RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 14 – JOHN TAYLOR PT 4

Part 4  His Later Rugby Career And Subsequent Return To Salford

Hastily arranged as John’s move to Leigh had been, when he got there, he found he settled in really quickly, and he is seen below holding the pre-season friendly, charily trophy contested annually in those days between Widnes and Leigh, similar to Salford’s Red Rose Cup annual friendly with Swinton.

John Taylor holidng a trophy

“I absolutely loved it there.  Kevin Ashcroft was the coach, and we had a really good team.”

Over the whole of his five years with them, the game he most enjoyed was turning out for the first time against Salford, who had Kenny Gill and Stevie Nash in the half backs, in a home league game at Hilton Park.

“Cliff Sayer was my scrum half partner, and we really gelled extremely well that afternoon.  I was absolutely up for the game, as I felt that it was my one chance to show just what I could do and what Salford had missed out on.  Together, Cliff and I got completely on top, early on, and maintained it right through the game, so the Salford back line never really got going, and in the end we won quite comfortably.  My first thought after the game was that if we could play like that I should have stayed and earned my place at Salford.

“The worst thing that happened, though, was, in a game against Warrington, having my cheek bone broken, which also resulted in a concussion.  My immediate reaction was to pick myself up, run after the player concerned and hit him on the back of the head.  I always could lose my temper very easily, and this time it ended up with me being locked in the changing room, having got myself into such a blaze.

“I found out afterwards that I had been sent off whilst I was in there.”

All good things eventually come to an end, and for John, his time at Leigh came to a sudden abrupt end, with a change of coach.

“Kevin Ashcroft moved on and was replace by John Mantle.  Things did not work out so well, so I decided to move on, also.”

The club which came in for him was Widnes, which had been an up-and-coming team from the mid-seventies onward before starting to accrue silverware towards the end of the decade.

“Dougie Laughton was their coach, who came to my house and told me he wanted to sign me.  I was a bit reluctant, at the time, because I knew they had Andy Gregory in their ‘A’ team, scoring three tries a week.  When I queried this with Doug, I was told that Andy wasn’t yet ready for first team rugby.

“That was all I needed to know, and I accepted the offer, because it was still a really good team.

“It didn’t turn out to be the best move I could have made, however, because, having achieved so much, the team was starting to break up, and the inception of the new Fulham Rugby League Club, became quite an attraction to many of their talented players, such as Reggie Bowden, Roy Lester, and Keith Elwell among others, who made the move south.

“Despite this they were in no hurry to promote players from the reserves, when they still had players like Mick Adams, who was a tremendous player and Eric Prescott, who had moved there from Salford, and then, in addition, a young John Myler coming through.  Even Andy Gregory was still left playing week in week out in the ‘A’ team, and there still seemed no sign of him being moved up, so there didn’t really seem to be a place at all for me.”

So, enter Salford who seemed to have had a penchant for re-signing former players, and in 1983, John became another of these, when he returned to play for a further couple of seasons.

“It was a different Salford club, though, when I came back.  Nevertheless, I still enjoyed the two seasons I had, because Kevin Ashcroft was now the coach, with whom I had built up such a good working relationship, at Leigh, so the fact that he was now in charge at The Willows was the determining factor in my returning.

“An equally important factor was that I still wanted to prove myself, and I really believe that this time I did.  I was now thirty-two, but I still had enough left in me to acquit myself well and do the job at hand to my satisfaction. 

“I continued playing right through to the 1985/6 season, when my career was eventually brought to an end, after I cracked a bone in my neck and that finished it all for me.  I don’t remember how it happened, but I just remember being flat on my back on the field, thinking I had broken my back, whilst the medical staff even thought I had broken my neck.  The game was held up for around half an hour, and, to this day, I still have to take painkillers as a consequence.”

Damaging as the injury was, it did not herald the total end of John’s career in rugby league, merely a change of direction and emphasis.

