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Such was his talent on a rugby field that it superseded anything required for any one position so that over his ten-year tenure, in 1971 he moved from his initial stand-off half berth to centre, and then in 1974 to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.

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 (PT 3)

Part 3 –HE REMEMBERS HIS SALFORD TEAMMATES AND COACHES

Of all the star players within the Salford side throughout the seventies, the first player Alan picks out, to pay tribute to, was another prop forward he played alongside in his early days, Terry Ogden.

“Terry had been a regular in the first team, and had propped, along with Charlie Bott, at Wembley, but he had started to play in the reserves by the time I arrived.  He had always been a very clever ball handler, and had lost none of this skill, even then.  He was an extremely likeable and amiable guy, and helped me a lot with various aspects of playing in the loose.

“He showed me how much easier it was if you ran at the outside individual, in a group of three or four players, because you could rotate and spin round in the tackle to get the ball out to someone coming up on the outside.  I’d always run at the middle one, before he drew this to my notice.”

Fullback, Paul Charlton (RLQSG#8), impressed Alan not only with high level of skill and talent, but also with his incredible fitness level.

“On one occasion, he arrived having run all the way there to then take part in the session.  He would have run home, too, but he had taken a bit of a knock in the match before, so I ended up having to drive him home.”

Paul was a joiner by trade, and his fitness level, showed itself to Alan, even through that.

“He used to get me work on occasions, but when he did I always ended up having to explain to the bosses that there was no way I could work at the rate that Paul could produce things, because that was all down to his incredible fitness.  I think he could have stayed at Salford a bit longer than he did, and he would have continued to contribute so much to the team, had he done so.”

Both Paul, and prop Graham McKay, were Cumbrians by birth, but both apparently had different attitudes to their native county.

“Paul absolutely loved Cumbria, and to a certain extent pined to be back there, whereas Graham really had no fondness for it at all.   It was the lure of his home county that was the catalyst in Paul’s returning back there, so soon.”

There was no doubt in his mind just where the absolute strength within the team lay.

“Colin Dixon was incredible.  He could side-step off either foot, had great pace, and considerable strength – everything you would want in a rugby player.  He and Mike Coulman (RLQSG#1) were a tremendous pairing in the second row.  Mike, for his size, was incredibly fast and his size and speed together made him almost unstoppable at times.

“We were also fortunate to have two really good half-backs in Peter Banner (RLQSG#4) and Kenny Gill (RLQSG#10), and then later, Gill partnering with Stevie Nash, though that did not work quite as well as had been expected.  Steve was more like an extra forward, whereas Banner had been a better passer of the ball, and as one of the players who was used as first receiver, I knew first hand just how good he was.”

The one problem area throughout the period was that of hooker, and there was a succession of players brought in, in the hope of solving the problem.  Probably the most successful of these was Peter Walker, but even his tenure was brought to a premature conclusion by injury.

“The most important part of a hooker’s role was getting the ball from the scrum, and Peter was first rate at this, with a strike rate of well over fifty percent.  Then out of the blue we lost him after he had a very bad leg break, caused by somebody stamping on it, as he put it across a scrum, whilst trying to rake the ball.  It was damaged so badly that it finished his career.

“Ellis Devlin was a great player, particularly in the loose.  He was a quick passer and fast runner, and now that raking the ball is no longer the vital part of the hooking role that it was back then, Ellis would have been absolutely outstanding in this day and age; the modern game would have really suited him.

”From that point on, there was a succession of players brought in but they seldom lasted more than a couple of seasons, and at one point even I was put there to fill the gap, which I was happy to do, and did quite well in winning possession for us in my first match.”

It was not only the quality of the players which was so instrumental in the success of the team, but also the quality of the coaches, and Alan was fortunate enough to have played under a number of them, including some former teammates, including Chris Hesketh and Colin Dixon.  From all of these, however, it was Cliff Evans, whom he picks out as being the real standout leader among them all.

“Cliff was a marvellous coach who understood rugby inside out.  He always instilled into the players the importance of supporting the player on the break.  He always expected it of both wingers in particular to be up with everyone of these.

“He would draw up the outline plan of a scripted move but would then leave it up to the players to take it on from there.  Kenny Gill would always add his ideas into it and would also come up with a few of his own because he was really good at spotting weaknesses in the opposition’s line, such as a defender limping back to get into position.

