RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 14 – JOHN TAYLOR (PT3)

Part 3  He Remembers His Former Salford Teammates From Those Days

Limited as his opportunities in the first team might have been, John still had sufficiently frequent involvement with the players to get to know them all really well, and the very first name to his lips was that of the player who has so frequently been regarded as rugby league’s best ever fullback, Paul Charlton (RLQSG#9).

“Paul would come to training and without speaking to anyone would just start running, and it was only when we got to the moves we happened to be working on that session, that he would actually join in with what everyone else was doing.  Because of that though he became so fit that he must have been the fittest player in the team, by far.  He would try anything, fitness-wise, to get the best out of himself.

“On the field he was phenomenal.  He always had the happy knack of being in the right place at the right time, and he always seemed to be in control of everything, no matter what happened.  He never panicked at all.  His change of pace was exceptional and players who thought they were going to tackle him were just left totally in his wake.  I can’t, in the foreseeable future, see any player matching him in what he was able to do.

“I used to do quite a lot of training with Colin Dixon.  He was such a really nice person who never even thought about how good he was.  He just used to think of helping other players along, especially the younger ones.  No-one ever had a bad word to say about him.”

The two players, who, between them were responsible for John’s constant struggle to get that extended run in the first team were the two incumbent half backs, Peter Banner (RLQSG#4)and Kenny Gill (RLQSG#10).

“Peter was the quiet man of the team but on the field he was incredibly good.  His service from the scrum with his wide passing was a considerable asset to the team because it gave them extra time and space in which to work.  He was also a clever, tricky runner with a good turn of acceleration and pace to get him through the gaps.

“Kenny was an incredible passer of the ball, who was able to put players through gaps that no-one else even realised existed.  I had the pleasure of playing scrum half to him, on one occasion, and I remember him saying to me before the game to just get on with what we had to do, and not worry about anything else.  I found that most reassuring, just as we were leaving the dressing room.”

Another of the team’s stars also features very highly in John’s memory.

“Keith Fielding (RLQSG#6) was a fantastic person to know.  He and I used to train together, which he always took really seriously and worked himself extremely hard because he always wanted to be the fastest on the field.  I used to try to keep up with him and even overtake him.  The best I managed was finishing within a yard of him over the hundred metres.   I shall never forget him and, in fact, a few years ago, he invited me down to visit him at his home in Cornwall.”

When not commanding a place in the first team, John was still happy to be playing at ‘A’ team level, because the Salford ‘A’ team was as good as any first team, and, in their own way, equally as entertaining to watch as their senior counterparts.

“We had a lot of really good players in that team, and we really were something extra special at the time.  Jimmy Hardacre is the first of those who come to mind; he was an absolutely cracking bloke.  I remember him giving me a lift to an evening away match in Cumbria, and I’ve never been so frightened in all my life.  We flew there, despite the fact that the only stretch of motorway was around Preston.

“In fact, we were pulled up by the police, who, once they realised the reason behind our haste ended up giving us an escort to ensure that we got there in time.”

“Iain MacCorquodale was another player similar to myself in that he was often drafted into the first team, when required, usually on the wing.  His great asset was his goalkicking, which he showed to the full when he moved on to play for Workington.

“Sammy Turnbull started off in the ‘A’ team before cementing a place in the first team, at centre, later on, and he wasn’t the only one.  Alan Grice (RLQSG#11) started off there as did John Knighton, who had to use his time there to adapt from union to playing league, but then became a first choice second rower. 

“Ellis Devlin (RLQSG#12) was possibly the most under-rated player in the club, because he never got a really extended run in the first team, despite the number of other hookers who came and went during his time.  For some reason, the club never fully gained the benefit from having such really talented players in reserve, ready to step into the void, at virtually no cost, when first team players moved on or had lengthy injuries.  They always seemed to splash out a lot of money on star names, not all of whom fitted in that well.

