Part 2 – His Memories Of Playing At Salford
Although his starting opportunities were far more limited than he would have liked, Ellis Devlin’s mere presence in the club had a somewhat sobering effect on some of the players selected to the number nine role, ahead of him. Some of them saw him as a genuine threat to their own selection from week to week, particularly when Ellis was included in the squad.
“There was one of the hookers, who was really anxious that I was being selected on the bench so regularly, and he ended up making a complaint to the coach about this. He said that he felt that he only had to make one mistake and I would be replacing him.”
The role of hooker, at that time, was primarily to rake the ball from the, then, contested scrums, in order to give his team a supply of possession throughout the game. Anything over and above that from them was regarded as a bonus, and of secondary importance.
The player who was in possession for the longest period was Peter Walker, whose strike rate in the scrums was usually well above fifty percent. Sadly, his playing career was brought to a premature end by a serious leg break, but although Ellis was immediately drafted in as his replacement, the line up of hookers from other clubs never seemed to show signs of coming to an end, causing some degree of surprise to the coaches.
“Les Bettinson once came to me and said how sorry he was that he couldn’t select me but he was in the position that, because the club kept bringing in these other players, he was under pressure to play them.”
There were nevertheless a number of quite significant matches for which Ellis was selected. He particularly remembers one foray abroad.
“I played in a friendly game against France, for Salford, at the instigation of the French. They had recognised that the Salford back line was also the Great Britain backline, and so felt that if they could beat Salford, it would be a great morale booster to them, prior to a forthcoming match against GB.
“With an already crowded fixture list we had to fit it in on a Sunday, after a home match against Wigan, on the Friday night. It was a very tall order to have to travel down to the south of France, to take on an international team French team in Marseilles, two days after a tough league game against Wigan.
“We had to meet at Manchester Airport, where a private plane, owned by one of the directors was waiting to take us to the south of France. We had quite a bad journey, though with plenty of free beer on supply. It took us seven hours on a little twenty-seater propellor aircraft with just a curtain between us and the pilot.
“We got blown about all over the place and were then expected to go out and play. One or two of the players who didn’t like flying went via commercial flights, because they were much bigger planes, which felt much safer to them. Unsurprisingly we were beaten by a convincing score ”
This was eventually to prove later on to be the forerunner of an invitation for Ellis to go and play for Roanne, for a full season.
“I also played for Salford against the New Zealand tourists, which was another of the matches I remember particularly well and feel really proud to have been a part of. They had come over for a short tour, which, besides the three test matches, included a small number of games against the top English sides, including Salford.
“I do actually have a video of the BBC2 Cup Final, against Warrington, at the Willows, which ended in a 0-0 draw. Usually, scoreless matches are quite dull but this one was anything but that, with keenly fought, tight defences, and a number of near misses, which kept everyone on their toes. A copy of this match can now be found on YouTube.”
One of the most disappointing of his outings with the first team was in the 8-7 third round Challenge Cup defeat away at Castleford. As in many of the seasons in the early to mid-seventies, Salford fans were always highly optimistic of a return to Wembley, following their visit there in 1969, but not only did they miss out in winning there there to Cas on that first occasion, they were thwarted, once again, on this similar occasion, though with a closer scoreline.
Whenever he was not called upon for the first team, Ellis, most loyally and diligently, was always prepared to turn out for the ‘A’ team, and, in fairness, such was the quality of the talent in that group of players, that it was no mean achievement to have been one of their number. Indeed, the likes of Alan Grice, Peter Banner, and Kenny Gill all had periods within the team, alongside Ellis, on their progression through to the first team.
So good, in fact, was the side that they regularly attracted attendances of around a thousand, on the Friday nights when the first team was playing away, and which consequently encouraged the more enthusiastic and dedicated supporters to make the trek to The Willows, on a weekly, rather than fortnightly, basis. There were many a club, which at that time were getting first team attendances lower than the Salford ‘A’ team was attracting.
“They were strange times in those days of the early seventies. The three-day working week was introduced as the result of a miners’ strike, which impacted on the supply of electricity available throughout the country. For Salford, who played on a Friday night, with a match virtually every week, it meant that they were banned from using their floodlights at the height of it in the winter of 1973, and had to change to playing on Sunday afternoons for the first team, and Saturday afternoons for the ‘A’ team.
“Even our training sessions were affected because we had to move from our Urmston training venue since we couldn’t use their floodlights, and, instead, use the running track in front of the main stand, at The Willows, with the lights in the stand giving us enough visibility to be able to run up and down the track. We were allowed to use those lights because they used far less power than the floodlights were.
“The two teams used to train separately from each other, but on the same night. I would normally train with the ‘A’ team, at least to start with, but then if I had, earlier, been given the nod that I would be in the first team, the coach would come over and invite me to join them. There were occasions, however, when I had been told that I would be called into the first team training group, in readiness for their game at the weekend, but, on the night, that didn’t happen, which was really disappointing.