RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 13 – TERRY OGDEN PT 3

Pt 3 He Relates The History Surrounding The Willows Social Club

Not only did the team on the field develop throughout Terry’s time, with the club, so too the environment at The Willows changed completely over the years, from the rather stark surroundings of two end sets of terracing, both uncovered, the partially covered part of the east side known then as the Popular Stand, and a wooden edifice which was the main stand with seating in the centre on the west side, to what became the star-studded Willows Variety Centre, which proceeded to develop in marked phases.

“I was involved in providing advice to the club in each stage of the development.  It all started on a Friday night back in 1965, when two of the panels at the back of the north stand were removed, and a marquee, containing a bar, was put up on the cricket ground behind to celebrate the very first Friday night fixture to be played, and also televised, under floodlights at The Willows.  That became the catalyst for what was going to come; it was the moment that Salford became a ‘party’ club because of the party-like atmosphere they always generated thereafter. 

Discussions around the social club project were mired in considerable detail all of which had to be decided upon.

“When we were working on the cellars of the new venture, instead of having the beer stored in barrels, we had four tanks put in, into which we poured the beer whenever we had a delivery.  The plan was to have three of the four containing bitter, and one lager, though I tried to argue for two of each.  In the event we all turned out to be wrong because demand proved to be for three lager and one for bitter.

“There were also differing points of view as to whether the main bar at least should be carpeted, with Brian Snape arguing that it would encourage people to treat it with respect, about which he proved to be absolutely correct.

“A later stage was the opening of the new Stanneylands Restaurant, which, when viewed from the pitch, was situated upstairs and at the righthand end.  It was extremely popular before and during games.  My mother always used to go in to enjoy a meal beforehand, which was a considerable change from the little white tearoom at the top of the North Stand, which had preceded it.

“There also used to be a little bar under the Popular Stand, alongside the players’ dressing room.  One of my responsibilities was going around each of the bars and taking stock-control, each week, but we very soon closed it down and centralised everything in the club.

“There was even a full-scale casino underneath, at one stage, prior to the changes brought about by the Gambling Act, which gave a totally different dimension to anything in place at any other club.  Brian not only had restaurants, he also had Bingo halls and cinemas, throughout Manchester, all of which ensured he had considerable connections throughout the entertainment industry.

“We also converted all the bars at Lancashire Cricket Ground, with Stanneylands then going on to provide all the catering services there, whilst I became the licensee to the club, though I only ever worked there at big occasions, when it literally was all hands to the pump.  I never once regretted my move to Salford and my days working for Stanneylands were among the happiest of my life.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 13 – TERRY OGDEN PT 1

Former Salford Prop Forward, Terry Ogden, Looks Back At His Time As A Player At The Willows During The Seventies

CONTENTS

Pt 1  His Early Rugby Career

Pt 2 He Recounts The Story Of Salford’s Rebirth

Pt 3 He Relates The History Surrounding The Willows Social Club

Pt 4 He Remembers Players From The ‘Team Of Stars’

Pt 5  His Post Rugby League Life                                               

Part 1 His Early Rugby Career

Even had his parents known before he was born, that former Salford prop forward, Terry Ogden, was going to become a professional rugby league player, they could not have chosen a more fitting place to have lived and brought him up than where they happened to be living, at the time, as he explains:

“I was born in Adlington Street, Oldham, under the shadow of what was then the West Stand of Oldham Rugby League Club’s former ground, The Watersheddings.  My mate’s father held a role in the backroom staff, and he provided us with the first rugby ball I ever played with, which turned out to be just the casing of one stuffed with newspapers, with no bladder to it.

“It did the job though because by the age of sixteen I was having trials with Oldham.  I’d started off playing rugby union as a result of it being taught at my secondary school, and I even went on to play it at club level before changing to league with Greenacres ARLFC, where some of my friends were playing.

“I played second row or loose forward in what was a really good side, and it was from there that I ended up being picked up, by Oldham, for trials in their ‘A’ team.  You were always assured that you would be in the team, whenever they happened to be playing at places like Workington or Whitehaven, or any other equally far-flung place. 