“Like Alan Grice, Peter Frodsham was a prop forward who also had a spell in the first team, whilst fullback, Frank Stead, would have benefitted any first team, as previously had Kenny Gwilliam, who was our fullback in the Wembley Cup Final before transferring to St Helens.

“Paul Jackson had been our left winger at Wembley but had lost his place to Maurice Richards, when he came, but continued in the ‘A’ team for a while.

“With first David Watkins and Jack Brennan, and then Kenny Gill and Peter Banner, holding the half back slot, there was seldom the opportunity for David’s former rugby union stand-off half, Bob Prosser, and he, too, made most of his appearances in the ‘A’ team, in his later years with us.”

With such talented players on which to draw, it is therefore little wonder that Salford swept all before them, at ‘A’ team level, nor also that the entertainment value of that side was a widely recognised attraction to fans to come and watch them. 

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 150TH ANNIVERSARY SUPPLEMENTARY FEATURE

As part of the club’s 150th Anniversary celebrations, we look back over our series of interviews with players from the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, from its inception to the present day, a period which encompasses no less than eleven such features.

The RL Quality Street Gang was born out of comments made by the most recent of our featured players, Alan Grice, at the end of the unveiling of The Willows Memorial Plaque on the site of our former home, back in 2017.  The event was drawing to its conclusion, when Alan, who had been so moved by the memory of his ten years of playing with such a talented group of players that he, unscheduled, moved to the fore, in order to address the assembled group.

His heartfelt words of praise for the team which had so distinguished themselves by the incredibly high quality of rugby they produced, not just week upon week but season after season, and mirrored in the wonderful atmosphere engendered on the terraces at those floodlit, home fixtures, on a Friday night, concluded with his sadness that there was little of substance by which to remember it all.

A decision was made, at that very moment by this writer, to address this fact with almost immediate effect, and the most evident way of doing so was by meeting individually with whichever players could be traced, and recording an interview with each. 

As a direct consequence of this, within six months, RLQSG#1, featuring Mike Coulman, was published on the club website, and others followed at varying intervals, usually at lulls in the season, but especially over the Christmas/New Year fortnights, and a full list of all eleven, complete with links to access them, can be found below.

The overwhelming impression which has come across in every single meeting has been one of complete humility from every player allied to the sheer delight that anyone was still keen to learn about their experiences.  None of them ever seems to have realised, at the time, the respect and esteem in which each of them was being held, nor the fondness with which they are now remembered by fans fortunate enough to have seen them play – feelings which were mutually reflected by the players for their supporters.

By far the majority of interviews were undertaken at each player’s home, and the welcome and hospitality shown to the interviewer was quite overwhelming on many an occasion.  By far the most exotic venue was with former fullback, Paul Charlton, sitting at the side of his pool at his home on the Gold Coast in Australia, when he was also presented with his Salford Heritage Certificate.  Peter Banner, on the other hand, gave his interview, by phone, whilst waiting at Manchester Airport for his return flight back home.

As far as managing to trace so many of them, this proved to be somewhat easier than had at first been envisaged.  Steve Nash’s seventieth birthday celebration here at the Stadium was particularly helpful, as, sadly, were the funerals of former players Chris Hesketh and Les Bettinson.  Most bizarre, however, was the one which, as a result of an overheard conversation about rugby league in general  on New Brighton seafront by a mere passer-by, the ensuing conversation with that person led to contact being made with Doug Davies, who just happened to be one of this person’s neighbours.

The title for the series came from a name bestowed upon the team by, according to Alan Grice, later Salford coach, Alex Murphy, at a time when he was coach of a rival First Division side.  The players promptly embraced this name believing that ‘quality’ was their hallmark as a team, so, on the understanding that if the name were good enough for the players it would be ideal for the series, it was consequently adopted.

