|Jimmy talks about his life and rugby league career: I am from Upland Road, Thatto Heath originally. My dad was in the navy in the First World War, went down the mines and eventually worked at Foster’s glassworks and finally at Pilkingtons. He had a bad accident going to work one foggy day when he collided with a ‘knocker-upper’ and his stick damaged my dad’s face severely. He didn’t go down the pit after that. Dad was a talented joiner and had ‘read up’ about it. He used to make some fantastic pieces of furniture with joints that were expertly made. My mother did a lot of work for charity. A good sewer and my dad built a superb sewing box for her one time. |
I went to Thatto Heath Council school and then to the new secondary school at Grange Park. It was the first year it was opened when I first went there. I was a soccer player in my early days. I played for the local Toll Bar Congs team at one stage. I captained the Grange Park team as a centre-half and played right-half for St. Helens schoolboys for three years. We won the English School’s Shield when I was 14 in the final at City Road. We used to go to a woman’s house in Peasley Cross after matches where we had hotpot. When we went away, we were usually treated to a meal in a posh café, but that wasn’t how the St. Helens Committee did it! One of my uncles, ‘Neddy’ Goodier was a very good centre-half for St. Helens Town.
Living in St. Helens it was the done thing to play rugby league, of course and I played in the Saints’ junior league team during the war as well as several First Team games. At 5 feet 6 inches I wasn’t that big and I became a hooker. I took up an apprenticeship with Critchley’s in St. Helens as a plumber and later took up a job with Houghton’s in Aintree. I was never called up during the war, but didn’t necessarily have an easy life! I used to have to stay in Liverpool during the bombing raids and was on call to help to repair the damage to utilities. It wasn’t just there and I was all over the place at one stage!
I played many matches for the junior team the Saints had formed to keep them going as the war went on. I remember players like Aub Gregory [he could run!], Ernie Mills, Harold Clough and Joe Ball. Now he was some player! Strong as an ox, not very big, but a sturdy lad. The one thing he lacked was that extra yard of pace, otherwise he would have been a real world beater! As for me…well I could certainly get the ball out of the scrum! On the open side of the pack I often had the legendary ‘porky’ Davies next to me. One time he kept saying ‘lift your feet up, Jimmy’! I said I couldn’t because their prop was standing on them. The solution was quite simple. ‘Porky’ would thump him. After all it was not on the referee’s side and he almost always got away with it. The front-rowers used to enjoy trying to get one over each other. ‘Porky’ and his fellow prop Jonty Pilkington seemed to relish packing down in the scrum just to give their opposite numbers a clout. There were few props in the league who got the better of those two and one reason why front-row forwards didn’t actually relish coming to St. Helens. In the roughest position on the field, they had to be really hard men! There was this small referee called Holbrook and many is the time he used to bring out one of them from the scrum and he would give him a good telling off, with his finger wagging furiously. The big 15/16 stones prop would stand there forlornly, with his arms behind his back like some naughty schoolboy! Yet after the eighty minutes, the combatants would shake hands with each other and it would all be forgotten. Spectators often thought that there was genuine hatred, but that rarely, if ever, spilled over after a match. They might even go for a drink together in midweek!
It was very much a ‘make-do-and-mend’ time for rugby league clubs during the war. Some didn’t function at all, but thanks to Harry Cook and his junior team in the Widnes League, there was a supply of young players to keep the club going. Lads like Joe Ball and Tom Waring were little more than schoolboys when they were put into the seniors and it was a real baptism of fire for them. I remember we had many ‘guest’ players, including the great Stan Brogden for a spell, who was stationed nearby in barracks at Cropper’s Hill. Several Saints’ players also guested for other clubs, like Bradford Northern and Dewsbury, so it had to be ‘give and take’. But for me, it provided me with some fantastic sporting memories that I have always cherished. I was 91 on 27th October 2016 and those memories will never leave me!