TRIBUTE TO DAVID WATKINS MBE

Everyone at Salford Red Devils is so greatly saddened at the news of the passing of one of its greatest icons in the history of the club, David Watkins MBE, aged 81.  Frequently as superlatives are often attributed, David fully warranted every single one ever used about him, rising to become a dual international in both rugby league and rugby union.

Heralding from South Wales, he quickly developed, to play 202 top-flight union matches with Newport, going on to gain his first representative honours with Wales, for whom he played on twenty-one occasions, together with a further six for the British Lions, all in his recognised position of fly-half.

His move to join Salford in 1967 absolutely transformed what, at the time, was an up-and-coming team into one of the top sides in the league, certainly in the entertainment stakes, if not in the winning of trophies.  Such was the esteem in which he was held throughout the country that, upon his signing, the attendance of 3,500 at The Willows, for the previous week’s game v Castleford, rose to an incredible 10,500 for his home debut against Oldham, the following Friday, as sports fans travelled from all around the north-west, to witness it, and he did not disappoint, turning in a try-scoring performance after only two training sessions with the team.

Within eighteen months of joining Salford, he was leading the team out at Wembley, as captain, in the 1969 Challenge Cup Final v Castleford, having defeated Batley, Workington Town, Widnes, and Warrington, along the way.  Although the trophy was eventually lifted by their Yorkshire opponents, Salford’s very presence on that great stage was evidence of the significant development, of which David had been a catalyst, within the team, in the interim.

Successes in other finals, such as the Lancashire Cup Final over Swinton in 1972 and the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy Final replay over Warrington, in 1975, eventually came as some tangible reward.  Sandwiched in between those two was the winning of the club’s first major post-war trophy, the First Division Championship for the 1973/4 season, under his captaincy, which they then repeated two seasons later in 1975/6, after he had relinquished the captaincy to Chris Hesketh, but with his then becoming the league’s leading points scorer for that season.

Such was his talent on a rugby field that it superseded anything required for any one position so that over his ten-year tenure, in 1971 he moved from his initial stand-off half berth to centre, and then in 1974 to fullback.  It was in the centre, however, where he made his greatest contribution, revelling in the greater spaces that the position afforded him, and he repaid the club by notching a total of 30 tries in his very first season, ‘71/2, in that position.

It was in a match against Barrow, in December 1972, that he came on at centre from the substitute’s bench, ten minutes from time, to score the fastest hat-trick of tries – within 5 minutes – in any game, to that time.  His first international representation came against England in November 1968 at The Willows, and he went on to be selected for international duty with Great Britain on 6 occasions, and Wales 16 times, both of whom he later coached.

Individual records needed to be rewritten for him, as one after another was broken.  In the 1972/3, he kicked a world record of 221 goals in a single season and during the period from 19th August 1972 to 25th April 1974, he established the longest running record of scoring in every one of 92 consecutive club matches with 41 tries and 403 goals bringing him 929 points.

In 1979, after making his final appearance for Salford, in an away match at Rochdale Hornets on 1st April, he transferred to Swinton, where he spent a further season, before retiring having amassed a total of 2907 points..  In 1986 he was awarded the MBE for services to rugby league, and more recently, in December 2022, he was inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame.

Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends at this really sad time.

Paul Rowley announced as Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity ambassador

Paul Rowley is today announced as the newest ambassador for the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity.

On Sunday 10th September, Salford Red Devils play Warrington Wolves in a mouthwatering spectacle with both teams vying for a place in the playoffs. However, the club are also using the game to spotlight an important social issue – joining with the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity in the united fight against homelessness.

Ahead of the game, it is with great pride that Paul Rowley is announced as the charities newest ambassador.

Speaking during his announcement, Paul Rowley said;

“Homelessness has no place in our great city region, and that’s why I’m proud to become an Ambassador for the Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity.

I’ve been inspired by what the charity has achieved since they launched, delivering incredible fundraising events and championing great initiatives to support people rough sleeping, experiencing homelessness, or worried about losing their home.”

No-one should be without a safe, secure place to call home. Everyone should have that dignity and that comfort.”

I know everyone at the club and our supporters will be ready to get behind this important cause. You can start by signing up to Greater Manchester’s biggest ever sponsored walk, Circle Home.”

Salford Red Devils are champion partners of this great event, and you can find a walk near you wherever you are in Greater Manchester, including right here in Salford.”

