RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (9) – ERIC PRESCOTT PT 5

Part 5 – THE PROUD FATHER OF STEVE PRESCOTT MBE

Fondly as Eric is remembered and respected, it also has to be borne in mind that he is only one of a whole family of Prescotts, of which his uncle, Alan Prescott, was  the famous St Helens prop, who, when on international duty with Great Britain in 1958, suffered a badly broken arm, but who, because this was in the days before substitutes were allowed, chose to stay on and, despite his impediment, succeeded in helping The Lions to Test Match victory over the Australians.

“He was quite exceptional in doing that, even then, because he had absolutely no use in that arm whatsoever; it just hung there, while he had to do all his tackling with the other one.”

More recently, Eric was followed into the game by his son Steve Prescott, MBE.  As father of someone who commands such admiration as Steve does, for all that he has done, firstly as a player, and then in both his fight against his own personal illness allied to his work in raising awareness of the condition, Eric, understandably, has very mixed feelings.

“I loved helping him along as a young, up and coming, player, going along to matches with him and giving him encouragement and guidance along the way.  Probably not all my advice was as helpful as it might have been, because he was a different type of player from me, with him being predominantly a back, whereas most of my career was spent in the forwards.

“He and his older brother, Neil, used to come training with me, in their early playing days, as teenagers, when I was playing at Runcorn Highfield, and I can remember Geoff Fletcher coming to me with the suggestion of Steve’s playing on the wing, on one occasion, but I considered he was far too young for that then.  That shows, though, just how talented he was, even at that young age, but it would, nevertheless, have been really nice for us to have played alongside each other.”

Neil started out playing rugby league, but then went on to play soccer, and later rugby union, eventually becoming an Iron Man Triathlete in the fifty to fifty-four age group.  Steve, meanwhile, stuck with rugby league, signing, much to his father’s pride and joy, with St Helens.

“Like many a lad, he always wanted to try to improve on what I, as his father, had done, and he certainly got one over on me by winning his way to Wembley, in 1996, and not only winning the Cup, but also scoring two tries.  No father could have been prouder than I was, and not just on that day.

“He stayed at St Helens for four years, and also won the Regal Trophy and the First Division Championship with them, in the final season before the inauguration of Super League.  At the end of his time with Saints, he moved over to Hull, along with Alan Hunte, which made it more difficult for us to get to see his every game, though we did our best to do so.”

One remarkable similarity Steve has with his father’s career is that just as Eric returned to Salford after having played with Widnes, so Steve, returned to Hull for a second stint, having had a season away playing for Wakefield.

“He never seemed to mind who he was playing for.  So long as he was enjoying his rugby and getting good game-time he was perfectly happy, wherever he was.  He finally sustained a serious knee injury, playing for Lancashire, during his second spell with Hull, and that proved to be his final game.”

It was shortly after this, in 2006, that Steve was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer and given only a matter of months to live.  Such tragic news was very hard for Eric to take.

“I just wished it could have been me because I’d had most of my life; Steve should still have had his in front of him.  It just never works like that though.”

What Steve achieved in the remaining time he had left, which proved to be considerably more than the few months originally estimated, by means of the Steve Prescott Foundation, was absolutely phenomenal, and he was awarded the MBE for his services to rugby league and charity, in the 2010 New Year’s Honours List.

“It really was phenomenal what he achieved, particularly in aid of Manchester’s Christie’s Hospital.  He loved doing it though, which, when you consider that his body by this time was well past anything like its physical peak, is incredible.  I did a marathon in four hours and ten minutes, and his immediate response was that he was going to beat that, which he did, not at the first attempt, because he was very low with the cancer at the time, but at his second attempt.”

Living with the illness he had, and all the inevitable consequences which go with it, understandably brought out a different side to Steve’s character.

“He became more open in his conversations with me, and he had a greater awareness of others, because he relied on other people for the support he needed to undertake all he was wanting to do.  The way the rugby league community rallied round was absolutely superb.  They were all totally brilliant.

“The fact that he was so actively involved in all the challenges he undertook did go some way in providing us, his parents, and Neil, his brother, with some element of comfort, that he was achieving so much.

“It’s also rewarding that the Foundation is still going strong, under the direction of his wife, Linzi, and also that since 2014, the top individual rugby league award has been known as the Steve Prescott MBE Man of Steel.  In addition, the bridge leading into the Totally Wicked Stadium is named after him, which is utterly brilliant because you can never forget him, every time you go over that bridge and into the ground.

“I can’t say it was a shock, when Steve passed away in 2013 because we had seen him going downhill for a while, but it still takes some coming to terms with, because we are not ‘programmed’ for anything like this to happen.  It is just so very sad, but there are memories of him all around.  Even when I do the National Lottery each week, I can still hear him deriding my chances of winning it.  He just always wanted to be better than me.”

Eric, therefore, was the yardstick by which his remarkably splendid, younger, son, measured himself, and what greater form of flattering acknowledgement can there be, for any father.

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