“Cliff was particularly good at accepting information from other people around him and that was crucial in his getting the team to gel well together.  On my promotion to the first team, he arranged for Charlie Bott to sit with me on the bench, in order for me to gain his insight and greater experience for my role in the team.

“Charlie had been an international with Great Britain and was a mine of information as he had been packing down all his life.  I found everything he said extremely helpful, and it was like having my own mentor alongside me.

“As a consequence of that, he took me under his wing and tried to look after me.  He even tried to get the pair of us the additional bonuses which all the contracted players used to get, though without much success on that particular occasion.

“He emigrated to Australia in 1971, but in the six months prior to his going, he left his profession of metallurgist, and worked on the building of the brand new, North Stand.  Then in his final Salford game, against Halifax, in the last match of the 1970-71 season, he took the final conversion of the afternoon from in front of the posts, to score the only goal of his career, by kicking it over bar into the stand he had just spent six months working on.”

One player whom it could be easy to overlook is still remembered fondly by Alan.

“Tony Colloby had made his name in the mid-sixties, as a centre, with first Whitehaven and then Workington before moving to Blackpool.  When, our right winger, Bill Burgess, was side-lined with a shoulder injury Tony was drafted in to take over from him, which he did for a couple of seasons until Keith Fielding was signed.  Tony was a really talented player, who showed he could adapt to virtually any position in the backs, and he stayed with us for a further couple of seasons before going to Barrow.

“He was part of a backline that would more than match any other, either then or since.  Maurice Richards was such a talented winger and rugby player, who could make a try out of very little, while Keith Fielding (RLQSG#6) was the fastest in the game.

“On one occasion, I was questioned by an uncle of mine as to why I had passed up a try scoring opportunity by giving the ball to Keith to score.  He very quickly understood my reasoning when I pointed out to him that Keith had grounded the ball under the posts, whereas I would have had to struggle to have got over in the corner.

“Centres, Chris Hesketh and David Watkins both had spells as our captain, with Chris going on to become captain of the international side.  As a centre, he was quite unconventional and consequently really difficult to defend against, while David was just a star, wherever he played though centre was possibly his best position also.”

TRIBUTE TO TOM DANBY

Salford Red Devils are saddened to learn of the passing of their former international winger, Tom Danby, on the 26th December 2022.

A native of Durham, Tom had risen to become a rugby union international, whilst playing for Harlequins, in January 1949, when he represented England against Wales, at Cardiff Arms Park.  Although England lost 9-3, he had so impressed that he was recruited by Salford and signed for them six months later, in June of that year.  He then made his debut against Liverpool Stanley, on 24th August, at The Willows.

He was an immediate success in rugby league and in the following March was selected for the England team to face Wales, at Central Park, Wigan, and then followed this up with his being included in the 1950 Great Britain touring squad to Australia and New Zealand, during which he notched up a remarkable total of 34 tries in 18 matches.  He, consequently, was then selected to play in the second test, at Brisbane, which he celebrated by scoring an exceptional, individual, opening try, which contributed to his continued presence in the third and final test, in Sydney, and then in the second of two test matches against New Zealand, in Aukland.

On his return home, he played for the Great Britain Touring Side against ‘The Rest’, in the Lord Derby Memorial Match, at Wigan, in October 1950.  Although this was to be his final game for Great Britain, he, nevertheless, went on to represent England twice in late 1950, against Wales in Abertillery, and France at Headingley, LeedsWor.

In the 1951/2 season, he was Salford’s top try scorer, with a total of 17, and later that year played for them against the New Zealand touring side.  In his five years with the club he made 174 appearances, scoring 61 tries and kicking 2 goals, for a total of 187 points.

In 1954, he requested to be placed on the transfer list, before making his final appearance in a red jersey, at Derwent Park, Workington, on 3rd April.  An anticipated move to Workington Town sadly fell through, and he retired from the sport to move south and take up a teaching post in Sussex.

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

Acknowledgement: Graham Morris, Club Historian and Author of ‘100 Greats Salford Rugby League Club’

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (8) – PAUL CHARLTON (PT 4)

Part 4 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER                

1975 saw Paul’s five-year career with Salford coming to its end, with a return to his native Cumbria, to resume his pre-Willows playing days back at Workington, as player-coach, with, it must be recorded, some significant success.

