As you progress in years there is a sudden realisation that certain people criss-cross your timeline - John Walsh was such a character. I recall as a first year pupil at Grange Park Technical School hearing a tale about a fourth former who had put a hole in the reinforced glass window of the `Technical Block` with a football. I believe `Waller` was responsible - he was having soccer trials for Everton at the same time.
At school John Walsh was an enigma - he was a leading light in the school First XV and achieved five `A` levels in Maths, Further Maths and Science with a couple of Special subjects thrown in. My form teacher, the charismatic Sam Hill, put his achievements down to `hard graft`. As a youngster I could never understand how such a talent was never made a prefect! Doubtless Waller`s schoolmates can throw some light on this recollection?
It was a tradition for Grange Park pupils to work in the school holidays at Ravenhead Glass - `tekin in` (transferring mad hot glasses from one machine to the next carousel without setting yourself and clothes on fire - something I managed to do most weeks). It used to take a few days to train you up to reach `machine speed` but John Walsh had the dexterity and coordination to master the technique within five minutes. He later worked as a student at Boundary Road baths and allowed me to stay in the baths as long as I wanted (no overdue bills please!).
When he was at Hull University he returned to St Helens and trained one summer at Moss Lane "I was playing for the Colts there at the time. Everybody knew what a rugby talent he was and were stunned when the committee only picked John for the second team in the first match of the season. Within a fortnight some enthusiasts had formed a RL club at Moss Bank that included John Walsh and Ken Gill (later to become the GB and Salford half back). During that season the Club hit the local headlines and unsurprisingly lifted the Lancashire Amateur Cup. Towards the end of the campaign, 1968 to be precise, John Walsh was selected to tour Australia with the GB Amateur RL team. At the same time, Saints stepped in to sign John and he was soon making his debut on the 15th. of April 1968. against Swinton on the left wing, notching two goals in a hard fought 19-16 away victory.
In the following season 1968-69, John played seventeen matches at full back, kicking 27 goals and crossing the line for four tries. It is interesting to note that on the Saints` books at the time were full backs Frankie Barrow and Austin Rhodes in his second spell with club. In the team were the established `toe enders` Kel Coslett and Austin Rhodes, John Walsh preferred to use the new fangled instep, soccer style of goal-kicking. During this season he notched 12 goals and scored a try in the 57-5 demolition of Doncaster (19/4/69).
The championship side of 1969-70 saw John play in 46 matches, twenty four at full back and 22 games in the centre. The move to centre allowed the creative side of John`s play to flourish and fed Frank Wilson for a feast of tries. The Champions of 1970 also featured all time Saints` greats including Billy Benyon, Les Jones, Frank Myler, Cliff Watson, Bill Sayer, Tony Karalius, Eric Chisnall, John Mantle and Kel Coslett. The Championship Final at Odsal was a stage made for Walsh. The team were magnificently led by Frank Myler but for me John Walsh was our man of the match - running rings around the Leeds backs and dropping a goal from the most acute of angles - just after a wicked hailstorm (yes it was the middle of May in Bradford!).
Saints retained the Championship the following season with a remarkable 16-12 last minute victory over arch-rivals Wigan at Swinton. I remember hitch-hiking to the match from Padgate College and reliving the golden moments in the college bar for most of the night. It was the fortuitous bounce of the ovoid from an attempted drop goal by John Walsh that led to the famous Billy Benyon try. I was on the `25` opposite `Waller` as he delivered the present to Billy and there no was no offside to be seen!
In season 1971-72 John Walsh paved the way for a BBC2 Floodlight Trophy win with a devastating man of the match performance over Leeds in the semi-final (17-0 at Headingly). Leeds were again victims in the Challenge Cup final of 1972 when the magnificent boot of Kel Coslett was ably augmented by a fabulous defensive display led by Walsh in the centre who snuffed out the highly rated Syd Hynes. The season saw John gain his county cap for Lancashire. In a season of many highlights John Walsh played centre in the Great Britain team that became World Champions in the tournament held in France.
The Saints` side of 1972-73 found itself in a period of rebuilding with John Walsh only playing in less than half of the matches. Supporters were then rocked with the news that 1973-74 would see John Walsh taking a sabbatical to concentrate in his examinations. This decision probably resulted in John missing out on the Lions Tour to Australia.
The Championship side of 1974-75 saw a rejuvenated John Walsh play a key role in Saints losing only three matches in the league season. His creative play and dominance in the centre resulted in John Walsh being named as England captain for the World Cup of 1975.
At the end of the season John announced his `early retirement` prior to his 29th. birthday.
I can still see the writhing of some Grange Park teachers as `Waller`, bedecked in the red of Windsor, powered his way to another cross country victory along the red rocks. I wonder if any witnessed his triumphs at Knowlsey Road, Wembley or Odsal? Perhaps it was part of a cunning plan to bring the best out of him - it certainly worked!
John Walsh, forever an enigma now living in Canada. He recently attended the 1972 Challenge Cup winning side reunion dinner at John Stephens restaurant in Liverpool.
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