Alongside those which have already been published there remain a further seven interviews awaiting their turn, whilst contact with a small number of other players has already been established.  Sadly, there are some players who have passed away, and others who are no longer well enough to undertake the rigours of being interviewed, but despite this, it is hoped that each of them can, in a somewhat diminished format, still be featured.

The selection process for the publication of each has been based on a number of criterion, in an effort to vary the focus from each person to the next.  These include:

Recency of interview, with oldest being given priority

Playing position

Playing span within twelve-year period 1968 – 1980

The common format for each article has been on a minimum of four parts, with extra ones being included around the individual, international experience being the most common of these.  Each part is then published separately in episodic form.  The basic format is:

Pt 1 – Early Playing Career

Pt 2 – Memories of Playing For Salford

Pt 3 – Individual Teammates Especially Remembered

Pt 4 – Post Salford Rugby Career

Although the structure of each article has been the same for each feature and that similar sentiments and memories often come to the fore, there has, nevertheless, always been something unique about each person’s perspective and experiences.  In the case of Keith Fielding, he had been involved in BBC TV’s Superstars programme, and he gave us a great insight into how that all unfolded, whilst Eric Prescott showed significant resolve and tremendous pride in his recount of his son, Steve Prescott’s battle with cancer and the courage Steve had shown in raising support for the fight to overcome the dreadful condition. 

Listed below are the players already featured to date, complete with article number, name and relevant access links:

1 Mike Coulman   

2 John Butler

3 Doug Davies

4 Peter Banner

PART 3

https://salfordreddevils.net/rugby-leagues-quality-street-gang-4-peter-banner-pt-5/

5 Ron Hill

6 Keith fielding

7 Bill Sheffield

8 Paul Charlton

9 Eric Prescott

10 Ken Gill

11 Alan Grice

Next week will see the publication of the twelfth in the series which will feature a player who, from 1970 to 1976, showed the utmost dedication to the Salford cause, with a somewhat lesser reward than many other players have had, hooker Ellis Devlin.

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

Part 3 –HE REMEMBERS HIS SALFORD TEAMMATES AND COACHES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Part 3 – HE REMEMBERS SOME OF HIS FORMER SALFORD TEAMMATES

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (9) – ERIC PRESCOTT PT 3

Part 3 – HE REMEMBERS SOME OF HIS FORMER SALFORD TEAMMATES

The strong camaraderie, which existed throughout his time at the Willows, manifested itself in many ways over the seasons.

“John Butler (RL Quality St Gang #2), Bill Sheffield (RL QSG #7) and I, all lived in St Helens, and we had all played for Saints before ending up at Salford, so we did all our travelling together, both to training and matches.  We all got on really well together, and the friendships which developed between us have continued ever since.

“We would get to The Willows, on a Friday evening at around quarter to seven, in readiness for the seven-thirty kick off.  With only around half an hour in which to get ready, you were out on the field before you had had time to think about what was happening.

“After the game you’d go back into the club and meet spectators who would come up to you for a chat.  It was like a family, all with the same motive. All the players used to enjoy this, and they would all talk to people at some length, because the fans were always so complimentary.”

Unbelievably, despite all of this attention that they all received, Eric insists that none of them ever felt in any way like the stars, which was how all of the supporters truly regarded them.

“To us, it was just a case of each one had had a job to do, and we had just got it right.  We didn’t claim to have anything more than that.  The most crucial thing to us was that this was a team game, and everybody just got on well together.  The involvement of the spectators, after the game, was just an extension of this.  We even got requests to go along to amateur clubs or youth teams to present awards to their players, which was also really enjoyable.”

In common with many of his colleagues, Eric subscribes to the view that the redoubtable Colin Dixon was one of the mainstays of the team, at that time.

“Although he was without doubt a gentleman, he was an extremely good player.  Whenever you looked at a newspaper report of any of our matches, Colin was always mentioned; that was how good he was.

“He was also good at explaining himself well.  I was a bit more reticent in speaking up, but Colin had such an assuredness that he was always willing to put his suggestions forward for people to consider.”