Together, we can end homelessness.”

Fran Darlington-Pollock, CEO of Salford Red Devils said;

“We’re so pleased to welcome Rowls as an ambassador for Greater Manchester Mayor’s Charity.

We know he shares in our belief that homelessness has no place here in Greater Manchester and with his advocacy and the support of everyone at Salford Red Devils, change really is possible.”

You can find out more about the charity at www.gmmayorscharity.org.uk, www.salfordreddevils.net/homelessness or purchase tickets for the game at www.salfordreddevils.net/ticketsgmmc

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 12 – ELLIS DEVLIN PT 3

Part 3 He Remembers Some Of His Former Teammates

Among the players whom Ellis recalls with affection, is Johnny Ward who had signed for Salford from Castleford, having been in our opponents’ ranks in the 1969 Wembley Challenge Cup Final, between the two clubs.

“John was a really nice guy, whom it was a pleasure to be with.  He came to Salford as a prop, which was where he had played at Wembley, but he could also play at hooker, so we had something in common with that, and it helped our relationship.

“He was a really tough player on the field; he would never let anybody mess with him, and his ball handling skills were top rate.  He could always put someone through a gap he had created.”

Captain of the ‘A’ team was the ever popular, Jimmy Hardacre, who many years later became chairman of the Red Devils Association.

“Jimmy was another prop and a player who was happy playing in the ‘A’ team, having been made captain, which was just reward for his dedication to the club and the team.

“Mick Hennigan was another popular player, who was often called into the first team, and had been a regular first teamer before the arrivals of Mike Coulman and Colin Dixon.  He left soon after I came to The Willows to join Warrington, where he had a long and successful career.”

One player whose experiences at Salford were somewhat similar to Ellis’s was centre-cum-winger, Iain McCorquodale.

“Corky was a most incredible goal-kicker.  The power he could put into his kicks, and with the accuracy to go with it, was quite incredible, and after he left Salford in the early seventies, he had a tremendous career with Workington Town, where he is still remembered with great fondness.

“We, in the team, often felt that he never got a proper chance because, of course, Salford had David Watkins in the team and he was the goalkicker, and also one of the main stars in the side, so when you also consider the amount of money the club had invested in him, it isn’t surprising that he retained his position throughout his lengthy time with us.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 11 – ALAN GRICE (PT4)

Part 4 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER

After a decade of regular appearances in the first team, things started to take a downward turn for Alan, as new coach, Alex Murphy, looked elsewhere for his blindside front-rower, and Alan suddenly found himself with virtually no game-time.

“I was neither in the first team nor the ‘A’ team, even though I was still training with the first team, so I went to speak with him and made it clear that I just wanted to play, no matter which of the two sides I best fitted.  It seemed to make little difference and I still remained side-lined because he was looking around to replace many of the players who had been with the club for any great length of time.

“It was he, who had first given us the name of the Quality Street Gang, and he used it to refer to players of my generation as being one of those.

“I was fortunate that David Watkins had recently moved to play for Swinton, and he recommended me to them.  Moving there, at that particular time, however meant that I would have to miss out on my Salford testimonial, later in the season, but I just wanted to get back playing so I went there, and the new contract compensated me to some extent for what I had missed out on at Salford.

“I never had any regrets about doing so, because I got treated extremely well when I got there, though I had very mixed feelings when we knocked Salford out of the John Player Trophy.  Despite having left there, I still always looked to see how Salford had gone on, each week, so it was quite an uncomfortable situation, which got worse for me when I made a break to their line, and from the play-the-ball Green Vigo went over for the winning try in the corner, but I felt quite awful about it.”

Unsurprisingly therefore, he stayed for four more seasons, which gave him the magnificent professional playing career total of fourteen years, which is quite incredible for a prop forward.

“It was eventually down to a knee injury, which led to my finishing, at the age of thirty-six, because at that age I couldn’t really get over it.”

Not that it was to be an end to his links with rugby league; far from it in fact, as a whole new avenue opened up before him, at first in his home locality of St Helens, within the local amateur club set up.

“I went back to Blackbrook after I finished playing, and coached all the aspiring young coaches around the local district, to get their first step on the coaching ladder, before going onto the National coaching setup, at Loughborough.

“I also took over the coaching of the team, but despite successes on the field, and winning a number of trophies, because they were amateurs they didn’t share my whole-hearted commitment to the game.  Playing had to take its place within each person’s individual priorities in life, and that was something which I found so frustrating that I decided to finish, once the season was over.”

