Keep your elbows to yourself young ‘un

Evie GodfreyMemories of Old Craven Park

One of the highlights was on 8th January 1966 – the day we beat Wigan 16-2 at the old Craven Park. Wigan used to have a defensive move where Eric Ashton used to shoot the line and take out the opposing centre, and the great Billy Boston used to come in and crash tackle his opposite winger.

This time the centre was Rovers’ Terry Major, who passed the ball to Mike Blackmore, who ran for the gap, and as Boston closed in on his prey, Mike squeezed through, passing Boston by a mere fraction. But Boston could not stop himself and took out both Eric and Terry in one perfect crash tackle, while Mike duly scored under the posts. As I went over to congratulate him, he was grey.

“Great try, Mike! You ok?” I said.

“All I saw was this cherry and white wall coming at me out of the corner of my eyes, so I shut them and felt the slipstream off Billy’s charge as I went through,” was his somewhat shaky reply.
I was propping against Wigan’s international prop Brian McTigue – one of the best front-row forwards ever to play the game. He was the only man I ever heard Frank Foster pay any respect too. Before the game, while sitting next to Frank in the dressing room, he said to me, “You know who you are up against today?”

“Of course – Brian McTigue,” I replied.

“Leave him alone, and he will be ok,” Frank advised, “but try anything on with him, and he will fucking kill you.” Well, that shattered any confidence I might have felt! If Foster was wary of him, what chance did an 18-year old have!? Anyway, the game started according to plan, and everything was honky dory. My job in those days was to run off Frank Foster, Bill Holliday and Harry Poole – Harry used to say to me, “When I tell thee to run, thee run, or I’ll fucking belt thee, never mind them bastards.”

I was quite quick despite my portly build (some used less kind terms) and I had made a couple of breaks and was doing ok when it happened. I went short off a ball from Frank, and I saw a Wigan shirt coming in from my right, so I lifted my elbow, cracked whoever it was on the nose, and we hit the floor together with me on top. I looked down and saw to my horror that it was McTigue. He growled something at me, but I wasn’t hanging about, and I got up double-quick and played the ball. At the next scrum, he put my head where he wanted it, and I saw his fist in front of me. I am in deep shit here, I thought – he had me set up, and I could not move. The fist travelled only six inches and hit me straight between the eyes.

“Keep your elbows to yourself, young’ un, or there will be more,” he growled. I did not answer because I did not want him to see that I was afraid, but deep down, I was terrified. But I had no more trouble from him afterwards, and I even hit him with a tough man and ball,tackle putting him right on his arse. When he stood up to play the ball and said, “Good tackle, son,” I felt as if I had been knighted.

As I walked off at the end of the game, McTigue came up to me, put his arm around my shoulders and said, “Well played son – keep it going, and you will do well in the game.” To think that a player of Brian McTigue’s stature thought I was okay made me feel another six inches tall. Then, when I got home, my old man said he had been listening to the game on BBC radio and that the commentator, Keith Macklin, had said that, “Rovers win was due to them having the best three players on the field – Frank Foster, Bill Holliday and a young prop called Keith Pollard.” It was one of the proudest days of my career.

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