Alongside Colin in the pack was his second-row partner, Mike Coulman (RLQSG #1), who was to move up to prop, shortly after Eric’s arrival on the Salford scene.

“Mike was a mountain of a player, and he was so powerful; his legs were immense.  Opponents were totally in awe of him.”

Although fullback, Paul Charlton (RLQSG #8), returned to his native Cumbria a couple of seasons after Eric joined the club, they played together long enough for Eric to enjoy the opportunity of having such a skilful player in the side.

“His speed and his fitness were exceptional, and he could accelerate so quickly from an almost standing start.  He was also really tough, as are many people from that part of the country.  Tony Gourley, who played in the second row for us, was equally so.

“As a loose forward I would have to do a lot of covering across the field when we were defending, and so that provided me with many occasions on which I could do nothing but marvel at the way that Paul would seem to come from nowhere to effect last-ditch, try-saving tackles on wingers who were convinced that they were on their way to a score.  He just had that off to a tee.”

Another remarkably tough individual was the centre who went on to captain not only the Salford side, but also Great Britain, Chris Hesketh,

“Chris’s defence was uncompromising.  When he tackled a player, they knew about it, and he became a very good captain for us.  He not only would talk to people to reassure them, ahead of the game, he would do what he could to help you out, and then give you encouragement during it.  He certainly helped a lot of young players who came into the side. I would say he was the best captain I ever played under.

“His running style, with an incredible sense of balance, was such that it really confused opponents, and his hand-off was so powerful and effective that, all-in-all, it made him so difficult to tackle.  He just seemed to have everything you could possibly want in a player.”

Alongside Chris in the three-quarter line were some of the fastest players in the game, including David Watkins, who had been club captain, immediately prior to Chris.

“David was of a very similar style, as captain, and really eloquent in the way he put his points across. Keith Fielding (RLQSG #6), on the wing, just had out and out speed, and he used to put himself in a position to get on the end of a break from the likes of John Butler, or myself, to score try after try.

“Maurice Richards, on the other wing, was a quite different style of player.  He would just run at people and then, at the last minute, deploy his remarkable footwork to wrong-foot them and sweep past them.

“Everything on attack, though, used to come from Kenny Gill, at halfback.  We were well off for stand-offs, because John Butler was an international stand-off, but he played at centre for us, which was really good because he could read a game extremely well.  With so many former rugby union players in the side, he gave the team the stability that it needed at times of pressure, because, like Kenny, he had played league all his life.”

Another quite long-serving of the many second-row forwards of that period to play for Salford was John Knighton, who had come from rugby union into the ‘A’ team, and subsequently the first team, where he became a regular in the starting line-up.

“He was a really good player, was John, and, once he had secured an opportunity to play in the first team, he kept his place.  He did a considerable amount of tackling and grafting, which often does not get recognised on the terraces as much as wingers racing through to score tries.  As players, we just turn up to play in the way we are told, and then at the end of the week that is what we get paid for.  So, we forwards had to make the chances to get the ball out to the backs for them to score tries.

“Out of the whole time I was there, the player with whom I was most friendly, was centre, Frank Wilson.  We had known each other whilst we were at St Helens, and then rekindled our friendship, when Frank came to Salford in 1979.  We played in the Centenary game together, against Widnes.”

Over his first period with the club, Eric played, in the main, under the direction of two coaches, Cliff Evans and then Les Bettinson.

“They were both extremely good coaches, and in much the same style as each other.  Everything was kept interesting for us because they varied things so much.  In addition, they were both extremely approachable and had a good relationship with the players.  If something was going wrong, we would talk it out calmly and sensibly, there was none of the bawling and storming that used to go on with coaches at other clubs.

“When Les eventually decided to finish, Alex Murphy was one of a number of coaches who came in to try their hand with us.  I was absolutely made up for the club that we had been able to get someone of his rugby league stature, and he had done so well with both Leigh and Warrington.”