“I had quite a good team, especially among the forwards, to the extent that we won the Lancashire Cup in the first year of my taking over.  I had the two Gourley brothers, together with Alan Banks, Eddie Bowman, and Derek Watts, as part of the team, so it is little wonder that we were a force to be reckoned with.  The whole of the squad were good footballers, and extremely tough, without being dirty.

“I stayed with Town for about three years, before going to Blackpool Borough, where I played a further seven matches, bringing my total number of first team matches to 725, but, by this time the enjoyment had gone from the game for me.  I had done so much throughout my career, I’d ticked every box I could, thanks, in part, to having had that little bit of luck, everybody needs, go my way.

“The person whom I most have to thank for it all was the Workington scout, Jim Kitchen, who was responsible for turning me into a professional rugby league player.”

A generation later, and Gary Charlton (pictured with Paul, above)  was following in his father’s footsteps, though not as a fullback, but a forward, and then, just like his father, later taking over the role of coach with Workington, with considerable success, before moving to Whitehaven.”

Most people, when they get to Paul’s age, are either happily retired, or cheerfully continuing in some form of gainful employment, not so much for the money but almost as a hobby, which keeps them involved with everyday life.  Not so Paul, who has continued to ply his trade as a joiner right through to the present day, and with no sign of scaling down his involvement and commitment.

“Work is vitally important in keeping us all going.  In particular, it keeps the mind going.  I was extremely fortunate that I didn’t get any serious life-changing injury, whilst I was playing, though I do now have two new knees.  Some of the lads I played with, both at Salford and Workington, were subject to some very hard treatment as part of the game.”

Nor is his enjoyment of rugby league in any way diluted.  Living Down Under, in Queensland, Australia, on the Gold Coast – a consequence of his 1974 GB tour –  he still plays touch rugby three times a week with local teams, Tallebudgera every Tuesday evening, Mudgerabah on Thursday evenings, and at Palm Beach on Saturday afternoons.

Could we ever, remotely, imagine Paul Charlton without his having some rugby league connection somewhere in the offing?

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (8) – PAUL CHARLTON (PT 3)

Part 3 –HIS INTERNATIONAL CAREER

The absolute highlight of Paul’s career came with his elevation to the international stage, with Great Britain.  The first of these occasions came when they faced New Zealand, at Bradford, in the second test of the 1965, three-test series.  At the time, the fullback position was securely in the hands of, then, Swinton fullback, Kenny Gowers, but he had been injured, and so Paul was brought in to replace him for that one test match, which Great Britain won 15-9.

Gowers was fit enough to return for the third test, and Paul then had to wait until he had joined Salford before he was recalled for the 1970 World Cup, and, even then, it was in something of a peripheral role, with Widnes’s, Ray Dutton, holding down the fullback slot for the majority of the games, probably for his additional ability to kick goals, in which he was prolific.

“I was included in the squad for the tournament, but I didn’t play in it, very much.  The one match I did get on for was against New Zealand, at Station Rd, Swinton, which we won.”

The whole competition was based on a league basis, in which the four competing countries played each of the others, with the two top teams proceeding to the final, at Headingley.

“It was most beneficial to me because it gave me a foretaste of the whole international environment, ahead of my full involvement in the 1972 World Cup held in France.  The progress I had made, in just a few years, was quite considerable, but the opportunity I got this time was due to having been at Salford.

“It just showed what a good move it had been for me to have gone there, because without that, I’m pretty sure I would have been in and out of the international side, again and again.”

With a fair proportion of the GB squad for that 1972 World Cup tournament being made up of Salford players, particularly in the backline, having Paul as one of them made the utmost sense, when they all had such an in-depth understanding of one another, and each individual’s strengths.

“I’d really got to know, by this time, how each of them worked as individuals, and as a group, on the field.  Had I been coming in from another club it would have been quite a steep learning curve for me.

“Another thing which is of great importance is getting on well with your teammates.  Having a good camaraderie with them is essential, because it does so much to building up the team spirit, and we at Salford had an absolutely tremendous one.  We all knew that we could rely on one another.