“There were no motorways then, of course, so you had to wend your way through all the narrow winding lanes, which ensured that travel sickness took the edge off everybody’s performance before we even got there.  The first team, by comparison, went on the train, and, on occasions, even stayed overnight in Keswick.

“I signed for them on my seventeenth birthday, in 1957, and, with them having such a great team in those days with the likes of Frank Pitchford, Derek Turner, and Frank Stirrup, it took me some time to break into the first team.  My idol was right centre, Alan Davies, who later came to play with us at Salford while I was there, as also did Charlie Winslade, who became a good friend of mine as we used to travel to away games together.

“In 1961, Huddersfield came in to try to sign me, but we couldn’t agree terms, which was rather unfortunate because they then went on to become Challenge Cup runners-up to Wakefield, at Wembley, and then beat them the following week, in the Championship Play-offs Final.  To cap that, when I did eventually join them the following season, we were knocked out of the Cup in the first round, at home, against Whitehaven of all people.  I think we had been a little over-confident.

“The start of 1963 was the winter of the Big Freeze, which decimated fixtures for up to three months, with temperatures not climbing above zero for almost the whole time.  We did manage to get an odd match in here and there, but it seemed an extremely long time before things got back to normal.

“During my time at Fartown, I became very great friends with Aiden Breen, whom I first met at one of our stay-overs in Keswick.  He later became PA to Brian Snape, after Brian had become Chairman of Salford in 1964, and consequently signed for them.  He then encouraged me to go down to watch a match at the Willows, which I did for a game against Keighley.

“I felt that there was a really good team spirit among the players and they had a few of note, such as prop Albert Halsall, stand-off Jackie Brennan, scrum-half Terry Dunne, and loose forward Arthur Hughes who actually played against us in the Challenge Cup semi-final for Warrington, from where we went on to play at Wembley.

“Money was very tight at Salford at the time, so in order for a deal to be agreed with Huddersfield, a player-exchange had to be arranged with my moving to Salford, and a Salford winger moving across to Fartown.”

TRIBUTE TO DEAN RAISTRICK

Salford Red Devils were most saddened to learn of the passing, recently, of former hooker, Dean Raistrick. Dean joined Salford in 1975, and on arrival became an integral part of the famous team of the late sixties and the seventies.

Indeed, his signing was extremely crucial to the club at that time, because they had found themselves without a hooker, with a number of players from their squad having endeavoured to undertake the role.

Dean’s arrival, however, not only enabled him to fill the gap, he also turned around the fortunes of the Reds that season to the extent that they went on to win the First Division Championship, for the 1975/6 season, two years after having won it for the first time, post-war.

Dean had forged his reputation, whilst playing for Keighley, for whom he had made ninety-nine appearances, and where he had twice gained representative honours for Yorkshire, as a result of his ability to win the ball from the scrum.

His transfer to Salford was initially on a month’s loan deal between the clubs, but such was his talent that he immediately brought a stability to the team, beginning with his debut away at Bradford on 7th December 1975, so much so that the move became permanent.

During his time at The Willows, he not only won a Championship medal, he was also in the team which played against St Helens in the 1976 Premiership semi-final, at Station Rd Swinton, although on this occasion it was the Saints who progressed to the final, having run out victors by 15 point to 2.

Sadly, difficulties with the travelling from his home in Bradford, two or three times a week, gradually proved too much for him and on 11th March 1977, he played his final game for the Reds, in a home fixture against Featherstone Rovers, after having made thirty-six appearances, and then joining Bradford Northern in the August of that year.

The culmination of his time at Odsal came with a winning appearance in the Premiership Final over Widnes in May, 1978, before transferring to Halifax, that August, where he developed a talent for kicking drop-goals, twice scoring hat-tricks, and registering a total of fourteen in his twenty-eight appearances.

On 3rd February 1980, he returned to where it had all begun, back in 1972, with a second spell at Keighley, with whom he completed his playing career, in a home match against Carlisle, on 9th September 1984, having played in eighty-one matches, alongside two others as substitute.  During this time his unabated talent for kicking drop-goals saw a total of twenty-four successful attempts, whilst he also registered two tries.

Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family at this sad time.  His funeral will take place at 2pm on Friday 28th July, at Scholemoor Cemetery, Bradford.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS: Graham Morris, Club Historian; Paul Whiteside, Photograph.

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG – KEN GILL (PT2)

Part 2 – HIS MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Joining such a star-studded side as Salford, in the wake of signings such as David Watkins, Mike Coulman {Rugby League Quality Street Gang #1), Colin Dixon and Maurice Richards, would most certainly have been a significant challenge to any young, unknown player, but the young Ken Gill was helped through that initial settling in by one of the other, more experienced, of the squad.

“Tony Colloby was a Cumbrian, who played in the three-quarters, and was one of the best centres I ever played alongside.  He was my type of player, which made it easy for me to continue to play my own game alongside him.  He also gave me lots of good advice which helped me along.

“I spent my first season playing in the ‘A’ team, with the likes of Jim Hardacre and Micky Hennigan.  Jackie Brennan was at the back end of his career by this time, so he was also in the team.  He was a really good scrum half who had so much experience to contribute, and that helped me progress to becoming a first team player.”

Brennan, having been Salford’s scrum half at Wembley, had been replaced in the first team by a young Peter Banner (RL Quality St Gang #4), and it was not long before he, Banner, was joined by his fellow half back from the ‘A’ team.  The only problem was that the stand-off berth at the time was occupied by the mercurial David Watkins, in whom the club had invested a most considerable amount of money in obtaining his signature.

“It was always going to be a case of finding David another role in the team, and that turned out to be in the centre, which I think suited him, better than stand-off half had done, because he had more space there.”

Replacing such a highly regarded player would have overly daunted the majority of youngsters, but Ken had sufficient self-confidence to be able to take this in his stride, though the assertive, highly vocal organisational skills, which he brought to his role, possibly took a number of the team by surprise.

“They probably had something of a shock with this newcomer coming in and taking over.  I used to tell them to do things which they really could not believe, such as running at an opposition player rather than at the gap, because you can then deploy your running and rugby skills to get around him, but he has to stand still, almost rooted to the spot, because you are coming straight at him.

“Players just could not get used to this and they kept trying to go between opponents, particularly when things were not going as easily as they usually did.

“I looked on myself as being like the conductor of an orchestra,  as I was able to determine which player was most likely to be able to make the break, and, by the timing of my pass to him, draw his opposite number away from him.

“It wasn’t something you could practise in training because every situation in a game is different, and you just have to react to what presents itself in front of you, at the time.”

Little wonder then, that when Salford were in possession, the ball always found its way into his hands, and most fortuitous for him was that, in Cliff Evans, he had a coach who fully appreciated his many skills, and, in particular, his vision.

“Cliff was absolutely great for me and he helped me settle into the first team so easily.  Because he showed that he had faith in what I was bringing to the team it made everyone attentive to my on-field instructions, both at training and in the games.

“He was extremely encouraging in the way he dealt with all the players.  It was always a case of an arm around the shoulder and a few quiet words of advice.  He was certainly very good to me.

“There were people, even odd ones in the team but mainly amongst opponents, who did not like the way I played, simply because they couldn’t do likewise, but Cliff always gave me his support, far more so than other, later coaches did.”

Not that things always went completely to plan, and, on the occasions when it all went awry, there were always people on the side-lines ready to criticise.  Such individuals were very much in the minority, for the greater number, by far, accepted that such errors are inevitably part of that style of play.  Certainly, the other players were of this opinion.

Friday nights at The Willows for those home games were really special occasions for everyone who attended, but for the players the experience was all the more so.

“The whole place was absolutely buzzing and you always felt on edge beforehand.  I was always full of confidence, though, no matter who we were playing against, and this seemed to rub off on everyone else, which was a great boost to us as a team, so much so that I used to be given the opportunity of contributing to the pre-match address.

“This, in turn, led to my being given the captaincy on a few occasions, and I was given the chance of being made club captain, but I turned it down, as I also did later on with an offer to be captain of Great Britain.

“At the time I wanted to be free to of the responsibility it brings, in order to be able to concentrate on my game, but now I wish I had taken those opportunities, especially the one to be captain of Gt Britain.”