Over the years he was in the game, Eric won a total of six medals, whilst with Salford, but the one he really wanted, which was, of course, the Challenge Cup winner’s medal, eluded him, until eventually he went to Wembley as a Widnes player and helped them to lift the cup, to get even that one.

The success of the team, throughout the seventies, in his view, was thanks, in part, to the great team spirit that existed throughout the whole squad.

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (8) – PAUL CHARLTON (PT 2)

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Comfortable and happy as Paul was plying his trade with Workington, things were about to change, as attention in his direction had been attracted one hundred and twenty-five miles south, in Salford, where club chairman, Brian Snape, was making massive strides in rebuilding the club and its team.

“Mr Snape had already assembled an extremely good team together, but was always looking at ways to improve it, and in me he saw someone who would strengthen the back line, so he made contact with Tom Mitchell, with whom he had a good friendship, and a deal was eventually concluded between them.

“I hadn’t wanted to leave Workington at all but wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of going to Salford, particularly when Mr Mitchell told me how in need of the money Workington were, with decreasing crowds putting their finances under considerable strain.

“My wife and I were invited down to Salford, to visit the club and have a look around, and we were most impressed by what we saw, all the more so when we went into the restaurant to see Manchester City coach, Malcolm Allison, in there, having his lunch.  We spoke, and he wished me all the best on my signing and urged me to make the most of my opportunity with Salford.

“Kenny Gwilliam had been Salford’s regular fullback, for a couple of seasons, and had played for the Reds in their Challenge Cup Final, at Wembley.  With my arrival, however, he was, most deservedly, rewarded with a transfer to another top Lancashire side – his hometown team, St Helens.

“Once all the details of the transfer had been ironed out, we moved down to Salford.  At first, we lived above Brian Snape’s offices, but he also owned a couple of houses in Kildare Rd, and he sold one of these to us.  He certainly did all he could to help me settle into the area, and he really was a lovely person.

”I even remember from my very early days, that he had installed his son-in-law, and former Preston Grasshoppers, and Salford, winger, Paul Murphy, as manager of The Willows; a position which he then held for several years.”

Settling into the area is always quite crucial for any player moving to a different part of the country, and in the early days of ultra-short motorways, the distance he found himself from Whitehaven could have been problematic.  Fortunately, that proved not to be the case.

“We settled quite quickly.  I was a joiner by trade, and I soon had a job where I fitted into the company very well.  The boss was a big Salford supporter so that helped.”

Moving to a top side in any sport brings with it a wide range of rewards, and experiences, to be enjoyed.  Apart from the financial benefits there are also on-field successes and a certain degree of notoriety, whilst playing among top quality players brings out the best in everyone’s performance, as Paul readily acknowledges.

“Without any shadow of doubt, I became a far better player for having gone to Salford than I had been, when at Workington.  I had been one of the top players there, but, when I went to Salford, we were all equally as good as one another. We consequently encouraged, and inspired, one another to improve, week by week, season by season.

“We would train occasionally at The Willows, but more usually it was at the Cliff, in Urmston.  It was a playing field, with a shed for us to get changed in.  Going in there for my first session was a memorable experience.  Just being among all those stars was an incredible feeling in itself, but to be playing alongside them was the best thing I can ever remember.

There, nevertheless, was a short period of adjustment and settling in to be gone through, in order for him to become totally conversant with all that was happening around him on the field, and why.

“This sort of thing just doesn’t happen overnight.  New players, coming into a team, often try too hard because they are unsure of all that is going on in the game.  Because of that they then stiffen up, and that reduces their performance level.  Within five or six weeks of playing with Salford, however, I’d become totally relaxed, and everything just came as normal.  I didn’t even have to work for it; it just worked itself.

