In a remarkable three and a half seasons at Knowsley Road, Bishop won a total of 15 Caps for Britain and was appointed Captain for the French Tests in 1968/69 - a season in which he also skippered his Club and County. The capture of Tommy Bishop from Barrow for `£5,500 completed the pieces in the Saints team-building jigsaw before the 1966 Challenge Cup-ties began. A small, tough scrum half who never shirked a tackle regardless of the size of an opponent, 26 year old Bishop had starred with Blackpool Borough and Barrow before joining his home town team.
"I was never allowed to influence transfers," recalls Joe Coan, "but this lad Bishop was the exception. I said at the time that he was the best in the league and could do a job for us. He always wanted to play. The best players are those who play the most matches."
The arrival of the `mighty atom` caused some controversy regarding Alex Murphy`s position in the team. Peter Harvey was established as stand off and with Bob Prosser also available Coan had no hesitation in asking Murphy to turn out in the centre. Although unhappy in his new role, the Skipper did a fine job alongside his co-centre 21 year old Billy Benyon - the `Babe` of the team.
"A lot of rubbish was talked at the time about what was best for the team," explains Coan. "Murphy was the best player we had in any position - the greatest player you will ever see in your lifetime. Of course there was Vollenhoven - but he was a specialist. Alex was the complete footballer, a fine athlete and a tremendous trainer. "
Tommy had an immediate effect on the team. He was inspirational and could switch effortlessly from being the creator to the motivator. His individual brilliance was best demonstrated in the 1966 Challenge Cup Final against Wigan when Cliff Watson barged to a central position just 12 yards from the Wigan tryline. Tommy Bishop at acting half back tried one of his trademark grubber kicks. The ball bounced off the Wigan full-back Ray Ashby and right into the little maestro`s hands. Bishop dived beneath the Wigan posts to take the Saints out of sight in the contest by 17 points to 2 with a conversion to come. A week later Tommy seemed content to feed his classy backs and the rampant Albert Halsall as destroyed Halifax in the Championship Final by 35 points to 12.
With Saints winning the Lancashire League title in 1965/6 and 1966/7 Tommy just needed a Lancashire Cup winner`s medal to complete a full collection. He did not have to wait very long as Saints waltzed off with that particular trophy in December 1967 with a hard fought 13 points to 10 victory over Warrington. Tommy was appointed captain of the club with the retirement of Tom Van Vollenhoven for the 1968/9 campaign and in October 1968 Bishop lifted his first trophy with the Saints as they retained the Lancashire Cup with a stunning record 30 points to 2 win over Oldham. For good measure Tommy chipped in with a try against his own name. Indeed the `Mighty Atom` was a regular feature on the score-sheet during his time at Knowsley Road with 47 tries in 147 appearances.
His last season at the Saints was a transitional one for the side and despite winning the Lancashire Cup and Lancashire League again it could have been an even better farewell for Tommy. Saints had only lost three league games up to the away Good Friday fixture against Wigan and were neck and neck with Leeds at the top of the league. Saints crashed against Wigan that day and lost one further fixture at home to Workington Town. One wouldn`t be that surprised to learn that Tommy did not play in those two fixtures. He was a great captain and an inspirational leader on the pitch.
In the summer of 1969, St. Helens Supporters mourned the departure of the man who was expected to lead the Club into anew decade of success as Tommy Bishop became the latest big name `Saint` to be lured by the Australian scene. Tough, cheeky and skilful, the `Mighty Atom` captured the hearts of the sporting public `Down Under` with some exhilarating displays during the 1966 Great Britain Tour and had become quite a celebrity. Like Ken Killeen before him, `Bish` had achieved all that he could in England and relished the challenge offered to him by the Cronulla Sutherland Club. Under Tommy`s tremendous influence, the Sharks rose from being the `whipping boys` of the Sydney Competition to Grand Final participants in 1973. Opponents Manly won an exciting game 10-7, but for many in the crowd, Bishop`s side were the heroes! Former Saints prop Cliff Watson was also a Cronulla player by this time.
By Alex Service and Dave Dooley
The Era of the Biff website has a GREAT article on Tommy, please visit them here.
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