What he produced on the field was, however, far in advance of what other players, at any other club, could envisage, and consequently the rest of the team held him in great respect.

“Mike Coulman was one of the first in the side to cotton on to me.  He quickly found that if he followed me around and followed my directions it would make his role both easier and more fruitful.  He had both the strength and pace to be able to make it pay.

“Once we got out onto the field, we would get the most marvellous uplift from the crowd, which had packed in, in their droves.  Friday nights at Salford were tremendous, and we used to live from one Friday to the next, because the next match couldn’t come round fast enough.

“Playing under the floodlights also added considerably to the atmosphere around the ground and gave a sense of occasion which we found quite motivating, almost as much as the fans were.  Once the game got underway, though, I would forget all about everything else, because I was just so focused on the game.

“I can remember that after one of my earlier games, I had gone into the club for a drink and was absolutely astounded at the way the fans immediately swarmed all over me.  I had really never expected, nor experienced, anything like that before.”

This was most understandable, though, because rugby supporters know their game extremely well and the Salford fans back then were not slow to recognise an exceptional talent when they saw one.

Half backs, as a breed, are required to be extremely vocal throughout the game, as part of their organisational skills, and Ken freely admits to being the person in the side who took it upon himself to challenge his teammates to higher levels of performance, or extra effort, whichever he felt necessary at the time.

“The dressing room at half time was where it all happened, especially if we were losing.  I certainly let people know if they were falling behind in their endeavours, especially the forwards, because, without them laying a platform, we backs had a much lesser chance of success in our role.  Those were the games when the fans would see a second half rally that racked up thirty points, or so, for us to win.”

All of which was sadly missing in one game, when he had to withdraw very suddenly on the day of the match, owing to a most serious accident, at work.

“I have no idea how I come to still be here, because I was an electrician by trade, at that time, and someone, whom I was working alongside cut through a live wire, and I was thrown back off the ladders, onto some benches below.  The next thing I knew was waking up in hospital, because the charge had been shorted to earth through me and the ladders I was on, though the lad who cut the wire survived, unscathed.”

The many highlights of his lengthy career with Salford started with their winning their first post war trophy.

“One of the first trophies we won was the Lancashire Cup in 1972, at Warrington, where we played Swinton in the final.  They gave us a really tough challenge, especially at the start of the second half, but we stuck to our task, and ended up winning with some comfort.”

That was followed up, eighteen months later with, of all things, their winning the First Division Championship, at the end of the 1973/4 season.

“That was absolutely magnificent, especially in winning all those games throughout the season.  I started thinking above myself from that, and getting ambitions, which I had never even dreamt of before.

“When we won it again, two years later, it was equally enjoyable, but this time it was more a case of having done what we had expected of ourselves.  The nerves had gone by this time, and we had matured as a team, so we were able to take every game in our stride.”

They certainly needed that for the season’s final fixture at Keighley, which they had to win to lift the trophy, whilst their opponents had to win in order to avoid relegation.  The nervousness among the fans, and even people within the club was intense, especially with their needing to make a trip into Yorkshire, which so often had heralded the dashing of everyone’s dreams and aspirations.

“As far as we were concerned, I always used to say that if nerves got the better of you, you shouldn’t be playing.  Players go out to do a job and they should be so focused on that that nerves shouldn’t even come into it.  With that mindset, then, we did win, and we did lift the trophy for a second time in two years.”

By this time, though, other clubs had become fully aware of the incredible impact that Kenny had brought to Salford, and his skills and vision became much sought after.

“I was for ever getting people coming up to me asking me to go down to first one club, then another.  Wigan even tried twice to get me to sign, and I even turned Saints, my home team, down, because I liked it so much at Salford.”

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.”

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 (9) – ERIC PRESCOTT PT 2

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

The abundance of talent within the St Helens team, during the first couple of years of the 1970s had reached levels that were almost an embarrassment with highly ambitious players vying with one another for places within the team, the back couple of rows in the scrum being of particular concern, as Eric discovered.

“We had players like Eric Chisnall, John Mantle, and Kel Coslett, all of whom would have commanded places within any team, so I was finding myself confined to the bench, where a position in those days would not necessarily mean you would get a game.