“That was thanks to the other players.  They taught me a considerable amount from the very start – stuff I’d never come across before, which pushed my performance level up further still.  No-one ever stops learning but when you’ve got players of that calibre, all together, the opportunities to do so are absolutely rife.

“We also had extremely knowledgeable coaches.  Griff Jenkins was the coach when I arrived.  He had had the great success of taking Salford to Wembley for the first time in thirty years, the season before.

“He was replaced twelve months later, by Cliff Evans, who had previously been coach at Swinton.  He was a schoolteacher, and an extremely nice guy.  He produced some fabulous moves for us, which took the whole team to another level again.  Everyone knew their own role, and one another’s, the circumstances of when to employ each move, and the calls that went with them.  It all just came together so well, which developed a tremendous team spirit.

“Brian Snape was fundamental in the building of that.  On one occasion, we had lost at home owing to a poor refereeing decision, and he eradicated all the feelings of dejection and dissatisfaction by giving us winning pay, as a form of consolation.

“Our second-row pairing of Mike Coulman (Quality St Gang No1) and Colin Dixon was exceptional, and I used to follow them around the field, and got quite a number of tries by doing so, because they would drive the ball up and then feed it to me alongside them, and, of course, by this time I had acquired some pace, so was able to race through for the score.

“Winning the First Division Championship, in the 1973/4, season was the highlight of my time at Salford.  They repeated the fete, two seasons later, in ‘75/6 but by then I had returned to Workington, so missed out on that one.”

There has always been a general acceptance, that, in some respects, the team slightly underachieved in terms of trophy successes, and that there should have been more occasions, and seasons, similar to that of ‘73/4, but Paul has his own particular view on that.

“In the time that I was with the club, they had success in a number of ways, in particular by being a significant factor in most competitions, and also by getting to the finals and semi-finals of tournaments such as the Lancashire Cup, Regal Trophy and BBC2 Floodlit Cup, in which we did have our successes in winning a number of those.

“What I would say, though, is our playing style was not particularly suited to the grind of winning enough games in any one competition, because we were far more flamboyant as a team than any other club, but that came at the expense of a hard-work ethic.  Consequently, when we came up against the likes of Leeds, Castleford, and St Helens, we just lacked that toughness that was necessary to overcome these sides, especially on one-off occasions.”

What, of course, Salford fans had, far in excess of any other club at the time, was the sheer entertainment value in the rugby the players provided.

“On those Friday nights at The Willows, you certainly couldn’t have got anything better, and with an average attendance of around eleven thousand, people certainly must have felt that they were getting value for their money.  There certainly weren’t many empty seats left by the time of the kick-off.”

Despite all his claims to having been short of pace, in his early days, by the time he came to Salford, Paul had pace to burn.  Add to that the degree of acceleration he possessed, once described as ‘his change of gear’, which all too often foiled an opponent, who thought they could snuff out the threat he posed, with an early tackle.  Then, whilst in full flight he would employ a swerve to get round a fullback, and in a matter of seconds he had changed the whole balance of the game.

“Once I got in the clear, I could then slow down a little to conserve my energy, but I could also side-step off either foot.  That’s a great asset, if you can do it, because it’s not something you can teach.  I’d be going forward and there would be a guy in front of me, and I would just find myself going to the left then immediately to the right, and I’d be past him.  It’s an inner skill, and I’m fortunate to have been one of those people to have had that.”

It was not solely on attack that he used his pace to such significant effect; it was also in defence.  Many is the time that a fullback is faced with an oncoming winger, but Paul knew exactly how to deal with the situation.  He would hold back, thereby allowing the winger to keep to the touchline thinking he could get to the try-line, but then Paul would accelerate to top speed and the pair of them would end up in one heap, over the touchline.

“In my early playing days, I could never have done that, but it was all down to having the ability to go from idle to full-throttle in an inkling.  Once I found that it worked, I developed it so that I was able to stop top class wingers like John Atkinson, of Leeds, in full flight.  I just thought to myself, push him over to the touchline, don’t give him too much room, and then crack him.

