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.”