Jeffrey Heaton by Dave Dooley: This local lad played for the Saints in two spells over the 1960s and 1970s. He originally signed for the Saints on October 13th 1960. Jeff serves his apprenticeship in the `A` team for a couple of years. His opportunity came at the start of the 1962/3 season when Alex Murphy returned from the 1962 Australasian Tour with a serious shoulder injury. Jeff played in a friendly against the S.H.A.P.E. Indians then made his official debut on August 30th 1962 against Liverpool City. One week later he scored his first try for the club against the same opposition. In his first stanza with the Saints, Jeff partnered up a 17 year old nipper named Billy Benyon. These two young `Sinteliners` did the town proud as they combined to help defeat Swinton by 7 points to 4 on the 1962 Lancashire Cup Final. After Murphy`s return to the first team opportunities were scarce for Jeff and so in October 1963 he decided to take up an offer to play at Liverpool City.
In may ways this was a blessing in disguise for Jeff now had the opportunity to play against top class opposition on a regular basis. Jeff`s game blossomed and when Tommy Bishop departed British shores for Bondi Beach in the summer of 1969, Jeff was persuaded to return to Knowsley Road for a `£750 transfer fee. Jeff takes up the tale:
"I thought I was just a stop gap with Gareth Edwards and later Barry John always rumoured to be joining the club."
The Saints needed a consistent performer in the number 7 jersey and Jeff was the man. His quick service from the scrum or in open play enabled stand offs like Frank Myler, Ken Kelly, Alan Whittle, David Eckersley and Billy Benyon to weave their magic and involve the Saints` three-quarters. His reading of the game was exemplary with his quick hands often setting up criss-cross moves or short passes to send forwards crashing over the opposition`s tryline.
In his first season back at Knowsley Road he notched braces of tries against Oldham, Leigh and Wigan which culminated in a season`s best total of 16 tries. In the 1970 Championship Final against Leeds his quick witted service enabled Frank Myler to enjoy one of his greatest ever games as the Saints outsmarted their opponents by 24 points to 12.
The following season saw great pressure for the number seven shirt being exerted by Ken Kelly, as Jeff was temporarily challenged for the scrum half berth. However, such was the consistency and reliability of Jeff Heaton that even the best challengers usually ended up playing stand off or wearing the substitute`s jersey. In a back to back Championship Final winning performance Jeff drove the forwards and backs to a stunning late victory over Wigan as the 1971 Champions crown was seized by Billy `the bandit` Benyon in the last minute of the match.
The epic 1971/2 season was a glory trail that demanded amazing levels of endurance form the Saints team. Jeff made an incredible 52 appearances that season, ending any speculation that he was merely a medium term option for the scrum half berth. He was part of the side that carried off the 1971 BBC TV Trophy in the 8 points to 2 Final victory over Rochdale Hornets and a key member of the 1972 Challenge Cup winning side that defeated Leeds by 16 points to 13.
Eric Ashton`s squad for the 1974/5 Championship winning campaign was one of the most experienced and gifted ever to have been assembled at Knowsley Road. The team only lost three matches in their entire league campaign and finished the season some 9 points clear of their nearest challengers Wigan in the league table. Jeff was an integral part of that side and his experienced service provided tries galore for a rampant Saints` back-line. Heaton`s 13 try haul that season included touchdowns against Halifax and Castleford.
Jeff`s last season at Knowsley Road provided icing on Heaton`s already rich cake. In the 1975 BBC TV Trophy Final Jeff chipped in with his only ever drop goal for the club as Dewsbury were taken to the cleaners by 22 points to 2. He scored his only ever hat trick in the 47 points to 3 victory over Huddersfield. If these personal milestones were not enough, Jeff demonstrated what a class act he was in the 1976 Challenge Cup Final and the Premiership Final of the same year. In the "Dad`s Army" triumph over Widnes at Wembley Stadium, Jeff coaxed and cajoled his forwards into producing a storming display to pound the Widnes opposition into submission. With Saints holding a slender 7 points to 5 lead and just 12 minutes to the end of the match, a marvellous sixty yards sweep by Coslett, Pimblett and Noonan carried the ball to within ten yards of the Widnes tryline. Jeff Heaton at first receiver fed Tony Karalius who produced some mesmerising ball handling wizardry to slip a return pass to Jeff who darted between the posts for a try that broke the Widnesian hearts. Two weeks later Jeff and the Saints repeated the dose against a table topping Salford side in the Premiership Final defeating the `Red Devils` by 15 points to 2. In a long career Jeff had won every honour with the Saints. He was tempted out of retirement by Kel Coslett to help build up a Rochdale Hornets outfit - but it was never like the glory times at Knowsley Road.
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