WARRINGTON Wolves have paid tribute to “Hall of Famer” Alastair Brindle, who sadly died in Warrington Hospital earlier this week, following a long illness, aged 82.
Born in Warrington on 26 April 1939, Brindle started watching the great Warrington side of the time in 1948 before taking up the game himself at school two years later.
He joined Warrington from the Blackburne Arms amateur team, based at the pub on Orford Green, for a signing-on fee of £100, with the promise of £300 more after 10 first-team appearances.
He recalled: “I signed in 1956 and was playing with some of the fellas that I had been watching as a schoolkid, like Gerry Helme, Bev and Ally Naughton – great players that I had watched and admired and I was actually playing with them. That was a strange feeling and I was a bit overawed by it.”
His Wire debut came, aged 18, at St Helens in September 1957 when a flu epidemic had claimed many of the first-team regulars. “I was thrown in at the deep end against St Helens at St Helens and they had an international pack of forwards. Alan Prescott, the Great Britain captain, was in his prime and I propped down against him. I was thrown to the lions, but it did me good. It gave me confidence. Back in the ‘A’ team it made me play better and in no time I was back in the first team as a regular.
“I was on about £3 per week as an apprentice joiner. Winning money at Warrington then was £10 with £8 losing money. So when you’re on £3 a week in your normal job, £10 is a lot and there was always a bonus on top of that.
“The biggest pay packet I picked up was against Featherstone in the Challenge Cup in 1966. It was always a hard place to go. They saw off a lot of the big teams in cup ties in those days and we were on £44. In 1959 when we beat Saints we were on £33, which was the biggest pay packet up till then.”
Alastair Brindle played 281 games for Warrington during a 12-year career, but one match stands out for him above all the others: the 1959 Lancashire Cup final against St Helens at Wigan’s Central Park.
Warrington had won three away games – at Workington, Leigh and Wigan – to reach the final, but St Helens, with Great Britain scrum-half Alex Murphy and South African wing sensation Tom van Vollenhoven in their ranks, were the clear favourites. A crowd of 39,237 assembled to watch the action.
Brindle, who was 20 at the time, recalled: “We managed to beat them 5-4 against all the odds because they had a team of all-stars as they always have. We were the underdogs and won with a controversial try by the great Brian Bevan.”
“Bobby Greenough kicked through and Bev chased it and beat Van Vollenhoven to the ball. Voll kicked it dead and it’s controversial as to whether Bev touched it down before Voll kicked it. I was 20 yards away and I thought Bev missed it, but he said he did touch it down. That was the best memory.”
Rugby league was a winter sport in those days and that is not the only difference. Scrums were contested, and fiercely contested at that, and Brindle as a blindside prop was in the thick of the action.
Brindle, who was 5ft 11in and 14st, said: “You had a big, tallish number eight on the openside and a shorter prop on the blindside. It mattered whether you got the ball out. Today the ball goes straight in the second row, but then you had to fight for it. So the hookers liked the blindside prop to get really involved.
“Scrums became that bad that sometimes it took three or four efforts to get the ball out because of scrums collapsing and hookers with feet up, loose arms and all those little bits of shenanigans going on to gain an advantage. And on the blindside you could get away with more because the referee was on the other side.
“The hookers liked you to mess about the other number 10 and the other hooker just to put them off that little bit as the ball came in. It could have been anything. You could put your hand over their eyes or tug their shorts and that’s how the skirmishes started. You had to learn these things and if you didn’t and the hooker didn’t get the ball out on a fairly regular basis you got dropped.
“I saw some terrible things. Paddy Lannon, our hooker, was a great number nine and he was getting beat by the Barrow hooker in the first few scrums. Straight away, he was annoyed and started shouting and getting angry. He said: ‘This next scrum, forget the ball, straight over the top.’ So it was one big shove, over the top and their hooker was down in the melee, hoping it would put him off next time. That’s how it was and everybody accepted it. It was a tough game.”
So tough that the injuries came back to haunt Brindle in later life and leave him with reduced mobility.
Brindle was also a member of the Warrington team who finished second in the league in the 1960-61 season and reached the Championship Final against Leeds at Odsal, a match that marked the end of the glory days of the Fifties.
“It slipped from the mid-Sixties onwards,” said Brindle. “In fact I always thought that the lads were not fighting to get in the team, they were fighting to get out of it, crying off at the least little thing because they knew we were going to get hammered. It’s all about team spirit. It was there in the late Fifties and that’s why we beat Saints in the Lancashire Cup final.”
Brindle was awarded a testimonial season in 1967-68, which raised £800. He made his 281st and final appearance for Warrington against Wigan at Wilderspool in April 1969. He had scored seven tries and, unusually for a prop forward, kicked a drop goal, at Keighley, in January 1967.
He later became an active and enthusiastic member of the Warrington Players’ Association.
Alastair was inducted into the Warrington Hall of Fame in 2015. He regularly attended matches at The Halliwell Jones Stadium until his health problems sadly restricted his visits. He recently travelled over to Headingley with his team mates for a 60th re-union of the 1961 Championship final teams. Alastair was on top form with his great friend Jackie Edwards.
Alastair was a lovely man, who will be sadly missed, but fondly remembered by all who knew him. He always had a tale to tell, to sit with him and listen to his stories was always a pleasure.
He is pre-deceased by his wife Jeannette. The Club sends their condolences to his children Duncan, Sarah and Alistair, grandchildren Jemma, Jonathan, Scott, Niamh, Emily, Erin and great grandson Finley.
Pictures Eddie Whitham