The news of his pending withdrawal quickly came to the ears, of Salford’s chief scout and director, Albert White, who wasted absolutely no time in contacting him.

“The very next day Albert was on the phone to me inviting me to a meeting, the following week, with the Chairman, John Wilkinson, from which I came to work alongside Albert as a scout.

“The very first person whom I drew to their attention to was Gary Connelly, and they made a strong offer to him to come to Salford, but unfortunately he hung out for more money from Saints.”

After a few years away from the club, it was to a different set-up to which Alan returned, with Andy Gregory at the helm, supported by Steve O’Neill and John Foran.

“I had played against John Foran, when he was with Widnes, and he had become a really good coach, since then, so much so that he soon took over as head coach.  After that, we would keep in touch with each other so that I knew exactly where priorities were and also keep him informed as to ensuing progress.

“One of the players I did bring in was Alan Hunte.  I had heard he hadn’t been offered a new contract at Warrington so got in touch with him to come down.  We had to swallow our pride in doing so after he had knocked us out of the Cup with a last-minute try, two or three seasons before.”

Although he no longer has the degree of input to the club that he has had over the decades now past, Alan is not only still a regular attender at all Salford home games, he is also extremely willing to fly the flag for the club in a number of other capacities.  Indeed, it was at the unveiling of The Willows Memorial on the site of the old ground, back in 2015, that his remarks at the conclusion thereof became the inspiration and catalyst to this writer, for the Rugby League’s Quality Street Gang series.

It is only fitting therefore that, the first of our seventies stars to be highlighted in this, our hundred and fiftieth anniversary season, should be Alan Grice, the player who was a mainstay of the club on the field for almost a decade, and who then returned to continue a lifetime’s contribution right through to the present day.

“For the whole of the time I was at the club I thoroughly enjoyed playing for Salford.  It was such a nice environment with really great guys who were fabulous players.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 11 – ALAN GRICE (PT 2)

Part 2 – HIS PLAYING CAREER WITH SALFORD

As with all up and coming players, there were a number of hurdles which Alan Grice had to overcome, in his endeavours to become a professional player, before a contract of any kind was forthcoming.  These included playing a set number of trial games, and, in the run up to that, undertaking a series of training sessions, in preparation.   Alan’s induction into the team at his first training session involved a meeting with the renowned former Wigan, Widnes, and Great Britain prop, Frank Collier.

“He was a massive fellow, and he had an equally big reputation.  We were all sent off to start with a couple of laps round the pitch, but as we were about to start, he came up to me to inform me that it would be in my best interest to finish after he had done, as he didn’t want to be last.  Comparing the difference in our sizes, I was only too happy to oblige, and so contentedly jogged round behind him.

“He was a formidable player and had brought to the Salford team a presence on the field which ensured respect from every opponent, at that time.”

Alan’s last trial game was in the Final of the Lancashire Shield, against Swinton, at Swinton, which Salford unfortunately lost.

“Swinton were a good side in those days, but so too were Salford, which made it a really closely fought game.  Neutral venues were not used for ‘A’ team finals and so the home advantage Swinton had, helped them to their win.”

Playing in the Salford ‘A’ team in the late sixties and early seventies brought with it a status quite of its own, with Friday evening crowds often in excess of a thousand, because word soon got round that the rugby this side played was also of an extraordinarily high quality.  Indeed, the players were well incentivised to do so with a number of bonuses on offer, as encouragement.

Promotion to the first team came in his winning debut against Featherstone Rovers, at The Willows, in October 1970.

“It came earlier than I expected, but the  coach, Cliff Evans, spent a lot of time coaching individuals, and I had benefitted from that.  When we played our pre-season friendly, he had included a number of the newcomers, including me, in the squad.  He clearly had everything under control in everything he did.

“He was the thinking man’s coach because he knew exactly what he wanted.  He was a schoolteacher, by profession, and this showed through in the way he spoke to, and handled, his players.  He had been at Swinton, before coming to Salford, so he already had a good deal of coaching experience behind him, and that helped too.

“All the moves he taught us were ones he had worked at Swinton, but as other teams came to recognise them, they started to produce these themselves, only with different names by which to identify them.”

It was Cliff, in fact, who recognised Alan’s potential as a front rower.