“We got to the final, where we had to play Australia, again, having won all of our qualifying games, including the one against them, 27-21.  The final ended in a 10-10 draw, but because we had the better scoring average overall, we were crowned winners.   I personally think that that was a little unfair, and I do believe that the game should have been replayed, as would have happened with any other drawn final, in those days.

“I can clearly remember the occasion to this day.  I remember coming out of the changing-room, totally unaware as to just how big these Aussies were, until we all lined up alongside each other to go out onto the field and I found myself standing next to Artie Beetson.  He was head and shoulders above me, and something like ten stone heavier.  Over the years, I got to know him quite well, and, believe me, he was an absolute gentleman.”

Paul had now become firmly established as first choice fullback for the international side, with his next being included in the 1974 Great Britain tour of Australia.

“We flew into Cairns for the first of our tour games, and then, by means of planes and coaches we travelled down the east coast, calling off at venues such as Rockhampton, and quite a number of outback settlements.  Wherever we went, the receptions we got from the local inhabitants was absolutely fantastic.  Eventually we arrived in Brisbane, where we played the first test at Lang Park, which, unfortunately, we lost 12-6.

“From there we set off on our way down to Sydney, in a similar mix of road and air travel.  What also was exactly the same was the tremendous, friendly, welcome we received, wherever we stopped off.  I was absolutely taken with the beautiful country we travelled through. I can remember thinking that I would love, one day, to come to live there and that I must bring my wife to see it for herself to see whether she felt so too.

“The second test was held at the Sydney Cricket Ground, and after the defeat in Brisbane, one or two selection changes were made, with Kenny Gill being brought in, to partner Stevie Nash, and Roger Milward moving onto the wing.  This did the trick, and we went on to win 11-16.

“Sydney Cricket Ground was also the venue for the third test, but the result that afternoon went 22-18 in favour of the Australians, after which we flew to New Zealand, where we won two of the four fixtures, but the test match there, at Carlaw Park, Auckland, was one of the pair we lost, in this case by 13-8.

After an international career, which earned him a total of twenty international caps, his last representative honour came when he became a member of the newly formed England side, which played their first match against France, in February, once again at Headingley, where they got off to a winning start, ahead of the imminent World Cup tournament, later that year.

“That game proved to be my last international game because George Fairbairn had been being groomed for the position for a while, and they made the decision to go with him, thereafter.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (8) – PAUL CHARLTON (PT 2)

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Comfortable and happy as Paul was plying his trade with Workington, things were about to change, as attention in his direction had been attracted one hundred and twenty-five miles south, in Salford, where club chairman, Brian Snape, was making massive strides in rebuilding the club and its team.

“Mr Snape had already assembled an extremely good team together, but was always looking at ways to improve it, and in me he saw someone who would strengthen the back line, so he made contact with Tom Mitchell, with whom he had a good friendship, and a deal was eventually concluded between them.

“I hadn’t wanted to leave Workington at all but wasn’t going to pass up the opportunity of going to Salford, particularly when Mr Mitchell told me how in need of the money Workington were, with decreasing crowds putting their finances under considerable strain.

“My wife and I were invited down to Salford, to visit the club and have a look around, and we were most impressed by what we saw, all the more so when we went into the restaurant to see Manchester City coach, Malcolm Allison, in there, having his lunch.  We spoke, and he wished me all the best on my signing and urged me to make the most of my opportunity with Salford.

“Kenny Gwilliam had been Salford’s regular fullback, for a couple of seasons, and had played for the Reds in their Challenge Cup Final, at Wembley.  With my arrival, however, he was, most deservedly, rewarded with a transfer to another top Lancashire side – his hometown team, St Helens.

“Once all the details of the transfer had been ironed out, we moved down to Salford.  At first, we lived above Brian Snape’s offices, but he also owned a couple of houses in Kildare Rd, and he sold one of these to us.  He certainly did all he could to help me settle into the area, and he really was a lovely person.

”I even remember from my very early days, that he had installed his son-in-law, and former Preston Grasshoppers, and Salford, winger, Paul Murphy, as manager of The Willows; a position which he then held for several years.”

Settling into the area is always quite crucial for any player moving to a different part of the country, and in the early days of ultra-short motorways, the distance he found himself from Whitehaven could have been problematic.  Fortunately, that proved not to be the case.