“Substitutes back then were there solely to cover for injuries, and if no-one actually got injured, the two bench players might go for weeks without getting onto the field.  I began to become frustrated at not getting much game time, so went to the St Helens Chairman to request a transfer.

“He didn’t want me to leave at all, and to this end he put me on the list but at the price of £15,000.  That didn’t deter Salford, though, and chief scout, Albert White, came and asked whether I would join Salford to which I readily agreed knowing the quality that was present in the rest of the team.  The whole backline, from one to seven, were internationals, and with the likes of Mike Coulman and Colin Dixon in the forwards I knew I was joining a great team.

“I already knew one or two of the players, but turning up for my first training session, I was made really welcome.  The whole group of players was more like a family than a sports team.

“I already knew coach, Cliff Evans, from his days at St Helens, and I knew the way he wanted his teams to play, which was particularly helpful, because there was certainly a similarity in what he was advocating at Salford.”

Salford had brought Eric to the club with the firm intention of playing him at loose forward.  There was, however, already a regular incumbent of that position.

“Colin Dixon had been playing there for quite a while, and I really felt sorry at moving him from his position, but he was a real gentleman – you couldn’t wish to meet anyone better – and he just accepted the situation with the utmost grace.  For me, having players like him alongside me was just absolutely marvellous.

“My first game with them all was against Rochdale, which we won, 46-18, at The Willows, all within the same week as my signing for them.  When you sign for a new team, there is always a settling-in period as you get to know everything, and there is no way that you can possibly acquire all that in only two training sessions.

“Salford had a lot of moves which they would deploy at various times in the game, which made for a really good setup.  They would call these moves out and everyone really needed to know their part in them.

“Defending teams, at that time, were kept only three yards back, which meant that they were able to get up onto the attacking team very quickly, and so having their practised moves enabled them to fox the defence in some way.  Nowadays, being up to ten metres apart moves are rather less effective as there is so much time for defences to read what is happening.

“Salford played really good football and the ball always went through a lot of hands in every match.  We were always at our most dangerous in our own half of the field because when the other team were lying up on us, Kenny Gill or John Butler would put a kick through for Keith Fielding, and there was no-one going to catch him.

“Everyone had their own job within the team.  I liked tackling.  I liked the physicality involved, and also in aiming to get my technique just right on each occasion.  There was also the benefit of limiting the effectiveness of the opposition’s attack.

“Tackling round the legs was probably the best way of tackling in those days, because you can’t go without your legs.  Nowadays, it is regarded as more important to stop an offload, so tackling has drifted to the upper body.  Elbows, back then, were far too discouraging to make that type of tackle worthwhile.

“I got my nose broken in my early days, in a match against Warrington.  I was just getting up from a tackle to play the ball, when someone came in and smashed me across the face breaking my nose.  You have to learn from those incidents.”

As with many of his teammates, Eric still regrets the fact that the team never managed to fulfil its promise of winning trophies, and having come from a club like St Helens, this sat a little more uneasily on his shoulders.

“We should have won a whole lot more than we did, considering the talent that we had in the team, and having left St Helens to come to Salford, I had to sit and watch their success from afar.  They went to Wembley in 1976, and against all the odds won the Challenge Cup, and I remember thinking to myself that I’d missed out on that one.

“One of the reasons for my coming here was that, with the team packed with all those internationals, I was expecting much the same from us, but we just couldn’t get through those early rounds of the Challenge Cup to get to the final.  One season we were knocked out by St Helens themselves in what was, for us, a home match.  That really hurt.”

Invariably, though, it was a trip into Yorkshire, to face Leeds or Castleford, around Rounds two or three, which put Salford out of the competition.

“Another problem was that, then, virtually all the teams were of a similar playing standard, so whilst we were one of the top sides, and, on our day, probably the most entertaining of them all, the remaining fifteen teams in the first division were not far behind.  If we had an ‘off’ day, any one of them could have won.  I remember Rochdale coming to the Willows and beating us, on one occasion.  That sort of thing hardly ever happens nowadays.

