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.”

U19S CLICK FIRMLY INTO GEAR

Wigan Warriors Education Academy 16  Salford Red Devils 52          Match Report

Victories over Wigan, in general, are few and far between.  Victories away at Wigan  are all the more so, but for Salford’s U19s College Academy team to romp up a total of fifty-two points, at Robin Park, was quite incredible, and extremely noteworthy.

Coach, Danny Barton, succinctly summed it up:

“We had worked really hard during the week, and everything just clicked into place, which I was pleased about because it provided a fitting reward for the players.”

The game was as good as over by half-time, when the Red Devils led by thirty points to six.  Prop, Charlie Glover, was first to cross for a try which he was unable to convert for himself, but he was on target, shortly afterwards when stand-off, Mikey Gilligan, went over, and the score promptly went into double figures.

Indeed, the pair of them were to score again later in the game, as also was the next scorer, second-rower, Jimmy Shields, who took the points tally to sixteen.  Both Glover and Shields ended the game with a brace, whilst Gilligan went on to get a hat-trick.

The first of Wigan’s scores came shortly before the interval, but centre George Charnock and winger, Myles Paul, put the Red Devils in total control before half-time.

Shields’s second effort opened the scoring for the second-half, with what was probably the try of the match, after he had scythed through down the left hand side, and then run over the fullback to ground too far out for the conversion to count.

Lucas Isles completed the list of scorers, apart from Adam Tierney, who added to the total number of goals, whilst Glover was being given the customary breather part way through the half.

Having found the form which had eluded them in their first two outings, this will undoubtedly stand them in good stead for the remainder of their fixtures in the run up to Christmas.

TRIBUTE TO DAVID STEPHENSON

DAVID STEPHENSON

It was with the deepest of regret that Salford Red Devils learned of the passing of their former centre, David Stephenson, on the 16th March, 2022.

David signed to join Salford, from Fylde Rugby Union Club, in December 1978, and made his debut on 23rd January, 1979, in a home match against Rochdale Hornets, which Salford lost 4-13.  Nevertheless, David acquitted himself well, and he became a regular presence in the team for the following three years.

During that time, he was involved in two key matches, during his first year.  The first was the Centenary Celebration Match, at The Willows, on the 14th October, in front of a crowd of almost twelve thousand.  The game was intended as a replication of the club’s very first match, the previous century, with the team discarding their normal red shirts for their original strip of red, amber, and black hoops.  That first match had been against Widnes, and it was they who provided the opposition, on the day, a hundred years later.  Most remarkable of all was the fact that both games ended in a draw, this second one finishing 16-16.

Three weeks later, the two teams met in the semi-final of the John Player Trophy, at Warrington.    This time, Widnes went on to reach the final, with a 19-3 victory.

Such was David’s s skill and talent on a rugby field that, whilst at Salford, he was twice selected to represent Lancashire, against Cumbria, at Barrow, in 1980, and the following year against Yorkshire, at Castleford, both of which encounters were won by the home sides.

He was also selected to represent Great Britain, at Under-24 level, on four occasions.  Three of these were against France, all of which were won by the British.  Having beaten the French, 14-2, at Leigh, ,in 1979, David scored a try in each of the remaining two, at Carcasonne, a year later, where they won 11-7, and finally, at Headingley in 1982, where the score was 19-16.

His one reversal, at this level came in 1980, when New Zealand provided the opposition, at Fulham, where they were the winners 18-14.  He did, however, go on to receive further representative honours whilst with other clubs.

Over his three years, at The Willows, he made ninety-seven appearances and amassed a total of one hundred and sixteen points, comprising of thirty-six tries, two goals, and four drop-goals.

Sadly, by now, other clubs had designs on him, and he bowed out on 29th January, 1982, in Salford’s home 7-19 defeat to Carlisle, before moving on to join first Wigan, later Leeds, and finally Leigh, before returning to Salford to play one more match, on the 13th March, 1991, in the home fixture with Chorley Borough, which the hosts won, 46-2.  David came on as a substitute, and celebrated his return by scoring a try, to add to his tally above.