“I had already started coaching one of the young sides at Rose Bridge amateurs, and, a couple of years after finishing playing, I returned to Salford as part of the scouting team, alongside John Blackburn and David Clegg, under the direction of head scout, Albert White. 

“We each had our own areas, and I had the Wigan area, where I had been successful in picking up quite a few talented youngsters for Rose Bridge, including fullback, David Halstead, who eventually went on to Warrington, and also former SKY Sports pundit, Phil Clarke.

“Phil was only small when he was a young lad, but his talent was more than evident.  His father, Colin, was a cracking bloke and had been a hooker at Salford in the late seventies.  Sometimes though, you find that the small guys turn out to be the best because they have to develop their rugby skills to a much greater extent to be able to cope against the big blokes.  Phil later benefited from this in his professional career, by which time he had also developed physically.”

His one coaching role with a professional club was in 1992, when he was selected to take the reins at Chorley Borough.

“The current speaker of the House of Commons, Lindsay Hoyle, was their Chairman, and he was a very good Chairman, too. If I wanted to buy a player, he would always be prepared to pay half of the fee, on the condition the other Directors would provide the other half.  They were not always as willing as he was, though.”

Settled as he was to become there, events can develop in ways you never expect, and the first of these for John, came at the end of his second season, with the chance of a better job at Leigh, where he had always been remembered with great fondness and respect.

“I had an interview with Leigh, and it really looked as if I had got the job, but then within a few days, I suffered a brain haemorrhage and was rushed to hospital.   From that point onwards rugby became a much lower priority to me, as all I wanted to get myself back to full health.”

This, thankfully, turned out to be the case, and he was able to celebrate by returning to coaching, a few years later, with Wigan St Patrick’s second team, until yet another unexpected event brought another turn for the worse.

“Believe it or not I most foolishly tried to make an on-field come-back, until part way into the game I found myself coming round in the changing room, wishing I had never bothered.  That brought everything to its conclusion, and since then I just have contented myself watching games.  I do still have an interest in the young lads coming through and enjoy watching their progress onward and upward.”

Looking back on what has been a lengthy career covering three decades, and which surely must have been one of the most wide-ranging, covering as it did, not only a fine playing career at three top clubs, but also a considerable number of off-field roles of those which were operational at that time, it is still nevertheless his spells at Salford, which stand out in his memory.

“Salford was undoubtedly the reason I grew to love rugby league and will always be extremely special to me.  They were the best team by far at the time of my first spell there, and it was a such a pleasure and brought me so much pride to have played in it among all those great players who donned the Reds’ jersey back in those days.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 14 – JOHN TAYLOR (PT2)

Part 2  His Memories Of His First Time At Salford

John’s arrival at Salford coincided not only with his brother, Mark’s, coaching appointment to the ‘A’ team, but also coincided with the appointment of Cliff Evans as coach to the first team, whilst Les Bettinson was brought in as his assistant.

“The Salford team I had joined was absolutely fantastic, and I knew from the very outset that I had got a really big job on even to get into the first team.  I knew that I had to work with both the players and the coaches even to put myself in the position, ever, to play for them.

“As a half back, ahead of me, and in possession of the two first team half back positions, were Peter Banner (RLQSG#4) and Kenny Gill (RLQSG#10), which was the most incredible challenge for both Dave Harris, who was my half back partner, and I to have to face. 

“In the early days of my time there I was being selected at fullback, centre, and even loose forward on one occasion, in order to see where I settled in best.  I think that that is a good thing to do anyway, because it gives you an insight as to the demands of each position.  If you are a winger, for example, you want that ball, but you want it at the right moment, and in the right conditions where you can make something of the chance.”

Despite, however, the seemingly almost impossible task of unseating the pair of future internationals, currently occupying the half back roles, John did make it into the ranks of the first team on many occasions, but one, in particular, he recalls with great pride.

“Owing to an injury to Kenny Gill, I played at stand-off in the Lancashire Cup Final, at Central Park, Wigan, when we lost 6-2 against Widnes.  It was a cracking game, despite the fact that there was only one try scored, which proved to be decisive in the result.