“He was a little unsure, at the outset, as to which position best suited me, but after a short while decided that I would make a prop, and he selected me on the bench a few times, to gain experience, alongside Charlie Bott and, occasionally, Colin Dixon.

“Scrummaging was a great factor in the game, because back then scrums were keenly contested, and getting possession for you team at each one was absolutely vital.  Just how you stand and how you distribute your weight when packing could help your hooker get an earlier strike at the ball.  Similarly, the angle at which you packed down by turning slightly was another way of gaining him an advantage.”

“The really special thing about the Salford club was the friendliness of the whole place, and the good spirit among all the players, which always helped us in our games, and which also contributed to the longevity of our careers, either here, at Salford, or elsewhere.”

The role Alan undertook within the team was to be that of first receiver from dummy-half, at each play-the-ball.

“They had me as the link between the two half-backs.  Peter Banner (Rugby League’s Quality Street Gang #4) had an exceptionally long and accurate pass, and I then had the role of sending the ball on to Kenny Gill (RLQSG#10), which gave him a bit of extra space he found of benefit in organising an attack.  David Watkins and Chris Hesketh, outside him, then, had even more space in which to operate, so that our backline became absolutely phenomenal.

”They had one particular move, known as ‘Torquay’, from which they scored every time.  It involved Charlton coming on a dummy run with the ball actually going out to either Watkins or Hesketh, via Gill, and ending up with the centre concerned going in, under the posts.”

Not that the forwards were totally excluded from the attacking moves, and Alan, himself, was involved in some of these.

“One was based on the back row pair of Mike Coulman (RLQSG#1) and Colin Dixon, who were used as foils in order to prise an opening for one of us props to go through.  Although everyone would have the right to call a move, it was always Gill who would have the final say in this.

It was however the bonhomie within the side which Alan feels was the most significant factor which cemented them together, as a group.

“We all did quite a lot of socialising together and enjoyed one another’s company, which was so beneficial to our success as a team.  Much of that was down to our Chairman, Brian Snape.  He was such a decent person, and whenever it turned out that we didn’t have a game, we would have a weekend’s training away at an hotel in Cheshire, Mottram Hall, which he owned.  I would room up with Mike Coulman, who worked for the Chairman.”

During his total of ten years at the club, Alan was involved in many of the successes of that period, not least winning of the Lancashire Cup, in 1972, the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy in ’73, and the First Division Championship in both 1973/4 and ‘75/6.

“I still have all the medals from those occasions.  We were unlucky not to have won more, because we played in four Lancashire Cup Finals, but won only the one.  We were really close in all the others, with us ending up only a couple of points behind the opposition.

“One of them was against Widnes which they won 6-4, at Wigan, and even though they beat us, we played really well that day.  Some days you just don’t get the luck you need to win through.

“The games which stood out most to me were the two Floodlit Cup Finals, with a replay away at Warrington on an absolutely dreadful night, after we had fought out a nil-nil draw at The Willows the week before.   Even though no-one scored in that first match, it was a great game, with the tackling of both teams being extremely high in calibre.

“Warrington were certainly favourites for the replay, because they had a really good pack with the likes of Kevin Ashcroft hooking for them, which was always going to ensure them a good supply of possession.

“I remember standing outside the ground with the water level rising and rising, quite convinced it would be called off, but then Eddie Waring walked in and told us we needed to get changed because the game was going to be on.  It was only played because it was on TV.

“It was alright for the first half hour, but after that it was just a quagmire.  It was very much a forwards game in those conditions and the forwards tackled every bit as well as they had done the week before.  We were fortunate that we scored fairly early in the game, after Watkins had made a good break, because after that you just couldn’t run on it.”

As something of a break from normal league and cup fixtures the Reds were often chosen to play warm up games against touring sides.

“I really enjoyed playing against the tourists, and we had some really good matches against them.  In one of them New Zealand were ahead 28-0 at half time but we ended up winning 30-28.   Then on another occasion, we played against the Ausie touring team, and they won it with a try in the last couple of minutes.

“Those games were at a different level from the norm, being so much faster and much more intense, not to mention our coming up against the strength of the individuals involved.

