For the past few years I’ve been working on a book. It’s based on myself, my dad, his brother Jeff and their lives involved in the great sport of Rugby League. It’s called Heroes, Heart Break and Hope. I am hoping to have the book finished by the end of 2020.
At this uncertain time in everyone’s lives and their being no Salford matches to write and talk about I thought I’d share a few chapters of the book. I hope you enjoy reading them. Stay safe, see you soon. God bless.
The swinging sixties and the start of things to come.
Born on the 3rd of May 1958 at Hope Hospital Andrew Martin Whiteside was the youngest of three children. Brother Jeffery born five years earlier on the 30th January 1953 and sister Lindsay born 22nd November 1955 to parents Jim and Joyce.
Rugby league was to be influenced from outside the family as Jim had no real interest in the sport. Like all younger siblings though Andrew would look up to his big brother.
It was the swinging late 1960s a time of optimism and change modern Britain. Something was in the air as Thunder Clap Newman sang.
Salford Rugby League Club we’re making steady progress after finding it tough in the early 60s living in the shadows of neighbours Swinton.
Under charismatic chairman Brian Snape their was a culture change at the club and a real sense of excitement. Snape was a successful businessman with plenty of drive and innovative ideas.
As we go through the story I’ll try and refer to Andrew as my dad at some stages.
September 28th 1968 would be my dads first match watching Salford RLFC. He travelled to the match in a motorcycle and side car with Neil Robinson his friend from The Cubs and his dad Jim. Jeffery being older and more street wise made his own way there. The iconic Central Park ground saw Salford go down 18-11 to Wigan. This didn’t dampen my dads enthusiasm, he was hooked as he told me years later had caught the bug. When Rugby League is played at a high intensity it’s a wonderful spectacle and I can’t think of another sport that can match it.
Salford were on the rise as a club both on and off the field. A Wembley appearance was on the way but before that the run in the Challenge Cup to get there was absolutely fascinating.
A Quarter Final tie at home to Widnes on the 2nd March 1969 would attract a huge crowd of almost 20,000 packed the Willows. Salford put in a heroic display with a 20-7 victory. Andrew and Jeffery sat on the grass at the tea hut end of the ground which a few years later would become the magnificent North Stand. It was a fantastic view from the seats in the top section. Down below the terracing was unusually steep as seats we’re supposed to go all the way down. For one reason or another this never materialised and in many ways it was probably better that it didn’t. The North Stand would become iconic in the Rugby League world.
Andrews dedication to Salford was growing all the time, he was well on the way to being a fanatic and this will become more obvious as we head through the 1970s!
Two more wins followed at home to Warrington and Rochdale Hornets before the Challenge Cup Semi final.
Warrington we’re the opposition at Central Park. Jeffery decided not to take Andrew. Going with a gang of friends he wasn’t to keen on his younger brother tagging along. Although he was disappointed Andrew always made the best of things and watched the match on BBC television. It’s something I’ve always admired about my dad. He never sulks about anything, he’s a very content person. Salford 15 Warrington 8 is how it finished. The Red Devils we’re Wembley bound.
Castleford would be Salford’s opponents in the Cup Final. Before that though Easter meant three games in four days. Three more victories followed. 7-49 at Blackpool on Good Friday before an eagerly awaited Derby clash with Swinton at Station Road a day later. Another huge crowd saw Salford receive the Mackeson Gold ball before kick off. Mackeson as in the Stout, this was presented for consecutive victories. Another big performance saw a 3-19 victory. Andrew and Jeffery walked back the short distance to Maldon Crescent thrilled with excitement as they plotted the down fall of Wigan on Easter Monday.
A bus trip to Wigan on the bank holiday Monday took a fair bit longer than it does now. However Salford saved their best Easter display for this game. Wigan were thumped 5–37, elegant speedster Billy Burgess scored a brace of tries along with Bob Burdell who also got a double.
17th May 1969 was Challenge Cup Final day. Salford met tough Yorkshire side Castleford. Both sides had plenty of quality, Cas had Alan Hardisty and Keith Hepworth pulling the strings and a terrific all rounder in Malcolm Reilly.
Jeffery decided not to take Andrew, he was going with friends and they had made plans to stay over night. My dad was fobbed off with “I’ll take you next year when we get there”. As we now know over fifty years later we can’t take Wembley trips for granted. It’s the Holy Grail of Rugby League to many Salford supporters even to this day.
My dad sat down in the front room of 11 Maldon Crescent to watch the match on the BBC. Legendary commentator Eddie Waring introduced the two sets of players. The match exploded right from the kick of when Castleford forward Denis Hartley smashed poor Billy Burgess with his elbow in an off the ball incident. This set the tone for the eighty minutes ahead, Salford struggled to find the rhythm of recent weeks. The match was a real tense affair. Jim was outside washing the car, Andrew kept shouting score updates through the window, he was thrilled with excitement. Despite Ron Hill’s goal kicking Salford couldn’t get the allusive try they needed losing the match 11-6.
This would only be the beginning of a very special time in the club’s history.
I am not going to say it was the glory years because their were many disappointing days coming up through the next decade. It’s something me and my dad have discussed at length over the years that as a club Salford failed to reach potential. Perhaps we lacked that win at all costs ruthlessness, everyone will have their own opinion I suppose.
Cover photograph courtesy of Steve McCormick.