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.”

TRIBUTE TO TOM DANBY

Salford Red Devils are saddened to learn of the passing of their former international winger, Tom Danby, on the 26th December 2022.

A native of Durham, Tom had risen to become a rugby union international, whilst playing for Harlequins, in January 1949, when he represented England against Wales, at Cardiff Arms Park.  Although England lost 9-3, he had so impressed that he was recruited by Salford and signed for them six months later, in June of that year.  He then made his debut against Liverpool Stanley, on 24th August, at The Willows.

He was an immediate success in rugby league and in the following March was selected for the England team to face Wales, at Central Park, Wigan, and then followed this up with his being included in the 1950 Great Britain touring squad to Australia and New Zealand, during which he notched up a remarkable total of 34 tries in 18 matches.  He, consequently, was then selected to play in the second test, at Brisbane, which he celebrated by scoring an exceptional, individual, opening try, which contributed to his continued presence in the third and final test, in Sydney, and then in the second of two test matches against New Zealand, in Aukland.

On his return home, he played for the Great Britain Touring Side against ‘The Rest’, in the Lord Derby Memorial Match, at Wigan, in October 1950.  Although this was to be his final game for Great Britain, he, nevertheless, went on to represent England twice in late 1950, against Wales in Abertillery, and France at Headingley, LeedsWor.

In the 1951/2 season, he was Salford’s top try scorer, with a total of 17, and later that year played for them against the New Zealand touring side.  In his five years with the club he made 174 appearances, scoring 61 tries and kicking 2 goals, for a total of 187 points.

In 1954, he requested to be placed on the transfer list, before making his final appearance in a red jersey, at Derwent Park, Workington, on 3rd April.  An anticipated move to Workington Town sadly fell through, and he retired from the sport to move south and take up a teaching post in Sussex.

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

Acknowledgement: Graham Morris, Club Historian and Author of ‘100 Greats Salford Rugby League Club’

International | England to face France in warm-up test

England Rugby League Elite Men’s squad will face France at Leigh Sports Village on Wednesday, October 17 (KO 7.45pm) in preparation for the Autumn International Series against New Zealand.
On Saturday, England defeated the Kiwis 36-18 in front of a crowd of 19,320 in Denver, Colorado in the first international Rugby League game to be staged in the USA for 18 years.
The game against France will be the first time UK supporters will be able to watch the World Cup finalists in action in this country since the 2016 Four Nations.
England and France last met in their final group stage game of the RLWC2017 in Perth, Australia, with England securing a 36-6 victory.
In 2015, Leigh Sports Village hosted England v France as a warm up fixture prior to the Autumn International Series against the Kiwis that saw England lift the Baskerville Shield.
Director of Rugby, Kevin Sinfield said: “2018 is a hugely important year for England Rugby League and the mid-season test against Denver was the first step in building on the success of reaching the World Cup final in 2017.
“The Denver Test showed the appetite for International Rugby League away from the UK and Australia and the victory against New Zealand showed that we’re heading in the right direction as a team.
“The French Tests have been good for us over the last couple of years and it’s great to have another game lined up on home soil ahead of the Autumn Series. It will give the team the chance to regroup after the end of the season before we face New Zealand again.”
Tickets for the game against France are on sale now at rugby-league.com and are priced at £20 for Adults and £5 for Juniors. ‘Our League’ members can purchase tickets and save 50% on both Adult and Junior prices. Visit rugby-league.com/tickets for more details and to book.
Tickets for this Autumn’s International Series against New Zealand are also on sale at rugby-league.com/tickets and are priced from £25 for adults and £12.50 for concessions. ‘Our League’ members will get £5 off all ticket categories when purchased through the Our League App or website.
Our League members can also take advantage of an exclusive offer which gives them 3 games for the price of 2, click here for more information.

The Tigers are in Town, but we’ll roar louder! 
Tickets for our next home game against Castleford Tigers on Friday 13th July are available to purchase at the Club Ticket Office, over the phone or online here.

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