“We settled quite quickly.  I was a joiner by trade, and I soon had a job where I fitted into the company very well.  The boss was a big Salford supporter so that helped.”

Moving to a top side in any sport brings with it a wide range of rewards, and experiences, to be enjoyed.  Apart from the financial benefits there are also on-field successes and a certain degree of notoriety, whilst playing among top quality players brings out the best in everyone’s performance, as Paul readily acknowledges.

“Without any shadow of doubt, I became a far better player for having gone to Salford than I had been, when at Workington.  I had been one of the top players there, but, when I went to Salford, we were all equally as good as one another. We consequently encouraged, and inspired, one another to improve, week by week, season by season.

“We would train occasionally at The Willows, but more usually it was at the Cliff, in Urmston.  It was a playing field, with a shed for us to get changed in.  Going in there for my first session was a memorable experience.  Just being among all those stars was an incredible feeling in itself, but to be playing alongside them was the best thing I can ever remember.

There, nevertheless, was a short period of adjustment and settling in to be gone through, in order for him to become totally conversant with all that was happening around him on the field, and why.

“This sort of thing just doesn’t happen overnight.  New players, coming into a team, often try too hard because they are unsure of all that is going on in the game.  Because of that they then stiffen up, and that reduces their performance level.  Within five or six weeks of playing with Salford, however, I’d become totally relaxed, and everything just came as normal.  I didn’t even have to work for it; it just worked itself.

“That was thanks to the other players.  They taught me a considerable amount from the very start – stuff I’d never come across before, which pushed my performance level up further still.  No-one ever stops learning but when you’ve got players of that calibre, all together, the opportunities to do so are absolutely rife.

“We also had extremely knowledgeable coaches.  Griff Jenkins was the coach when I arrived.  He had had the great success of taking Salford to Wembley for the first time in thirty years, the season before.

“He was replaced twelve months later, by Cliff Evans, who had previously been coach at Swinton.  He was a schoolteacher, and an extremely nice guy.  He produced some fabulous moves for us, which took the whole team to another level again.  Everyone knew their own role, and one another’s, the circumstances of when to employ each move, and the calls that went with them.  It all just came together so well, which developed a tremendous team spirit.

“Brian Snape was fundamental in the building of that.  On one occasion, we had lost at home owing to a poor refereeing decision, and he eradicated all the feelings of dejection and dissatisfaction by giving us winning pay, as a form of consolation.

“Our second-row pairing of Mike Coulman (Quality St Gang No1) and Colin Dixon was exceptional, and I used to follow them around the field, and got quite a number of tries by doing so, because they would drive the ball up and then feed it to me alongside them, and, of course, by this time I had acquired some pace, so was able to race through for the score.

“Winning the First Division Championship, in the 1973/4, season was the highlight of my time at Salford.  They repeated the fete, two seasons later, in ‘75/6 but by then I had returned to Workington, so missed out on that one.”

There has always been a general acceptance, that, in some respects, the team slightly underachieved in terms of trophy successes, and that there should have been more occasions, and seasons, similar to that of ‘73/4, but Paul has his own particular view on that.

“In the time that I was with the club, they had success in a number of ways, in particular by being a significant factor in most competitions, and also by getting to the finals and semi-finals of tournaments such as the Lancashire Cup, Regal Trophy and BBC2 Floodlit Cup, in which we did have our successes in winning a number of those.

“What I would say, though, is our playing style was not particularly suited to the grind of winning enough games in any one competition, because we were far more flamboyant as a team than any other club, but that came at the expense of a hard-work ethic.  Consequently, when we came up against the likes of Leeds, Castleford, and St Helens, we just lacked that toughness that was necessary to overcome these sides, especially on one-off occasions.”

What, of course, Salford fans had, far in excess of any other club at the time, was the sheer entertainment value in the rugby the players provided.

“On those Friday nights at The Willows, you certainly couldn’t have got anything better, and with an average attendance of around eleven thousand, people certainly must have felt that they were getting value for their money.  There certainly weren’t many empty seats left by the time of the kick-off.”