David is fondly remembered at Salford for his allegiance to the club, during his period with us, and our thoughts and sympathies go out to members of his family for their sad loss.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Graham Morris, Club Historian

Chris Hesketh (1944-2017)

Salford Red Devils are deeply saddened to hear of the death of club, and Rugby League, legend Chris Hesketh.
The centre made 452 Salford appearances scoring 128 tries for the club in an illustrious career of which he spent twelve years with the Red Devils.
Salford signed Hesketh for a fee of £4000 from his hometown club of Wigan in June 1967 and he excelled in the Red Devils jersey.
Hesketh was part of the last Salford side to play at Wembley in the Challenge Cup final back in 1969 as the Red Devils lost to tonight’s opponents Castleford.
Despite losing the Challenge Cup final Hesketh helped the Red Devils win two Championship titles, a Lancashire Cup and a Floodlit Trophy.
The iconic Red Devil didn’t just impress for Salford but on the international stage, also. He was a member of the Great Britain side that won the World Cup in France in 1972. However, his career highlight came in 1974 as he was named as captain of the 1974 Touring Side alongside a handful of fellow Salford players.
His final match for Salford was on May 13th 1979 at St Helens. Hesketh was awarded with an M.B.E in the 1976 New Years Honours as a tribute to his tremendous service and dedication to Rugby League.
Hesketh defied the odds in his search to become a professional Rugby League player battling polio at the age of seven however by the age of 11 he was playing at Central Park, Wigan in the Schools Cup Final.
There will be a tribute to remember the life of one of Salford’s greatest ever players prior to tonight’s game against Castleford.
Hesketh will be missed by all at Salford Red Devils and the thoughts of everyone at the club are with his friends, family and associates.

Watson Disappointed With End Result

Salford coach Ian Watson was left to rue a refereeing blunder that cost his side the chance of an historic result against new Super League leaders Wigan.

The Red Devils, who have lost all 19 matches with the Warriors at the DW Stadium, had fought their way back from 16-2 down to draw level thanks to three tries in a 17-minute spell from Junior Sa’u, Josh Griffin and Ben Murdoch-Masila only to concede four minutes from the end to go down 20-16.
However, referee George Stokes and his touch judges failed to spot a knock-on by Wigan forward Taulima Tautai in the build-up to the match-winning try by winger Dom Manfredi.
“I’m really disappointed with the way it ended because it looked like we should have had a share of the points,” Watson said.
“The fact he knocked on at the last play-the-ball before the score doesn’t help and the fact that we could see it in the stand and the referee and his officials can’t is a big disappointment.”
Salford had taken an early lead with a penalty goal from Gareth O’Brien but two tries from winger Oliver Gildart put Wigan into a 10-6 interval lead and the game looked to be over when centre Anthony Gelling went over three minutes into the second half.
“We gave them too much respect in the first half and you can’t do that to teams like Wigan,” Watson said. “You can’t feel them out, you’ve got to attack them from the off.
“But in the second half, you saw what we could do when we have the right mind-set. The guys realised at half-time that we hadn’t played well but we were still in the game.
“We just didn’t have enough to come through the other side. It was bitter-sweet, we felt we had them on the ropes but we didn’t have enough to finish them off. Good teams like Wigan find a way to win and we’ve still got to progress to that stage.”

Warriors sneak past Devils 20-16

Despite a valiant comeback by the Red Devils, a late Dom Manfredi try sealed victory for the Wigan Warriors at the DW Stadium.
The Red Devils had an early chance as Rob Lui darted through the Wigan line from the play of the ball. Junior Sa’u couldn’t quite capitalise on an offload by the Salford stand-off.
An error by the home side, gifted the Red Devils the ball 20m out from the line and Wigan were then penalised.
Salford took the early lead by opting for a penalty kick, Gareth O’Brien successfully putting the Red Devils ahead just three minutes into the game.
However, just minutes later the Warriors responded as a spill of the ball by Mark Flanagan and quick thinking by Anthony Gelling and George Williams during the free play put Oliver Gildart over in the left hand corner. Matty Smith missed the conversion.
The Red Devils responded as O’Brien made a break down the left wing but Gildart intercepted his pass to Sa’u to keep the visitors at bay.
Dom Manfredi looked to have scored the next Wigan try as he collected a Matty Smith high ball but Referee George Stokes deemed him to be offside.
They were rewarded for their efforts just minutes later though as a Gelling break down the right hand side, with an offload to Tautai then Smith who passed out wide to Gildart to cross for his second of the game.
The two sides really fought for possession for a thrilling first half that ended as Josh Griffin made a fantastic break down centre field but was tackled just 20m out from the try line.
HALF TIME SCORE – Wigan Warriors 10 – 2 Salford Red Devils
Straight from the restart, Anthony Gelling found a gap in the Salford defence to score and further the lead to 16-2.
Whereas the Red Devils of old may have fallen and succumbed to a heavy defeat here, the team dug deep and responded.
First through a Junior Sa’u try as he found himself on the end of a Dobson grubber kick. Back to back penalties gave the Red Devils another chance with 15 minutes left of the game and Josh Griffin added another score. O’Brien missed both conversions.
Ben Murdoch-Masila put in a fantastic effort next as he chased his own chip kick over the Wigan defence to tackle Gildart in goal to give the Red Devils a drop out and moments later BMM barged over the line. Josh Griffin added the conversion to equal the score.
The Devils were unlucky moments later when Manfredi crossed in the right  hand corner to seal the victory for the Warriors.
 
