RUGBY LEAGUE’S QUALITY STREET GANG (5) – RON HILL – PART 5

CONTENTS

Part 1 – HIS EARLY RUGBY CAREER

Part 2 – MEMORIES OF HIS TIME WITH SALFORD

Part 3 – SALFORD’S 1969 CHALLENGE CUP RUN

Part 4 –HE REMEMBERS HIS SALFORD TEAMMATES AND CHAIRMAN

Part 5 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER

Part 5 – HIS POST SALFORD CAREER

After the heady delight of playing at Wembley, Ron continued to travel over to Salford for a further two seasons before moving to York, at the request of fellow Welshman and coach, Tommy Harris.

“I sustained a broken jaw, part way through the season after Wembley, and somehow I never really got myself back up to the level I had been at, prior to that, added to which, in my absence, David Watkins had taken over the kicking.

“I knew then that my time with the club had run its course but I was extremely sorry to leave, because I knew I would miss all the lovely supporters we had, and friends I had made in my three seasons there. I would even go so far as to say that my time at Salford, alongside victories for Castleford over the Australians, and for York, when I captained the side against New Zealand, were the pinnacles of my career in both codes. When I look back at playing alongside those talented players, and the wonderful rapport we had with the fans, nothing could ever surpass that.”

After a most satisfying three seasons at York, he moved to Dewsbury, where he spent four seasons, as Assistant Player-Coach, and was eventually promoted to the post of Head Coach, but his time in the role was short-lived, lasting only a few months.

“Work was taking over more and more of my time and it was difficult to fit in the time necessary to fulfil the demands on a Head Coach.”

Assistant Coach, however, was a different proposition, and when Bramley contacted him with another such offer, he happily took it, and in the two years he spent there, he continued to turn out in certain games, until events took a completely unexpected turn. Harry Gration, Head of Sport for Radio Leeds, offered him a position commentating on local rugby matches, a role which he carried out, with distinction, for over thirty years.

And who could be more qualified to undertake such a position than a dual code player of international standing, with coaching experience to go with it. Ron says however that it was his voice that had held sway, but for those of us who have heard him on air, we all know the degree of articulation and eloquence he possesses, together with the clarity of his comments and the structure he brings to his whole presentation.

“I always regarded player identification as paramount, to the extent that I would go into the dressing-rooms of both teams to collate details of appearances, to ensure I could immediately recognise each of them.

“It is something I would never have done purely for the money; my prime motivation was definitely the enjoyment of it all.  I went to so many places – Wembley, Cardiff, Twickenham and France – and met so many people I would never otherwise have done.

“On one occasion I was commentating alongside, Ray French, who had been on the Widnes side which we had beaten in the Cup quarter-final, and he took it upon himself to remind me, on air, of the effect the poor state our pitch had had on them in that game, and the colossal advantage it had given us. In response I pointed out, with tongue in cheek, that as the thorough-breds in the game they should have used it to their advantage, which was, of course, quite the reverse of the two teams’ strengths and of how the pitch would have advantaged, or disadvantaged, each.”

The game which stands out from all the others, upon which he has commentated, was the 1987 Challenge Cup Final between St Helens and Halifax. He travelled down to Wembley on the Halifax team coach and stayed in the hotel with them, which was quite unheard of for a journalist.

“On the day, they overcame all the odds to beat Saints in the last minute, 19-18, courtesy of John Pendlebury, who knocked the ball out of Saints’ centre, Derek Noonan’s arms, as he was going over in the corner. We had a most wonderful evening celebrating, and then attended a Civic Reception upon our return home, the following day.  I also had a similar experience, a few years later, with Castleford.

“I feel most privileged to have been so closely involved with the game for such a lengthy time. It has been the most wonderful way to have continued my rugby career.”