“It was the timing of my acceleration which was the crucial item. It worked almost every time, but it was something that seems to have been unique to me because, to this day, I have never seen anyone else do that the way I did it.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (8) – PAUL CHARLTON (PT1)

Salford’s Former International Fullback, Paul Charlton, Recalls Memories Of His Rugby League Playing Days

CONTENTS

Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Part 3 – HIS INTERNATIONAL CAREER

Part 4 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER

 

Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER

A native of the County formerly known as Cumberland, Paul Charlton grew up in the coastal, rugby-loving, town, of Whitehaven, where he spent his early years, accompanied by his grandfather, watching his local team.

“I was only seven, when I first started watching Whitehaven, but it was really enjoyable from the very start, and I quickly got hooked, so much so that when asked what I wanted for Christmas, that year, I immediately said a rugby ball.  That, then, enabled a few of us to go onto the back field, on a Sunday afternoon, to have a game of touch rugby, which would last nearly until bedtime.

“It might be hard to believe now, but, in those days, there were some really good players playing for Whitehaven, and to me I thought they were superstars, which simply added to the thrill of watching the team.  It really took a grip of me, and I just wanted to become a player, myself, though I never really thought I would because I was only a small, skinny, little lad.  Being a Whitehaven supporter, however, I only ever wanted to play for them.

“Unlike many of the friends with whom I had grown up, I was much more interested in pursuing this ambition than going out to the pub with them, so that eventually, at the age of seventeen, I went over to my local amateur club, Kells ARLFC.  I was quite amazed at everything that went on there, with the training and the structure they had, so decided to join them.”

It was not very long before he got his first chance for a game in their U19s side.

“One of the team cried off and I was called into the side, which was quite daunting because two years’ difference at that age is a considerable amount, and I wasn’t even ten stone, at the time.”

It was not only to be his first actual match, it was also to be his first appearance in the number one, fullback’s jersey.

“If I hadn’t taken up this opportunity, I would very soon have been given the boot.  Even then, I was not only still lacking in size, I also had no pace whatsoever; even the prop forwards were faster than I was.”

Far from being disheartened by this, Paul just buckled down to address his physical shortcomings, with sheer intensive, hard training, interspersed with the odd game.

“It all progressed from there, and I honestly don’t know how I did it, but I progressed from zero to two hundred, in seven years.  Possibly, it was because I was playing alongside others who had been playing for a while, and who gave me great encouragement to do well.”

Unbeknown to Paul, a scout for, of all clubs in the league, Workington Town, Jim Kitchen. had seen him playing and had been really taken with his talent and attitude.  When broached about a possible move there, however, Paul, then aged twenty, thought the whole notion of that to be something of a wind-up.

“I was barely eleven stone in weight, and still quite slow.  I didn’t even consider myself suitable for ‘A’ team football, let alone first team, so I just kept hanging off making any commitment.  Apart from anything else, both my dad and my grandfather were big supporters of Whitehaven so in no way could I see myself playing for the arch-enemy Workington.”

His father, however, could see the sense in following the offer through, so, with tribal loyalties dispensed with, Paul made his way up to Workington, who simply were not prepared to take ‘No’ for an answer.

“It was very much contrary to the dictates of my heart because I’d always wanted to play for Whitehaven.  I’d even trained with them occasionally, whilst playing with Kells, but nothing had ever been forthcoming from them, so I took up the offer of going to Workington.”

One benefit of moving to a semi-professional club was that the lack of pace, which had been so much of a hindrance to his progress, improved beyond all recognition to the extent that he was soon beating some of the speedsters of the side, over a hundred yards.

“I was so unbelievably slow when I first signed but I must have put on over fifteen metres, and that gave me my first chance in the first team, in 1964, at Rochdale, where we won 12-8.  The players and the support staff at Workington were all really good guys, and so very encouraging, and fair, in the way they treated me.