“After the game Kenny came up to me and congratulated me on my performance, which he claimed would keep me in the side for the following week.  I knew that I had played well but it was also pleasing to have had it acknowledged by him, so, right through the next weeks’ training sessions, I was hopeful of being called up to join the first team, but it never happened.

“That was really quite deflating because it had been such a great occasion the week before.  I had especially enjoyed being greeted by all the supporters when I arrived at the ground, asking whether I was playing, and being able to say that I was and then receiving their best wishes for it, all of which sets you up to give of your best.  It was, in fact, the pinnacle of my career at Salford, and I believe it should have got me an extended run in the team.”

There are many who might have been so discouraged at this turn of events that they might have done something they later regretted, such as demanding a transfer elsewhere.  John, however, is made of sterner stuff than that, and also with a love for the club, so he just continued to work hard at his own game, being rewarded with a number of other occasional call-ups.

“Just walking out onto that field with over ten thousand fans generating so much noise in such a relatively small space, gave you the greatest high you could imagine.  The greater the noise the more you wanted to do your best for them all, and that feeling would spread right through the team.  The greatest aim was always to entertain – even possibly above winning – because it was the entertainment value that people especially wanted.  Even on the occasions we ended up losing, we always felt that we could walk off with our heads held high.

“Going into the Social Club after the game, though, was for me rather overpowering and I can’t say I really enjoyed it probably because I find being the centre of attention difficult to handle.  We had a truly magnificent team, and to be part of that squad was the main thing of all for me, and I did eventually force my way into the game day squad on a regular basis, usually as substitute.

“I really felt an actual part of the team one night after training, when Chris Hesketh invited me to join them in their regular visit to a pub in Boothstown, which I quickly accepted.  When we arrived, I was absolutely astounded to find none other than George Best sitting there; I nearly passed out.  Not only that, but alongside him were Peter Reid and Mike Summerbee.  I just felt as though Chris had taken us to the stars.

“That was around the time we won the First Division Championship for the first time, in 1972/3, and I was involved in quite a few of the games throughout that season, even if it were only a case of being on the bench.

“Every time I got an opportunity to step up to first team level, I told myself that this time I was going to nail it and secure a regular place in the side, but it just didn’t happen.  Then, much to my dismay, in 1975, they signed another player, whom I thought an average union player.  Had he been anything more than that, it would not have upset me so much when he was promptly put into the first team.

“Consequently, I handed in a transfer request, and, within two weeks, Leigh had come in with an offer.  I signed for them and went there, after having been at The Willows for a period of five years.”

Catch up on previous parts.

Part 1  His Early Rugby Career

Part 2  His Memories Of His Time With With The Team Of Stars

Part 3  He Remembers His Former Salford Teammates

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG 13 – TERRY OGDEN PT 2

Part 2 He Recounts The Story Of Salford’s Rebirth

Joining the club so shortly after Brian Snape had become Chairman, Terry was in the most fortunate and almost unique position of experiencing the full growth of the Salford club, following its near collapse, in 1964, right through to its first post-war Wembley appearance, six years later.

Not only that his move brought about a complete change of lifestyle for him.

“I had been a joiner at the time, pushing handcarts, which were still very much in use in those days, but when Mr Snape found out he found me another job working for his brother, Keith, who later took over from him as Chairman. 

“I became heavily involved in providing advice on a number of their building projects, one of which was The Willows Social Club, at the south end of the ground, in conjunction with Greenall Whitley’s, the Warrington-based brewery company. 

“On the field, the team was struggling in those early days, but there was always an optimism that things were going to get better.  I was always in the team, except for when Jim Mills was signed, in 1967, and I was dropped down into the ‘A’ team.”

It was to be the highly selective process of acquiring experienced and talented players over a five-year period which was to lay the foundations for a most remarkable and significant improvement in playing standards throughout the club.

“Each player added to the squad during this period, brought something significant to the team, which enhanced on-the-field performances, and a momentum developed which at one point seemed almost unstoppable.