Wembley may have had a hoodoo cast over it as far as the Salford team was concerned, but the calibre of the side was twice reflected in their winning the First Division Championship, in 1973/4 and 1975/6.

“That was certainly handsome compensation and probably worthy of greater notoriety than it received at the time because the equality in standards throughout the league made it all the more challenging and difficult to achieve.  Doing it twice, and so quickly after each other was a tremendous achievement.

“The first time was at the expense of St Helens, for once.  It was a late Easter Weekend at the end of the season, and we needed to win at Wigan, on the Easter Monday, and then for Widnes to beat St Helens, later that evening, in order for us to lift the Trophy.  We did all we could for ourselves in defeating Wigan, and then we all went over to Naughton Park, Widnes, which was so packed that we had to stand behind the posts to watch.

“It was quite absorbing because the game was so tight, with Saints in front at half time, but Widnes, with nothing but pride to play for, came back in the second half to win.  Saints were such a good team at that time we couldn’t really have expected anything other than for them to win, but they came unstuck and we became Champions.

“We also won other trophies.  We lifted the BBC2 Floodlit Cup, in 1972, with a win over Warrington, at Wilderspool, after drawing with them the week earlier at the Willows.  That came very shortly after I had moved to Salford and was a real reward for my having done so.

“The Lancashire Cup and the John Player Trophy were other competitions in which we also had successes, at least in reaching the final and semi-final.  I think it is a loss to the game that these competitions have gone by the board, because they brought a bit of variety to the season, whilst as a player you always wanted to win something, and there was something there to be won.

“The Lancashire Cup win was one of my best memories.  I had been injured just before, and came back to play in the final, against Swinton, at Warrington.  We controlled the game well, and apart from the first twenty minutes of the second half, when they really came at us, we were on top throughout, and fully deserved the win.”

By the later years of the seventies, there was a fairly noticeable deterioration in the team, as players got older, some retired, and others moved elsewhere.

“The mid-seventies were extremely good, but standards did start to decline over the coming seasons.  I still had the hankering to play at Wembley and still felt we had a good team then, but we just couldn’t get past those three or four clubs which had always been our downfall.  As time moved on, I began to realise this was not going to happen at Salford, so I started to look round for another club.

“Working, as I did, for Widnes Council, I sounded out the possibility of my moving there, because it was a club which was making significant progress, by then.  The response from them was that they were quite willing to take me on board, if I were willing to play in the second row, which I was, and so I made the move to join them.”

Nothing is for ever, though, and a couple of seasons later he returned for one more spell, with prop, John Wood, transferring over to Widnes, in exchange.

“Salford approached me with a view to returning, and because I had been so very happy there, for so long, I agreed.  Coming back again rekindled the memories of all those good times, and even though it was different this time around, I had absolutely no regrets in having done so.

“I liked the type of rugby Salford have always played, and alongside that, the people who were there were all so very friendly and approachable.  I also still believed that we could have made up for the lack of trophies previously, by winning something this time around, but sadly this was not to be.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (7) – BILL SHEFFIELD PT 2

                     Part 2 –HIS MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Games against lower league clubs often used to cause the high-flying Reds rather more trouble than they had anticipated, because, for the opposition this was their golden opportunity to make a name for themselves, by overturning the star-studded Salford outfit.  In addition, for some individuals, there was also the added incentive that they might be lured to the Willows with some considerably more lucrative deal than they had hitherto been enjoying.

Thus, it was, that another game in 1974, against the Hornets, this time at their then home of The Athletic Ground, yet again, saw the local side triumph with not one, but two, Rochdale players, Bill and stand off John Butler, (Quality Street Gang No 2) playing their way into the Red Devils’ sights.

“We were both called up to the Directors’ Box straight after the match, and asked to make the move to join Salford, which we were both more than happy to do, because Salford were one of the top clubs at that time.”

The time span over which Bill was with Salford somewhat exaggerated the number of seasons in which he was available as a player, because, owing to work commitments following a significant promotion, he was forced to take a break from the game after three seasons.  This, however, did not prevent his return three seasons later, when pressures at work had eased sufficiently for him to play for a further two seasons.