“For the whole of the time I was at the club I thoroughly enjoyed playing for Salford.  It was such a nice environment with really great guys who were fabulous players, and because of that we were able to win so many matches.  We would no sooner come to an end of one winning run having unexpectedly lost to somebody, than we would start yet another possibly even longer run still.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG – KEN GILL (PT5)

Part 5 – HIS POST SALFORD RUGBY CAREER

The constant demand for him to relocate elsewhere did eventually, in 1978, lead to Ken Gill making the move to up-and-coming Widnes, where he went on to add a further First Division Championship medal to the two he had already won, in 1974 and 1976 with Salford.

“Doug Laughton was playing for them at the time, and he just caught me at the right time, when things at Salford had been a little less settled, and he persuaded me to give it a try at Widnes.  Away from rugby I had got into the pub trade and that was starting to take over a large proportion of my time, whilst bringing in significantly more money than I was getting playing rugby.

“The change was just what I needed at that time, and I went on to have a tremendous, few months with them, and I became the only player in the game then to have won three Championship medals.  Widnes were absolutely made up when we won because they had thought that that would have been much further down the line for them.

“All clubs have their own unique environment, and the fans at Widnes, at that time, were rather harder to please than I had experienced at Salford, but I did eventually win them round, before I left.

“The players, though, just seemed totally mystified by how I managed to make the team function, and some of them even tried copying my tricks, only to find out that there was a whole lot more to it than what they could actually see.”

The missing ingredient, of course, was vision.  Kenny was like a chess player who could see exactly what would happen four moves ahead, but also the execution and timing of every pass was absolutely crucial.

The end of the season, however, brought a most unexpected move to Barrow.

“Bill Oxley was the Chairman, there, and he had a great respect for me and how I performed.  The trouble was that there was virtually no money in the club, and when I got there, I found I was playing for next to nothing.

“I consequently only stayed for a season because it was such a horrible journey to have to make once, let alone on a regular basis.  Not only that, though, being now fully involved in the pub trade was making more and more demands on my time.

“Far from supplementing my income, rugby league was now losing me money because I could earn so much more working.  The pub I was at was a regular for a lot of rugby fans, mainly of Warrington, Widnes, and Saints, but they still wanted to come in and chat with me about rugby league.  Suddenly everyone was wanting to come in for a chat.”

A return to Salford, however, was an opportunity, when it came, he was not going to turn down,

“I thought it would be just like it always had been in my previous time there, but it was not, as I found out once I walked into the dressing room.  It just wasn’t the same, which was really sad, but those earlier good years I had had there by far outweigh everything else I did afterwards.

“I loved the way Salford played and being a part of that, and whenever anyone since then ever asks me which teams I have played for I just reply, ‘Salford’.

“My memories of playing for Salford are ones of absolute joy, and the club owes me nothing.  Indeed, it was a privilege to play for such a highly professional outfit and alongside such talented players, and we all complemented each other so well within the team.

“Certainly, we should have won more trophies than we actually did, and I take some responsibility for that, because there were games when I wasn’t up to my own standard, but that in no way eclipses that wonderful time that we all had together.  There can be very few professional sportsmen who have gained such great pleasure from their career as I did in playing for Salford.”

—–

To read part one click HERE

To read part two click HERE

To read part three click HERE

To read part four click HERE

 

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 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.”

RED DEVILS IN DEPTH: COLIN DIXON TROPHY v HALIFAX

After their comprehensive victory over Swinton, earlier in the week, Salford Red Devils continued their build up to the 2021 season with a second encouraging win, this time over Halifax Panthers, in defence of the Colin Dixon Memorial Trophy.

As one of the sides expected to challenge for a top four place in the Championship, it would have been of no surprise if the visitors had sprung a surprise start on their hosts, but the Red Devils had clearly learned from their experience at the hands of the Lions, and ensured that it was they, and not their opponents, who took early command.

That command was such that within ten minutes, fullback, Ryan Brierley, impressive in his new role, had crossed for two tries, which, with Marc Sneyd’s conversion of the first of these, gave the home side a ten point advantage, in as many minutes.

Thoughts of a runaway victory, however, were short lived, and the Yorkshire side galvanised, and forced themselves back into an arm wrestle, which they maintained for almost fifteen minutes, thereby preventing Salford from any further scores.

In fact it was the visitors who eventually broke the deadlock, when, after a period of sustained pressure, they crossed for an unconverted try to reduce the difference to a mere six points.

There were many pleasing aspects of the Red Devils’ performance, on the evening, and the way that they responded to this setback was certainly one of them.  From the kick off they took control, and, within five minutes, had scored again, with the converted try coming to King Vuniyayawa, thanks to the great line, and power, of his running.

