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.”

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.”

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