“I was still working in ‘Parts’, but had risen to the top by getting the job as manager, and all that went with that, so work had to come first for a few years.  I then suddenly got a phone call from Salford asking me to go back there again, which by then I was able to do.”

Back in 1974, Salford had been keen to get both players – Bill to enhance their pack, and John to allow centre David Watkins to move to fullback, upon the imminent return to Cumbria of international, Paul Charlton – while, for their part, Rochdale were in need of the money they received in exchange for the pair.

For Bill and John, with both of them being from St Helens, it was of benefit to each to have the other as company, and they travelled together to their first training session.

“I remember walking into the dressing room for my first training session and wondering to myself what on earth I was doing there, full, as it was, of internationals such as Maurice Richards, Keith Fielding, Chris Hesketh and Colin Dixon. I felt completely overawed by the whole group.

“Fortunately, Eric Prescott, was also there, and that gave it all a sense of reality.  Cliff Evans was the coach, and he was an absolute gentleman, as also were his assistants, Les Bettinson and Alan McInnes, and they were all extremely good to me, which helped me settle in almost straight away.”

Bill certainly did not have long to wait for his first game, which came at the end of that Easter Weekend, on Easter Monday, when he made a winning start to his Salford career over Leigh.

“We certainly were a team to be reckoned with, and we always made good progress and were in contention for a lot of the trophies in all competitions, but the one that everyone really wanted was the First Division Championship, which we won twice, in 1974 and 1976.

“I was in the side that was successful in 1976, and in order to win it, we had to go to Keighley in the last match of the season and beat them, because were we to have lost, and Wigan had won away at Featherstone, the title would have been Wigan’s.  Keighley, for their part, needed to win to retain their first division status, so there was a lot riding on the result for both sides.

“As it turned out, despite the confines and idiosyncrasies of the pitch at Lawkholme Lane, we won comfortably, whilst Wigan failed to overturn Featherstone, so we were crowned Champions.”

Matches against St Helens were still always the occasions which Bill particularly enjoyed and there were two which stood out above the rest.  A year after losing to them in the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy Final, with Rochdale, he travelled to Knowsley Rd, with Salford, to face them in the semi-final of the same competition to extract his revenge.

“I got the same reception from the crowd I had previously received with Rochdale, and again it really fired me up.  I made a break and fed the ball to Chris Hesketh to score and we won.  Unfortunately, I had broken two bones in my foot, which then prevented me from playing in the final, but nevertheless, I had still had the satisfaction of having beaten Saints, at Saints.

“Then, in 1976, after winning the Championship for the second time, we won through to the Pemiership FInal, at the magnificent stadium of Station Road, Swinton, where we once again took on the Saints again.  I always remember that Colin wasn’t in too good a condition, and I was given the task of running up and down the touchline with him, prior to the match, to see whether he could take part, which he did, though not with his normal impact.

“At half time the score was 2-0 to the Saints, and we were well in contention, but in the second half they punished a couple of our mistakes in the last quarter to extend that for a 13-2 victory.  Nice as it would have been to have won, we were nevertheless still the Champions for that season, and had done extremely well, on the back of that, to have won through to the Final.  It just didn’t go our way on the day.

“Another game I remember was an away fixture at Widnes, because, before the game, Les Bettinson took me aside and told me that, although I was playing reasonably well, he hadn’t yet seen the best from me, and this gave me such a ‘gee up’ that I went out determined to show just what I could do, and followed it through with one of my best performances.  After the game, Les came back to me and said that that was just what he had been waiting for.”

As players matured, and perhaps lost some of their initial pace, they would gravitate towards the middle of the field, so for Bill, and his co-second rower, Mike Coulman (Quality St Gang No 1), a move up front to prop, was the logical progression, which both of them did at roughly the same time.  Bill’s move left room for the newly acquired Oldham and international second rower, Bob Irving, to take up the berth Bill had vacated.

Although the number of trophies the team succeeded in lifting was somewhat below the aspirations of the club itself, the quality of rugby, and the entertainment value that the players provided more than made up for that, and surpassed anything on offer from the majority of clubs.

Gaining promotion at work, at the end of three seasons, proved to be a double-edged sword, for Bill, who was in no doubt where his priorities lay, but that did not mean it was an easy move for him to turn his back, temporarily, on rugby league.

