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New Romantics and Dreams of Wembley.

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.

Paul Whiteside.

New Romantics and dreams of Wembley.

My mum and dad were settling well in their new house in Castleton on the outskirts of Rochdale. They were regular visitors to Hollingworth Lake and the Fisherman Inn. The Moorcock Inn was another good Saturday night. They liked the New Romantic scene and it was a good disco in there with sounds from the Human League, Spandau Ballet and Duran Duran.

It was a tough start to 1981 as Salford faced five straight away fixtures. An agonising 11-10 defeat at Leigh on New Year’s Day followed by a 14-29 loss at St. Helens. Eight league defeats on the trot to start the new year left the supporters a little down beat.

Salford got a much needed break from the League with the Challenge Cup facing Bradford Northern at The Willows. They were a top side and the current league champions. A very solid team with a fearsome pack with the experienced Jimmy Thompson, Gary Van Bellen, Jeff Grayshon and young hooker Brian Noble.

In a thrilling match Salford broke there losing run to progress to the next round with a 17-13 victory.

We seemed to be hitting form at the right time beating Castleford in the league 17-15. Another tough draw in the cup paired Salford with Leigh at the Willows. Leigh were starting to build a very competitive side at Hilton park and would go on to win the championship the following season. They had pace in the back line from Des Drummond, Steve Donlan and Phil Fox. John Woods at half back was their prized possession. A man who could create the magic needed to win big matches. A very capable pack as well meant another stern test for Salford.

Another brilliant performance with tries from young stars Paul O’Neill and Stuart Williams gave my dad a real sniff of Wembley. Could the 1980s be the decade for Salford? A crowd of almost 9,000 saw Salford 12 Leigh 3.

Would the draw be kind?

Well not really but this was the last eight of the competition, Hull Kingston Rovers away!

My dad didn’t have a car back then but he managed to persuade his sister Lindsay to let him borrow her new Mark Two Ford Escort. Despite the colour being Swinton blue it was a nice motor and my dad took my mum along for the day trip up the M62 to East Yorkshire.

The magnificent Humber Bridge had just been completed and their was a viewing point just off the A63. My dad appreciated the engineering and industry that had gone in to the construction and stopped to take a look. Almost forty years later it’s still a monumental landmark and something I always gaze at on my way past. The bridge opened a few months later in June 1981.

On arrival at Craven Park my mum and dad we’re surrounded by The Robins ferocious home support. This is something that’s never bothered my dad as I soon found out once I started going to the matches. The more hostile the atmosphere is the loader he roared his beloved Salford on.

This was a Cup Quarter Final, two games from Wembley. Hull Kingston Rovers were another force in the British game in the early 1980s along with City rivals Hull. Rovers had won the Championship in the 1978/79 season and beaten Hull at Wembley to lift the Challenge cup in May 1980.

Over 14,000 supporters packed the old Craven Park Stadium to cheer the sides on. Colin Dixon my dads all time Salford hero had retired at the end of the 1979/80 season after a fantastic career. Having been coaxed out of retirement by the Robins, Colin was on the bench in this clash and it was a real bitter sweet moment for my dad when he came on the pitch. Rightly so he clapped him on.

The match was a real tense encounter. Talented forward Mal Yates scored a try along with another highly rated youngster Paul O’Neill. Steve Rule could only manage one goal. Every time Steve lined a conversion attempt up the noise was deafening from the home fans. They banged the advertising boards as loud as they could. It sounded like a freight train steaming in.

Rovers just had too much for brave Salford. The match finished 19-8 and dreams of Wembley were put on hold for another twelve months. Only three tries to two but Steve Hubbards five goal kicks put Hull Kingston Rovers into the semi final were they would face St. Helens at Headingley.

It’s always a miserable drive home from Hull after a defeat but all of a sudden on the M62 just short of Ferrybridge the lovely blue Ford Escort lost power and came to a stop. My dad found Lindsay’s phone number in the glove box and in the days well before mobile phones he trekked down the hard shoulder to the motorway telephone. Lindsay explained that she was covered by the AA but not the car. This sort of thing never fazes my dad so he made my mum pretend to be his sister as they got towed all the way back to Swinton!

Five days later Hull Kingston Rovers made the journey to the Willows for a Friday night league match. Salford’s new found form was making them a team to watch. In another bitter sweet moment Colin Dixon scored a try for Rovers but this time Steve Rule was in superb form with the boot kicking seven goals. Two tries from another talented young player David Stephenson gave Salford a much deserved victory 20-15.

It’s fair to say their was a real blend of youth and experience in that side of 1981. Maurice Richards, Bill Francis and Frank Wilson had all been in the game a long time. Salford’s crop of young players were really exciting, Paul Fletcher, Colin Whitfield, David Stephenson, Paul O’Neill, Mal Yates and Stewart Williams. The question was would the club be able to hang on to them and make progress through the decade?

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