“One of the first was Ernie Critchley, who was a centre, and then later on became ‘A’ team coach before eventually becoming manager of the Willows Social Club.  I played under a number of coaches, but I really do believe that Ernie was the best coach of them all.  Once he had taken charge, he moulded that ‘A’ team into an absolutely great side, which went two whole seasons without losing a single game, and he certainly improved my game.”

A number of the players recruited at this time turned out to be players alongside whom Terry had played, prior to coming from Salford.

“Geoff Simms was a goalkicking centre during my time at Oldham, where he was one of a number of players from Leigh, who were in that team, which was coached by future Salford coach, Griff Jenkins.  He, it was, who was responsible for bringing Geoff to The Willows, in late 1965.  On his arrival he became co-centre to another former Oldham player Vince Nestor, who had already joined Salford and cemented himself in the team.

“Bob Burdell joined us in 1966, bringing a fresh exuberance to the squad from his role at hooker.  I think his presence in the team for the ’69 Cup Final would have helped us considerably, on the day.  We really missed him as it turned out, but he got his own trip to Wembley twelve months later with Wigan.”

It was during this period of development that, at the instigation of Griff Jenkins, Terry moved from the second row to prop forward, where he became a most accomplished ball handling forward.

“We had acquired a couple of second-rowers, one of whom was Colin Dixon.  Meanwhile, prop Frank Collier, who had also joined us from Widnes in 1966 decided to retire two seasons later, and although we had already brought in Charlie Bott, another former Oldham player and prop, there was still a berth for me alongside him in the front row.

“That really boosted me because I really thought I might lose my place altogether, but taking Frank Collier’s place was a great privilege, and in my first game there – an away match at Workington – I sought to repay the faith shown in me by having a really good game, ending up scoring two tries.  Even Griff complemented me afterwards.”

As the acquisition of players proceeded, victories over opponents one would never have imagined beating, started to make everyone sit up and take note.

“Fullback, David Evans, was quite a character with us back in the days of the mid-sixties, and played very much in the style of Paul Charlton, who joined us just about the time I left.  David saved the day for us in a first round Challenge Cup replay, away at St Helens, when he won the race to ground a Saints’ kick over his own line to make the ball dead before they could get their hand to it, and we went on to win against all the odds, thanks to centre, Les Bettinson, scoring the winning try, mid-way through the second half, by ducking under a defender’s arm and going over close to the posts.

“I played in both of those games.  In the first game, at The Willows, we had been winning 5-2, with only a minute or so to go, when their left winger, Len Kileen, got clear and scored in the corner to level the scores and force the replay.

As the calibre of new players continued to improve so too the style of play started to change, but not quite in the manner that might have been expected.

“Each new signing added much to the squad but, the more who came in, the less things changed because we had already developed such a lot that they had to fit into our patterns of play.  In their individual positions, though, they always brought an improvement which progressed things along further.

“One considerable improvement was the acquisition of Bill Burgess, who during his time with Barrow had become an international, and he brought a quality to the attack, on the right wing, that caused real problems for every club to have to defend against us.

“The biggest single step forward the club ever made though was in early 1967, when Brian and Keith Snape together with Aiden Breen and I, went talent spotting at the Davenport Sevens, where a Welsh team, containing a certain David Watkins, was taking part.  You could see from the outset that he was of star quality, and, credit to them, the club lost absolutely no time in getting him signed up.

“I was living in a small cottage in Dobcross at the time, and David and his wife, Jane, came to live with us for a while.  In fact, they did look to try to find a property they liked in the area but never found anything that took their fancy and eventually ended up relocating to Wilmslow.

“It was his signing for the club which turned out to be so crucial, for although there had been a number of other impressive signings, not least future Great Britain captain Chris Hesketh and David’s former union half back partner, Bob Prosser, none carried quite the impact that our acquisition of David carried.

“Alan McInnes had been a union county fly-half, who was in possession of the stand-off position with us until David arrived, and he then moved to centre, which, remarkably, is exactly what was to happen with David a few years later.”