“Work had to come first but it was very difficult leaving the game behind, and during those intervening years I really did miss it, but I ensured I kept myself fit, and I did still look on myself as a Salford player, which I was because they had retained my registration.

“In fact, when circumstances allowed, I did go to the ground a few times to watch matches, especially when St Helens were playing there.  To be honest, I always felt that I would, one day, return to the club to pick up my playing career once more”.

During the time he was away there were several changes of coach, which was quite remarkable because over the whole of the previous decade there had been only three: Griff Jenkins, Cliff Evans, and Les Bettinson.

“Les’s time as coach came to an end shortly after I had put my career on hold, he was replaced by Stan McCormack, who had been a highly successful coach of St Helens over several seasons.  The appointment, however, did not work out at all, and he was replaced after only two months.

“Alex Murphy, it was, who had then taken over the reins.  Alex had been the best rugby league scrum half in the world, but things did not go as well as they had at his previous clubs Leigh and Warrington, and it all began to unravel to a degree.  Kenny Gill had already left to join Widnes followed there shortly afterwards by Eric Prescott.   Alan Grice and David Watkins had both gone to Swinton, while Colin Dixon and Chris Hesketh had both briefly had a try at coaching, but then retired from the game.

“By the time I returned, Kevin Ashcroft, was in the hot seat, but his assistant, Alan McInnes, another former Salford player, took a lot of the coaching sessions, and he was very methodical in the way he carried it out.

“All our training sessions were held at our training ground in Urmston.  Having our own training ground was quite a good thing because you were away from The Willows and the club itself, and were free to just partake in a more relaxed environment.”

As for the players who remained in the side, there were still a few, and they continued to endeavour to provide the quality of attacking rugby with which the club had been associated but it was sadly rather less effective than it had been, in terms of winning matches.

“Mike Coulman was still there, along with Steve Nash and Keith Fielding.  A recent addition to the pack had been John Mantle to the second row, but the team I returned to bore little in resemblance to the team I had left.”

There were, of course, a number of new players who had come into the side to replace those who had moved on.  Among them were people such as centres Sammy Turnbull, David Stephenson and Stewart Williams, and second rower David Major, son of former Warrington international, Harry Major.

Things very much took a turn for the worse around the Christmas period of 1983.

“It was in the week leading up to the New Year; I had a phone call informing me that there was an ‘A’ team game at Warrington, and asking whether i would I fill in to help out.  When I arrived, I walked into the dressing room and totally failed to recognise a single player, so much so that I thought I had gone into the wrong room.

“It turned out that they were all amateur players who had been drafted in.  We went out and did our best but unsurprisingly we got absolutely murdered.  Losing pay for the ‘A’ team was quite low, and this was accentuated when I went out and found I had been given a parking ticket, which more or less took care of it all.

“That proved to be my last professional game of my career, but nothing could ever, in any way tarnish the marvellous times I had throughout it, especially being a part of that wonderful team of the mid-seventies, which did so much to enhance the image of rugby league throughout the country.”

Event | Salford Red Devils Foundation to host Willows Memories Evening

Salford Red Devils Foundation are inviting you to join us for a night of nostalgia on Wednesday 5th December in the Salford Red Devils Museum at the The Salford Stadium from 7pm up until 9:30pm.  
This will be the final chance for supporters to see the brilliant Willows Memories DVD which showcased at The Lowry last year.
We will have tonnes of Salford Red Devils memorabilia for sale including watches, posters, photos as well as Willows Christmas Present Packs which include a Willows DVD, Willows memory brochure and a programme from the final game at The Willows.
Old Salford Red Devils merchandise and a retro goods stall will also be open to fans and there will be a grand memorabilia raffle and Willows treasure hunt on the evening.
There will also be questions and answer sessions with ex-Willows players and staff to help everyone take a trip down memory lane.
Tea, Coffee, mulled wine and mince pies will be available on the night.
Tickets – which are very limited – are £5 and are available from John Blackburn or at the Salford Red Devils Foundation Office.
Please contact John.Blackburn@salfordreddevils.net or call 07762 732790.

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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