FULL TIME SCORE – Wigan Warriors 20 – 16 Salford Red Devils

FAIRHURST CHOOSES DEVILS ABOVE ALL COMERS

David Clegg Continues His In-Depth Introduction Of The Senior Players Of Our U19s Squad With Lewis Fairhurst
As a native of Bickerhaw, on the outskirts of Wigan, it is hardly surprising that young Lewis Fairhurst started playing rugby with his local club, but, that he later continued his career with none other than archrivals, St Helens, is rather the more so.
His first introduction to the game, though, had come via his older brother, Ryan, who frequently included him in games with his own mates in the local park.  That Lewis got used to the rough and tumble, this involved, with lads a couple of years older than himself, was to stand him in good stead throughout his career to date, as he, far more often than not, ended up  playing with and against teams of players at least twelve months older than himself.
Indeed, when he first followed Ryan down to Hindley ARLFC, at the age of six, he was the only one that young, so he even started off mixing it with lads one and even two years older than himself, and this has just continued to be the case, ever since.  This, he felt, was some indication of the fact that he was considered good enough to be able to cope in that situation, and it encouraged him to remain at the club for a remarkable twelve year period, right through to the age of eighteen.
Throughout this time, he almost always turned out at hooker, although he started his very first match at half back before being moved the hooking role.  The highlight of his time with them came with their winning the North West Challenge Shield, when they beat West Bank, 28-18, in the final.  On a personal front, his contribution to the team’s effort was often noted by his achieving Top Tackler Award, though when they progressed to U14 level he was recognised, for the first of three consecutive seasons, as Player of the Year.
It invariably happens that when teams reach their early teens, they attract a great deal of attention from local professional outfits, and so it was for Lewis’s side, with scouts from both Wigan and St Helens showing considerable interest in the squad in general, but with the latter club showing rather more interest in Lewis himself.  An invitation to meet with their officials, at the age of fourteen led directly to his joining their U16s side for the following two years.
As with all St Helens sides, they proved to be a strong team, and over two seasons, each comprising of eight games, they won all but two of them.  Most significant for Lewis was his relocation on a regular basis to half back, a position he had not played in since that first half of his very first game some eight years earlier.  Lewis attributes much of the team’s success to the quality of their coaches, the most well-known of whom was Tommy Martin, whose own personal skills around tactical kicking helped develop Lewis’s own ability in this area, considerably.
As with many youngsters, moving up to the U19s, where there is a three year age span, somewhat limits their chances of selection in their first year at that level, and, although this did improve for him significantly during his second season, in the end things did not quite work out as he would have hoped, and so he looked around for another club.
One of those he contacted was Salford, and, in fact, within the hour they became the first to return his call, inviting here for the first of two meeting with, initially Head Coach, Martin Gleeson, while the second was with Head Coach elect for the 2016 season, Garreth Carvell.
He was quickly persuaded that here was where his future lay.
“After meeting them, I was convinced that this was the club I wanted to be at,” he insists.  “Others came in for me, but I had already made up my mind to come here.
“I have settled in really well, and can’t wait to get started.  I want to have the chance to show the skills and talent I have, and by using these around the other players, hopefully we can make the team work.
“Salford is a growing club, and I believe it is going to be the equal of most others in Super League.”
With a full season in which to achieve all this, Lewis is hoping that he will have sufficiently impressed the coaches for them to offer him a further contract, this time with the first team next season, as he is determined to become that Super League player he has always wanted to be.

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