Despite all his claims to having been short of pace, in his early days, by the time he came to Salford, Paul had pace to burn.  Add to that the degree of acceleration he possessed, once described as ‘his change of gear’, which all too often foiled an opponent, who thought they could snuff out the threat he posed, with an early tackle.  Then, whilst in full flight he would employ a swerve to get round a fullback, and in a matter of seconds he had changed the whole balance of the game.

“Once I got in the clear, I could then slow down a little to conserve my energy, but I could also side-step off either foot.  That’s a great asset, if you can do it, because it’s not something you can teach.  I’d be going forward and there would be a guy in front of me, and I would just find myself going to the left then immediately to the right, and I’d be past him.  It’s an inner skill, and I’m fortunate to have been one of those people to have had that.”

It was not solely on attack that he used his pace to such significant effect; it was also in defence.  Many is the time that a fullback is faced with an oncoming winger, but Paul knew exactly how to deal with the situation.  He would hold back, thereby allowing the winger to keep to the touchline thinking he could get to the try-line, but then Paul would accelerate to top speed and the pair of them would end up in one heap, over the touchline.

“In my early playing days, I could never have done that, but it was all down to having the ability to go from idle to full-throttle in an inkling.  Once I found that it worked, I developed it so that I was able to stop top class wingers like John Atkinson, of Leeds, in full flight.  I just thought to myself, push him over to the touchline, don’t give him too much room, and then crack him.

“It was the timing of my acceleration which was the crucial item. It worked almost every time, but it was something that seems to have been unique to me because, to this day, I have never seen anyone else do that the way I did it.”

RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (8) – PAUL CHARLTON (PT1)

Salford’s Former International Fullback, Paul Charlton, Recalls Memories Of His Rugby League Playing Days

CONTENTS

Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Part 3 – HIS INTERNATIONAL CAREER

Part 4 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER

 

Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER

A native of the County formerly known as Cumberland, Paul Charlton grew up in the coastal, rugby-loving, town, of Whitehaven, where he spent his early years, accompanied by his grandfather, watching his local team.

“I was only seven, when I first started watching Whitehaven, but it was really enjoyable from the very start, and I quickly got hooked, so much so that when asked what I wanted for Christmas, that year, I immediately said a rugby ball.  That, then, enabled a few of us to go onto the back field, on a Sunday afternoon, to have a game of touch rugby, which would last nearly until bedtime.

“It might be hard to believe now, but, in those days, there were some really good players playing for Whitehaven, and to me I thought they were superstars, which simply added to the thrill of watching the team.  It really took a grip of me, and I just wanted to become a player, myself, though I never really thought I would because I was only a small, skinny, little lad.  Being a Whitehaven supporter, however, I only ever wanted to play for them.

“Unlike many of the friends with whom I had grown up, I was much more interested in pursuing this ambition than going out to the pub with them, so that eventually, at the age of seventeen, I went over to my local amateur club, Kells ARLFC.  I was quite amazed at everything that went on there, with the training and the structure they had, so decided to join them.”

It was not very long before he got his first chance for a game in their U19s side.

“One of the team cried off and I was called into the side, which was quite daunting because two years’ difference at that age is a considerable amount, and I wasn’t even ten stone, at the time.”

It was not only to be his first actual match, it was also to be his first appearance in the number one, fullback’s jersey.

“If I hadn’t taken up this opportunity, I would very soon have been given the boot.  Even then, I was not only still lacking in size, I also had no pace whatsoever; even the prop forwards were faster than I was.”

Far from being disheartened by this, Paul just buckled down to address his physical shortcomings, with sheer intensive, hard training, interspersed with the odd game.

“It all progressed from there, and I honestly don’t know how I did it, but I progressed from zero to two hundred, in seven years.  Possibly, it was because I was playing alongside others who had been playing for a while, and who gave me great encouragement to do well.”

Unbeknown to Paul, a scout for, of all clubs in the league, Workington Town, Jim Kitchen. had seen him playing and had been really taken with his talent and attitude.  When broached about a possible move there, however, Paul, then aged twenty, thought the whole notion of that to be something of a wind-up.

“I was barely eleven stone in weight, and still quite slow.  I didn’t even consider myself suitable for ‘A’ team football, let alone first team, so I just kept hanging off making any commitment.  Apart from anything else, both my dad and my grandfather were big supporters of Whitehaven so in no way could I see myself playing for the arch-enemy Workington.”