The closing stages of the first half had proved,  last season, to be a quite problematic period, and indeed Halifax really put the Reds under a ten minute patch of intense pressure.  On this occasion, however, the Salford players stood up manfully to everything that their opponents could throw at them, in order to maintain that comfortable, though not as yet, commanding lead, into half time.

That ability to master adversity was displayed to the full, when, six minutes into the second half, they were reduced to twelve men.  An overly ambitious offload, on attack, went into the hands of a Halifax player, who set up a most threatening counter-attack.  Whilst the Reds scrambled magnificently to snuff out the danger, it did lead to the sinbinning of Joe Burgess for holding down.

The best way to deal with a one man deficit is to keep possession away from the opposition, and not only did Salford do this, they capped it with another score.  Moments after Danny Addy had been held up over the line, Amir Bourouh scooted over to put the Red Devils  into a three score lead.

Having thus got themselves into the driving seat, they were then able to wear down the opposition, and pile on the pressure with further tries by Rhys Williams and Matt Costello.

True, Halifax had the last word with a converted try in the corner, but, less than two minutes from the end, it was but mere consolation, with the Reds lifting the coveted trophy in memory of one of the outstanding pillars of the game, who had represented both teams of the night, not to mention Great Britain and Wales, with such distinction.

The players now have a two week period of grace before their final warm-up game at Warrington, during which time they can continue to work to eliminate the few remaining areas of concern.  If the level of improvement, during that time, matches that of the previous five days, they will be well placed for the start of the season.

Match Info for Red Devils vs Warrington

The Red Devils are ready to welcome the Warrington Wolves to the The Salford Stadium this Thursday 3rd March, KO 8pm.
 
The visitors come into the game this week on the back of three victories, the first away at Leeds Rhinos and then two wins at the Halliwell Jones Stadium against Hull KR and Wakefield Wildcats. They currently sit in second position in the First Utility Super League table.
 
In 2015, the Wolves won both the home and away fixtures against the Red Devils, the first a season opening 22-8 win at the Halliwell Jones Stadium and then a 34-16 win at the The Salford Stadium in May.
 
Red Devils Head Coach Ian Watson named his 19 Man Squad for the game earlier this week, making just one change to the side that faced Wigan last week. Adam Walne returns from injury to replace Olsi Krasniqi.
 
Tony Smith also named the Warrington Wolves 19 Man Squad which excluded Kurt Gidley and hooker Daryl Clark but saw the return of former Salford player Stefan Ratchford and new signing Mitchell Dodds.
 
Red Devils 19 Man Squad in Full
 
2 Justin Carney
7 Michael Dobson
1 Niall Evalds
13 Mark Flanagan
10 George Griffin
3 Josh Griffin
18 Greg Johnson
33 Josh Jones
8 Craig Kopczak
21 Ryan Lannon
9 Tommy Lee
6 Rob Lui
11 Ben Murdoch-Masila
14 Gareth O’Brien
22 Matt Sarsfield
4 Junior Sa’u
19 Logan Tomkins
15 Adam Walne
20 Jordan Walne
 
Warrington 19 Man Squad in Full
 
4 Ryan Atkins
32 Jordan Cox
11 Ben Currie
15 Mitchell Dodds
16 Brad Dwyer
3 Rhys Evans
8 Chris Hill
12 Jack Hughes
29 Benjamin Julien
18 George King
2 Tom Lineham
20 Kevin Penny
25 Joe Philbin
6 Stefan Ratchford
5 Matty Russell
7 Chris Sandow
10 Ashton Sims
14 Joe Westerman
23 Gary Wheeler
 
Ticketing
 
Tickets are still available for tonight’s game priced at – Adults from £25, Concessions from £20 and Juniors from £10 by calling 0161 786 1570.
 
Enjoy the game in style from our VIP Bar from just £45 per person.
 
Away visitors will be able to purchase tickets from the North Stand ticket office which is CASH ONLY.
 
All other tickets can be purchased from the West Stand ticket office.
 
Parking
 
Parking is available for £5 per car on a first come, first serve basis.
 
Fans Bar and Marquee
 
The fans bar and marquee will be open from 5.30pm tonight for drinks and food purchases.
 
Merchandise
 
The Red Devils Club shop will be situated in the fans bar and will be open from 5.30pm until 5 minutes before kick-off.

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