With so many such players on an almost continual move to The Willows, those who had been there for some time were always under threat of being replaced, and Terry was no different from anyone else, in this respect.

“I was always looking over my shoulder to check on who might be coming to take over my place in the team, and that did happen a few times in that period.  The signing of Jim Mills in 1968 led to my dropping down into the ‘A’ team, but in the long run that proved to be a blessing in disguise, because Ernie Critchley so intensified me during that period, that when Big Jim moved on after only a few months, I came back and believe that I played my best rugby in that ensuing period.”

It was his undoubted ball-handling skills that, at this point, became so crucial to the Salford attack, as he worked to prise open defences with his beautifully timed passes, which frequently put the receiving player through for tries.

“Ball-handling was my main attribute, and it was because of this, and certainly not my speed, that I made it into the seven-aside team, which had become quite a hallmark of the club in those days, with regular tournaments both pre-, and post-, season at Wigan and Leeds.  There was even a mid-season, televised sevens competition run by the BBC, which featured solitary fixtures on a weekly basis on a Tuesday evening.

“The tactic we used in those games was that I would draw two or three defenders in to tackle me and then slip the ball out to a supporting player to exploit the space that it provided him.  It did work quite a bit of the time, but not always.”

Playing alongside such pacey, talented players, who played at such a tremendous speed – particularly in sevens – unsurprisingly sharpened his own ball handling skills.

“It was just the fact that one or other of them got themselves there to receive the ball.  If no-one else is on the same wavelength as you, you are left standing there on your own, looking rather foolish.  Certainly, the more skilled players you have around you, the better chance you have of showing off your own skills.

“Scrum half, Jackie Brennan was someone who was always there to receive the ball and we worked rather well together. It even worked the other way round at times, too.”

Brennan had joined the Reds in 1961 from Blackpool Borough, for a then club record amount of £5,000, and despite all the difficulties the club had in the following two or three years he remained loyal to Salford through the whole decade, thereafter.  If there were one player around whom the team of stars was built, therefore, it must most assuredly have been he.

 “Jackie was the lynchpin in the team, throughout the whole of this time, and he was also the joker in the squad.  He was such a good scrum half, though when he first joined Salford it was as stand-off with the scrum half slot in the hands of Terry Dunne. 

“In those days you would start your career as a number six, and then as you began to lose your speed, you would move to scrum-half as an organiser from the play-the-ball.  Of course, nowadays, that role is undertaken by the hooker, which stands to show just how much the game has changed over the years.”

The peak of his time with Salford was, undoubtedly, being involved in the club’s return to Wembley, on 17th May 1969, their first post-war visit, but, to a certain extent, it also proved to be something of a swan song for him.

“I didn’t play a great deal after that.  I don’t know whether it was the disappointment at the outcome of the Final, but things were definitely changing.  For example, Griff Jenkins was replaced as coach by Cliff Evans, who was obviously coming in with other ideas, and I seemed to fall out of favour somewhat.  I could see the end was coming.

“The lead up to the Final, though, was great.  Manchester City had played in the FA Cup Final the week before, and there was such enthusiasm throughout the whole area that both Cups could be coming back here.

“We had been very fortunate to have had three home ties against Batley, Workington, and Widnes before facing Warrington in the semi-final at Central Park, Wigan.  From the outset, I was still very much aware of what had happened to me in my first season at Huddersfield, when we had been knocked out by Whitehaven in the first round, having won the Cup itself the year before, so even against Batley there was some caution there, but we were still reasonably confident.

“The home draw against Workington was crucial in our proceeding further, because had the fixture entailed a trip to Cumberland, as it then was, it would have been a different kettle of fish.  I remember the Widnes match particularly well, because I had quite a good game, and was involved in a couple of our tries. 

“Of course, for the semi-final there was no home advantage, and the competitiveness of that match was enhanced by the inclusion of two of our ex-players, loose forward Arthur Hughes and hooker Len McIntyre, who had joined us from Warrington and then returned there.  It certainly did not turn out to be as easy as we had thought it would be, but nevertheless we got the job done and got to Wembley.”