“The extremely flamboyant, Tom Mitchell, was the chairman, and throughout the world of rugby, he was regarded as the sort of guy for whom you would give an arm and leg.  It was a great move by Great Britain, when they appointed him as manager to their 1966 tour.

“Among the players there was Syd Lowden, who later moved to play in the backs for Salford, a few seasons before I signed there.  I got my next call into the first team, in 1965, when he cried off for an away match at Wigan, which, against all the odds, we won.  That was my breakthrough, and when Syd was once again fit, he was played in the centre, and I retained the fullback spot.  My self-belief soared from that.”

By the later part of the sixties, the name of Paul Charlton had become widely known across rugby league circles, culminating in his winning the most prestigious ‘Players No 6, Player of the Year Award’, which was an early forerunner of the present day, ’Man of Steel’.  (The photograph above shows Paul being presented with this award)

“That was an absolutely unbelievable achievement, and moment, in my playing career.  Words just cannot describe the feelings that go with being regarded as the top player in the whole of British rugby league.  It was a culmination of all the hard work that not only I had put in, but, equally so, that of so many people who had helped me along the way.  I just hope that they were able to share in my elation at such a success.”

The only person, who, it seems, was unaware of his widespread notoriety, appears to have been Paul himself.

“I lived in Whitehaven, remember.  I didn’t even know what was going on in Manchester, let alone across the whole of rugby league.  I was just enjoying playing my rugby, and in fact, had Salford not come in for me, I would have been quite happy just being a one club player with Workington Town.”

Not even Whitehaven, by this time could have lured him away, because the sheer acrimony between the two rival Cumbrian clubs was so intense.

“On one of my first visits with Town to the Recreation Ground, I was standing behind the posts while Whitehaven were taking a kick at goal, and a couple of bottles came flying at me from behind, along with a whole diatribe of verbal abuse hurled at me for having dared join Workington and turning out for them against my hometown club.  Whoever threw those bottles just never realised that Haven had had their chance to sign me but had never shown any interest in doing so.

“Fortunately, the bottles did miss me, but only just, and even worse, they were empty.”

Willows Wall | Paul Charlton named at full-back

Paul Charlton has won the voting for the fullback position in Salford’s ‘Heritage Team’ which will take place on the ‘Willows Wall’ as part of an initiative between Capricorn Security and the Salford Red Devils Foundation. 
Charlton made 233 appearances for Salford, scoring 99 tries and kicking two goals totalling at 301 points. The dynamic Charlton set the world record for tries in a season from full-back crossing for 33 in the 1972-73 campaign. 31 of these were for Salford while he also scored for Great Britain and Cumberland from this position.
The try-scoring full-back joined Salford from Workington Tow in October 1969 in a deal worth £13,000. In his time at Salford, Charlton won a Championship title in 1974 as well as a Lancashire Cup winners medal in 1972.
Charlton earned 19 caps for Great Britain and a member of Great Britain’s World Cup winning side in 1972; which was held in France. Charlton would return to Workington Town fin 1975 following six successful seasons at The Willows and went on to also play for Blackpool Borough.
The Championship winner saw off sturdy competition from some other great full-backs to win with 34.48%.
The voting finished as below:

  1. Paul Charlton – 34.48%
  2. Gary Jack – 16.64%
  3. Gary Broadbent – 16.30%
  4. Steve Gibson – 15.27%
  5. Paul Fletcher – 13.55%
  6. Steve Rule – 1.37%
  7. Arthur Gregory – 1.20%
  8. Harold Osbaldestin – 0.51%
  9. Colin Whitefield – 0.51%
  10. Ken Gwillam – 0.00%

If you’d like to get your names alongside a host of Salford Red Devils legends contact John.Blackburn@Salfordreddevils.net and get your name on the ‘Willows Wall’ for £25. 
All of your money will be donated directly to the Salford Red Devils Foundation.

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