further down the line for them.

“All clubs have their own unique environment, and the fans at Widnes, at that time, were rather harder to please than I had experienced at Salford, but I did eventually win them round, before I left.

“The players, though, just seemed totally mystified by how I managed to make the team function, and some of them even tried copying my tricks, only to find out that there was a whole lot more to it than what they could actually see.”

The missing ingredient, of course, was vision.  Kenny was like a chess player who could see exactly what would happen four moves ahead, but also the execution and timing of every pass was absolutely crucial.

The end of the season, however, brought a most unexpected move to Barrow.

“Bill Oxley was the Chairman, there, and he had a great respect for me and how I performed.  The trouble was that there was virtually no money in the club, and when I got there, I found I was playing for next to nothing.

“I consequently only stayed for a season because it was such a horrible journey to have to make once, let alone on a regular basis.  Not only that, though, being now fully involved in the pub trade was making more and more demands on my time.

“Far from supplementing my income, rugby league was now losing me money because I could earn so much more working.  The pub I was at was a regular for a lot of rugby fans, mainly of Warrington, Widnes, and Saints, but they still wanted to come in and chat with me about rugby league.  Suddenly everyone was wanting to come in for a chat.”

A return to Salford, however, was an opportunity, when it came, he was not going to turn down,

“I thought it would be just like it always had been in my previous time there, but it was not, as I found out once I walked into the dressing room.  It just wasn’t the same, which was really sad, but those earlier good years I had had there by far outweigh everything else I did afterwards.

“I loved the way Salford played and being a part of that, and whenever anyone since then ever asks me which teams I have played for I just reply, ‘Salford’.

“My memories of playing for Salford are ones of absolute joy, and the club owes me nothing.  Indeed, it was a privilege to play for such a highly professional outfit and alongside such talented players, and we all complemented each other so well within the team.

“Certainly, we should have won more trophies than we actually did, and I take some responsibility for that, because there were games when I wasn’t up to my own standard, but that in no way eclipses that wonderful time that we all had together.  There can be very few professional sportsmen who have gained such great pleasure from their career as I did in playing for Salford.”

—–

To read part one click HERE

To read part two click HERE

To read part three click HERE

To read part four click HERE

 

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (9) – ERIC PRESCOTT PT 5

Part 5 – THE PROUD FATHER OF STEVE PRESCOTT MBE

Fondly as Eric is remembered and respected, it also has to be borne in mind that he is only one of a whole family of Prescotts, of which his uncle, Alan Prescott, was  the famous St Helens prop, who, when on international duty with Great Britain in 1958, suffered a badly broken arm, but who, because this was in the days before substitutes were allowed, chose to stay on and, despite his impediment, succeeded in helping The Lions to Test Match victory over the Australians.

“He was quite exceptional in doing that, even then, because he had absolutely no use in that arm whatsoever; it just hung there, while he had to do all his tackling with the other one.”

More recently, Eric was followed into the game by his son Steve Prescott, MBE.  As father of someone who commands such admiration as Steve does, for all that he has done, firstly as a player, and then in both his fight against his own personal illness allied to his work in raising awareness of the condition, Eric, understandably, has very mixed feelings.

“I loved helping him along as a young, up and coming, player, going along to matches with him and giving him encouragement and guidance along the way.  Probably not all my advice was as helpful as it might have been, because he was a different type of player from me, with him being predominantly a back, whereas most of my career was spent in the forwards.

“He and his older brother, Neil, used to come training with me, in their early playing days, as teenagers, when I was playing at Runcorn Highfield, and I can remember Geoff Fletcher coming to me with the suggestion of Steve’s playing on the wing, on one occasion, but I considered he was far too young for that then.  That shows, though, just how talented he was, even at that young age, but it would, nevertheless, have been really nice for us to have played alongside each other.”

Neil started out playing rugby league, but then went on to play soccer, and later rugby union, eventually becoming an Iron Man Triathlete in the fifty to fifty-four age group.  Steve, meanwhile, stuck with rugby league, signing, much to his father’s pride and joy, with St Helens.

“Like many a lad, he always wanted to try to improve on what I, as his father, had done, and he certainly got one over on me by winning his way to Wembley, in 1996, and not only winning the Cup, but also scoring two tries.  No father could have been prouder than I was, and not just on that day.

“He stayed at St Helens for four years, and also won the Regal Trophy and the First Division Championship with them, in the final season before the inauguration of Super League.  At the end of his time with Saints, he moved over to Hull, along with Alan Hunte, which made it more difficult for us to get to see his every game, though we did our best to do so.”

One remarkable similarity Steve has with his father’s career is that just as Eric returned to Salford after having played with Widnes, so Steve, returned to Hull for a second stint, having had a season away playing for Wakefield.

“He never seemed to mind who he was playing for.  So long as he was enjoying his rugby and getting good game-time he was perfectly happy, wherever he was.  He finally sustained a serious knee injury, playing for Lancashire, during his second spell with Hull, and that proved to be his final game.”

It was shortly after this, in 2006, that Steve was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and given only a matter of months to live.  Such tragic news was very hard for Eric to take.

“I just wished it could have been me because I’d had most of my life; Steve should still have had his in front of him.  It just never works like that though.”

What Steve achieved in the remaining time he had left, which proved to be considerably more than the few months originally estimated, by means of the Steve Prescott Foundation, was absolutely phenomenal, and he was awarded the MBE for his services to rugby league and charity, in the 2010 New Year’s Honours List.

“It really was phenomenal what he achieved, particularly in aid of Manchester’s Christie’s Hospital.  He loved doing it though, which, when you consider that his body by this time was well past anything like its physical peak, is incredible.  I did a marathon in four hours and ten minutes, and his immediate response was that he was going to beat that, which he did, not at the first attempt, because he was very low with the cancer at the time, but at his second attempt.”

Living with the illness he had, and all the inevitable consequences which go with it, understandably brought out a different side to Steve’s character.

“He became more open in his conversations with me, and he had a greater awareness of others, because he relied on other people for the support he needed to undertake all he was wanting to do.  The way the rugby league community rallied round was absolutely superb.  They were all totally brilliant.

“The fact that he was so actively involved in all the challenges he undertook did go some way in providing us, his parents, and Neil, his brother, with some element of comfort, that he was achieving so much.

“It’s also rewarding that the Foundation is still going strong, under the direction of his wife, Linzi, and also that since 2014, the top individual rugby league award has been known as the Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel.  In addition, the bridge leading into the Totally Wicked Stadium is named after him, which is utterly brilliant because you can never forget him, every time you go over that bridge and into the ground.

“I can’t say it was a shock, when Steve passed away in 2013 because we had seen him going downhill for a while, but it still takes some coming to terms with, because we are not ‘programmed’ for anything like this to happen.  It is just so very sad, but there are memories of him all around.  Even when I do the National Lottery each week, I can still hear him deriding my chances of winning it.  He just always wanted to be better than me.”

Eric, therefore, was the yardstick by which his remarkably splendid, younger, son, measured himself, and what greater form of flattering acknowledgement can there be, for any father.

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.”

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