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.

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 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 (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

Salford’s Former International Loose Forward, Eric Prescott, Looks Back On His Rugby League Career

CONTENTS

Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Part 3 – HE REMEMBERS SOME OF HIS FORMER SALFORD TEAMMATES

Part 4 – HIS POST SALFORD RUGBY CAREER

Part 5 – THE PROUD FATHER OF STEVE PRESCOTT MBE

                                                                                                                                

Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER

Although not the only Salford player of that era to have done likewise, both former loose forward, Eric Prescott, and Salford RLFC, had such a high regard for each other, that he not only had one lengthy spell at the club, as their first choice loose forward, from 1972 to 1980, he also returned in 1983 for a further season.

For those of us who might automatically, and understandably, associate him with St Helens, it may come as something of a surprise to learn that he was born, and grew up, in neighbouring Widnes, where he developed a love for the game watching the Chemics, as his home-town team were affectionately known.

“I remember watching the famous Frank Myler, starring in the centre, and then, in later years, I had the great privilege of playing alongside him when we were both at St Helens.  Bobby Chisnall had been his winger, and the pair of them were my boyhood idols.

“It was around that time that Alex Murphy, who I think was the best ever player, was playing scrum-half for St Helens, and then I later played under him, when he became coach at Salford.”

Despite the lure that rugby league had to him in such a stronghold as Widnes, it was at football that Eric initially was drawn towards.

“I was a goalkeeper in soccer for most of my childhood and early teenage years, but then, at the age of fifteen, I went with a friend to take up an apprenticeship at our local rugby union club, Widnes ICI, and although that led to my change from football to rugby, it was to rugby union.  I played either fly-half or fullback in the Colts team.”

Things looked as though they were about to change, however, when St Helens invited him down for trials.

“I played a couple of trial games, at stand-off, but nothing came of it so I decided to go back to playing union – only I couldn’t.  I had now played rugby league at a professional level, so there was no way for me to go back to union.  Fortunately, St Helens came back to me with an offer of a further few trial games, so of course I took them.

“I played three games in all, with their ‘A’ team, but, yet again, nothing seemed to be forthcoming, and it was only thanks to Tony Karalius, who used to give me lift to training, going to the secretary and persuading them, that they agreed to sign me, at the age of eighteen.  The ‘A’ team at the time included Billy Sheffield (Quality St Gang No 7), and Alan Bishop, brother of Tommy.

Much to his surprise, for his first match as a professional, he was selected on the wing.

“I signed for them in 1967, and played my first match as a professional, again in the ‘A’ team.  I would have preferred to have played at centre, which I had quite come to like but I just had to take my chance, which I did, and the following week I was promoted to the first team.

“My first match was against Swinton, who were a good team in those days, having twice been League Champions three or four years earlier.  I started on the bench and came on, to replace the famous Graham Rees, who had previously played for Salford.”

The St Helens side at that time, rather like today, was full of rugby league stars.

“I had the privilege of playing amongst the likes of Les Jones, Cliff Watson, Phil Sayer, and Geoff Pimblett.  During my time with them, we won six trophies, including the League Championship, Lancashire Cup, and Challenge Cup, which should have been particularly special for me, because all I had ever wanted to do was to play at Wembley.”

Sadly, that opportunity failed to materialise, as he picked up a shoulder injury, in the end-of-season play-off semi-final, the week before.

“All week I was desperate for my shoulder to be right.  I even had my name in the programme, but in the end I had to stand down.”

With five seasons in which to enjoy the numerous successes which came their way, there was one which stands out in his memory.

“We were playing Leeds in the League Championship Final, at Bradford, and I scored two tries and also won my first medal.  I played in my usual position, on the left wing, and the ball just came my way, with two chances which I finished off with tries.”

Successful as he was, as a winger, a move into the forwards came in 1969.

