RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG – KEN GILL (PT4)

Part 4 – HIS INTERNATIONAL PLAYING CAREER

With all the accolades of praise, which came his way, both from fans, fellow players, and the sporting media, it was of no great surprise to anyone that, in 1974, Ken Gill was selected to play for Gt Britain in two test matches against France.

“When I got the call to inform me I had been selected for the international team I was just so made up, and everybody around me was just as delighted for me.  The first match was away in Grenoble, where we won, 24-5, and the return game was at Central Park, Wigan, which we also won, 29-0.

“St Helens centre, John Walsh, had been made captain, but just before we went out onto the field, at Wigan, he took off his captain’s armband and gave it to me, with the instruction for me to take over the captaincy, which was quite a shock so close to the kick off, but an incredibly gallant gesture.”

March 1975 saw the start of the World Cup, with fixtures spread throughout the calendar year, thereby overlapping two seasons, and lasting until mid-November.  Instead of a final, the winners were determined on a league basis, and for this competition Ken was a part of the England squad which was in operation rather than the full GB side.

Countries played one another on a home and away basis, and so he was required for a close season trip to Sydney to face Australia.

“When we got there, I found myself in competition with Roger Milward for the stand-off half position, but, at the outset it was he who was being selected, so, after our being beaten in the first Test Match I went to the coach, Reg Parker, to find out why I wasn’t being selected.  The outcome was that Roger was moved to the wing and I took over at half back, and we promptly won the second one, 16-11.

Indeed, it was Kenny who scored the winning try going over between the posts with a set move direct from a scrum, fifteen metres out from the Australian line, involving scrum half, Stevie Nash, and this will have helped secure his continued selection for the third test, and beyond.  Then, when they moved on to New Zealand, he hit the headlines again by crossing for a hat-trick of tries.

“I went on to return again in 1977, but playing at such a high level as test rugby the physicality was so great in general, and I got singled out for extra special attention in this direction, so much so that I finished possibly earlier than I otherwise would have done.”

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 4

 

Part 4 – HIS POST SALFORD RUGBY CAREER

Even after his final departure from the Willows, in 1983, it turned out that there was still a considerably lengthy role left for him as a player, with Runcorn Highfield (formerly Liverpool City, and Huyton), in the second division.

A chance meeting with Geoff Fletcher, a former prop forward with Leigh, Oldham, and Huyton of whom he had become coach, later moving with them to Runcorn in the same capacity, led to Eric’s being invited to join the playing staff, there.

“It was a little different from what I had been used to with Salford, Saints, and Widnes, but I soon settled in and we did really well at the start.  We won the first seven games, and became top of the league, for a while, as a result.

“This, however, caused some significant problems, as we found out when Geoff Fletcher came into the dressing room and told us that we couldn’t win any more matches as the club couldn’t afford to pay us any more winning money!

“Not that we allowed that to influence our performances out on the field.  I, for one, always wanted to win every game I played in, and that never changed, irrespective of whether there was any significant money available at the end of it.”

Despite all the uncertainties which went with playing for Runcorn, who later changed their name solely to Highfield as a consequence of one final move more, this time to the Prescot area, Eric stayed with them right through to 1989, when he eventually played his last professional game, against Keighley, thereby bringing down the curtain on an incredible twenty-year playing career.  In that time, he had played over 570 games, a feat of which he is most justifiably proud.

“There are not many players will be able to that nowadays, because it is all so very different, but I enjoyed playing no matter who it was for.  It was just great, and I wish I could still be playing now.

“I still watch the game on TV, and I do go to matches.  In recent years I have been to the Lance Todd Trophy Presentation Dinner, as well as attending the seventieth birthday celebration of Steve Nash, at a Salford home game, a few seasons ago.”

Willows Wall | Steve Nash in the halves

Salford Red Devils can confirm that Steve Nash completes the backs in our ‘Willows Wall’ Heritage Team in association with Salford Red Devils Foundation and Capricorn Security.
Nash – who joined the Red Devils for a world record fee of £15,000 from hometown club Featherstone Rovers – made over 300 appearances for Salford scoring nine tries and 17 goals, totalling 129 points.
Nash was an integral part of the 1973 Division One winning side and also helped guide the Red Devils to a Lancashire Cup final and Premiership final, however both ended in defeat. He would go on to become Salford’s captain and was granted a testimonial at The Willows before retiring at the age of 35.
He featured in the 1979 Great Britain tour of Australia before suffering a detached retina however he would go on to captain Great Britain in their first test against Australia in Hull in 1982. Prior to arriving at Salford, Nash won the Lance Todd Trophy for his performance for Featherstone Rovers in 1973.
Here is the voting in full: 
Steve Nash – 47.19%
Steve Kerry – 14.52%
Gavin Clinch – 10.89%
Jackie Brennan – 10.89%
Peter Banner – 9.57%
Billy Watkins – 2.97%
Darren Bloor – 1.98%
David Cairns – 0.99%
Brian Keaveney – 0.66%
Billy Banks – 0.33%
 
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.

Find us on twitter

Load More...

Find us on Instagram

Sign up to the official newsletter