His father, however, could see the sense in following the offer through, so, with tribal loyalties dispensed with, Paul made his way up to Workington, who simply were not prepared to take ‘No’ for an answer.

“It was very much contrary to the dictates of my heart because I’d always wanted to play for Whitehaven.  I’d even trained with them occasionally, whilst playing with Kells, but nothing had ever been forthcoming from them, so I took up the offer of going to Workington.”

One benefit of moving to a semi-professional club was that the lack of pace, which had been so much of a hindrance to his progress, improved beyond all recognition to the extent that he was soon beating some of the speedsters of the side, over a hundred yards.

“I was so unbelievably slow when I first signed but I must have put on over fifteen metres, and that gave me my first chance in the first team, in 1964, at Rochdale, where we won 12-8.  The players and the support staff at Workington were all really good guys, and so very encouraging, and fair, in the way they treated me.

“The extremely flamboyant, Tom Mitchell, was the chairman, and throughout the world of rugby, he was regarded as the sort of guy for whom you would give an arm and leg.  It was a great move by Great Britain, when they appointed him as manager to their 1966 tour.

“Among the players there was Syd Lowden, who later moved to play in the backs for Salford, a few seasons before I signed there.  I got my next call into the first team, in 1965, when he cried off for an away match at Wigan, which, against all the odds, we won.  That was my breakthrough, and when Syd was once again fit, he was played in the centre, and I retained the fullback spot.  My self-belief soared from that.”

By the later part of the sixties, the name of Paul Charlton had become widely known across rugby league circles, culminating in his winning the most prestigious ‘Players No 6, Player of the Year Award’, which was an early forerunner of the present day, ’Man of Steel’.  (The photograph above shows Paul being presented with this award)

“That was an absolutely unbelievable achievement, and moment, in my playing career.  Words just cannot describe the feelings that go with being regarded as the top player in the whole of British rugby league.  It was a culmination of all the hard work that not only I had put in, but, equally so, that of so many people who had helped me along the way.  I just hope that they were able to share in my elation at such a success.”

The only person, who, it seems, was unaware of his widespread notoriety, appears to have been Paul himself.

“I lived in Whitehaven, remember.  I didn’t even know what was going on in Manchester, let alone across the whole of rugby league.  I was just enjoying playing my rugby, and in fact, had Salford not come in for me, I would have been quite happy just being a one club player with Workington Town.”

Not even Whitehaven, by this time could have lured him away, because the sheer acrimony between the two rival Cumbrian clubs was so intense.

“On one of my first visits with Town to the Recreation Ground, I was standing behind the posts while Whitehaven were taking a kick at goal, and a couple of bottles came flying at me from behind, along with a whole diatribe of verbal abuse hurled at me for having dared join Workington and turning out for them against my hometown club.  Whoever threw those bottles just never realised that Haven had had their chance to sign me but had never shown any interest in doing so.

“Fortunately, the bottles did miss me, but only just, and even worse, they were empty.”

Dual Reg and Loan watch – Whitehaven RLFC 30-12 Workington Town

In this week’s dual-registration and loan watch we just have one player to focus on however Levy Nzoungou made a big impact up at the Recreation Ground for Whitehaven RLFC.
Whitehaven ran out 30-12 winners over local rivals Workington Town regaining the Southward Memorial Trophy in the process. Nzoungou crossed for Town as well as spending ten minutes in the sin-bin.
Nzoungou, sponsored by Payroll Central UK, clearly impressed with St Helens forward Kyle Amor tweeting the following:

Workington opened the scoring early on before a 26-man melee broke out which saw Nzoungou get sent to the bin while Miller spent ten minutes on the sideline for Town.
A back-and-forth half ensued with Burns crossing for Whitehaven before Dawson scored for Workington. Again, Haven responded through Gillam before Workington’s Miller was then sent off.
Whitehaven then grabbed control of the game with Taylor diving over before Red Devil loanee Nzoungou latched onto a low kick that had deflected off the post to make it two tries in two dual-reg/loan games for the forward.
Haven went on to score two more tries and finish up with a convincing 30-12 win.

Find us on twitter

Load More...

Find us on Instagram

Sign up to the official newsletter