“I had put a bit more weight on by then, and it was the logical move to make at that time.”

It was a move that was to have significant impact on his career, three seasons later, when Salford suddenly took note on his considerable attributes in that position.

RED DEVILS BEAT THE CLOCK

Salford Red Devils 92 Widnes 0                   Match Report

Whatever way you look at it, scoring ninety-two points in a single match is an incredible achievement.  Even scoring eighty requires some doing.  This latter tally works out at a point a minute, or to put it another way, one converted try every six minutes or one uncoverted try every four minutes, and when you factor in that attempted goalkicks, whether successful or not, take between two and three minutes each, that leaves precious little time left in which to achieve the requisite number, not to mention the periods, brief as they might be, when the opposition have had the ball.

When, therefore, you take account of the two additional scores needed for the remaining twelve points our players’ achievement was quite exceptional.  True, the firm, dry conditions were favourable, but temperatures well over thirty degrees would have over-faced many a willing team.  You have to be totally resolute to keep going in such heat.

True, also, that Widnes were missing a number of regular players, and were thereby a weakened side from the one which the Red Devils faced at Widnes, at the back-end of June.  Not that you would have known that from their first foray into the Salford twenty area, shortly after Louise Fellingham had put Salford in front after collecting the ball on the bounce, from their first end-of-set kick, after only one minute, and then Demi Jones having kicked the goal.

For the next six minutes, though, the Reds were penned on their own line facing three full sets of six, as they were forced to concede two goal-line drop-outs, and if the visitors had been going to score a try, they needed to have done it at that point, because there were going to be few other opportinities.

Their kick over the try line, at the end of their third set was just a little too hard with the home side then regaining possession with a twenty-metre tap-restart, and almost immediately a clean break by centre Sade Rihari, who went just short of the remaining eighty before most unselfishly handing on to the supporting Taz Corcoran, who had been alongside her for the duration, to finish off the try, which Demi Jones again converted.

The fourth tackle of the next set saw Sarina Tamou break clear, slip the ball to Jones, who, in turn fed it to Brogan Evans, who scored wide out, but not too far out that Jones could not convert it to make the score 18-0, after only eleven minutes.

From that point on the floodgates opened, with tries coming thick and fast in the 21st, 24th, 28th, 33rd, and 37th minutes, to ring up a half time score of 50 points, and thereafter at fairly regular intervals throughout the second half.  In all a total of sixteen tries was scored.  Of those, two scores by Alex Simpson really stood out, the first being by means of a most classy run for a purely individual try, and then her finishing off some bewildering inter-passing with Rihari, in the build up to the second.

Jones, meanwhile, was in wonderful form with the boot, slotting the goalkicks over from all over the field to all but two attempts.

Far from being askance of such a high score, however, it is important not only to regard this as a victory over the opposition and the clock, but also a display of all the elements of character upon which the players had to draw in order to attain it: honesty, integrity, determination, resolve, dedication, commitment, togetherness, not to mention the talent of athleticism, all of which were prevalent throughout the encounter, and which are so abundant throughout the squad.

Now, they have a ten day break for them all to recuperate ahead of their home fixture against Hull FC, on Thurs 25th, prior to the equivalent men’s fixture later in the evening.

Scorers

Tries: Ellison (4), Corcoran (3), Evans (2), Simpson (2), Fellingham, Kini, Rihari, Tamou, Jones

Goals: Jones (14)

SALFORD

Alex Simpson, Lauren Ellison, Sade Rihari, Brogan Evans, Eponine Fletcher, Louise Fellingham, Demi Jones, Megan Condliffe, Tamzin Corcoran, Darcey Price, Helena Walker, Viki Kini, Sarina Tamou

Substitutes:

Hannah Wicks, Abi Collins, Yasmin Parton-Sotomayor, Casey Naylor, Laura Bent, Gabrielle Chaplin

ACKNOWLDGEMENT

Sean Monks, Omaga Photography, for above photograph showing Alex Simpson in full flight for the first of her two tries

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