Treasure trove of memories of man who saved The Wire


A treasure trove of memorabilia of former Warrington RLFC Chairman Sir Ossie Davies, the man who saved The Wire, has come to light, sparking memories of the club’s Wembley triumph 50 years ago this year.

It is now hoped the collection of memories of Sir Ossie, who helped save the Wire from going out of business in the early 1970s, can now help raise funds for the club’s Squadbuilder, promoting homegrown talent and the club’s Foundation.

Items in the collection, unearthed by his son Neville, include matchday programmes, including several in mint condition from the 1974 final as well as autographed items, including the Wembley Final banquet menu, signed by both clubs.

Reflecting on his memories of Warrington RLFC Neville said: “My first memories were as a child going to matches, which were usually on a Saturday afternoon. My mum would be dropped off in Warrington to do some shopping, whilst I went with my dad to the match.

“Bridgefoot was chaotic with hordes of supporters walking to the match. In the early fifties, the Wilderspool would be packed with over 30,000 attending matches.
It was usual for spectators to pass children above their heads to get to the front where they could see and then after the match, there would be a shout for everyone to stay in place until the children were reunited with their parents.
“There would always be shouts of ‘give the ball to Bevan’ a brilliant fast winger in his time. Harry Bath would kick goal, many times so powerful that it regularly ended up over the stand and in Fletcher Street.
“The main railway line ran at the corner of the pitch and the train drivers could often be seen watching the match from their appropriately positioned train for as long as they were able.
“It was in 1971 that my dad bought the rugby club. It had been losing £500 per week and this was not sustainable. At that time there were eighteen home matches a year, which could not finance the running of the club.
“Whilst the team had good players, they were all getting older and were not replaced by younger players due to financial shortfalls.
“After the match, when Directors went into the boardroom, the regular drink was whisky and milk, which I have never heard of before or since.
“When my dad became Chairman of the Wire, with Brian Pitchford as Director and Philip Worthington as Secretary, they set about big changes to the Club, including the building of the new Wilderspool Centre which would cater for other sports and leisure facilities with restaurants, bars banqueting suites and conference facilities at a cost of £300,000. This would ensure that the club could continue without total reliance on the game alone.
“In addition to this, there had been alterations to the area beneath the main stand to provide a bar and accommodation for the supporter’s club.
“One Christmas, there was a very keen frost forecast and I was asked to take a tractor and trailer load of straw from our friend Chas. Wiiliamson’s farm at Warburton to the stadium to spread on the pitch to avoid having to cancel the customary Boxing Day match between the Wire and Wigan. On the morning of the match, the straw had done its job and I joined a large team of volunteers and staff and went to Wilderspool to take the straw off the pitch. Later that week, Chas took his bailing machine and we removed everything from the touchline.
“I used to travel on the team coach to away matches quite often and as I was a similar age to many of the players, children used to come to the coach and ask for autographs, including me. I always said I was not a player, but some insisted they had seen me play. Rather than argue and upset them, I used to sign my own name for them and they went away happy.
One season, Mike Nicholas had dyed his hair what could only be described as almost yellow and Murphy told him he was like a flashing light running around the pitch.


The Warrington RLFC Wembley squad

“I remember well the Cup Final in 1974. I travelled on the team coach and soon after we arrived at Kensington Palace Hotel, Alex Murphy took all the squad into Kensington Palace Gardens opposite the Hotel for a short training session. We had not been there long when the Park Keeper came and told us we could not play ball games in the Park. Murph replied that he had permission, to which the Park Keeper went away to check. Murph then told us he did not have permission, but by the time the parkkeeper returned, the training session would have finished.
We visited Wembley Stadium in the afternoon, which was an experience in itself. On the day of the match, we were greeted outside the Hotel by Police outriders who were going to escort us to Wembley. The police officer in charge came and had a talk with the Barry Cooper Coach driver who had taken us and asked how fast the coach would go. He then told the driver to keep tight up to his motorbike and not to stop for anything. His team of police officers would stop all the adjoining traffic and we were to keep going close behind this rider. Police Motor Cyclists Kept ‘leapfrogging’ past us to get in front and stop traffic, as we moved forward regardless. At one stage, the Policeman in charge came alongside our coach and asked the driver if he had still got his handbrake on. Our poor driver was already wet through with sweat, as this was a journey to be remembered.
“Needless to stay, Murph not being one to miss an opportunity gave a team talk all the way to Wembley, breaking in now and then to tell the players to wave at their loyal fans who lined the latter part of the route.
“As we approached ‘Wembley Way’, there was no visible way through crowds, but appearing from nowhere were five Mounted Police. They came alongside and instructed our already stressed driver to keep the coach in between the back two horses. We set off with one horse at the front, two behind him and the two behind him we had to keep in between. What an experience, as we started to move forward, the front horse started to do a big bouncy step forward, which it had obviously been trained to do. The crowds parted when they saw this horse coming and we went through like a snowplough to the entrance. On arrival at the entrance, all five horses formed a line around our coach to allow us to get off.
“There were 13 players and two substitutes allowed for each game in those days.


The Wembley banquet menu signed by both teams

“When we had won the cup in 1974, the security guards insisted that they kept close to the cup, but Ocker was having none of it and convinced the guards that he would take good care of it and it was said he even slept with it in his room. He proudly displayed it in the coach all the way home and for those who remember Ocker, they would know that no one would have taken that cup from him.
“It seems strange now to look back on the 1970s when the programme for the 1974 final announced that tickets were available for the 1975 Rugby League Cup Final at Wembley and were priced at £3.50; £2.50; £2.00; £1.75 and £1.00 standing
“There are so many memories, but it always sticks in my mind how my mum, who did not really understand the rules of rugby always contradicted the referees’ decisions if they dared to give a penalty against the Wire. The best was Billy Thompson who would come into the Boardrom after a match, go straight to my mum and say ‘ haven’t I had a wonderful game today, were you pleased with my decisions?’ My mum fell for this every time and you could imagine the answer she gave, even though Billy was a top referee and rarely got his decisions wrong.
“Kevin Ashcroft even made mention of this in his book, as one of his memories of the Club.
“I worked with several of the players at Fairclough’s when we were building an extension to the Fibreglass Factory in St Helens. In the 1970s players all had jobs and would be working up until lunchtime on a Friday and finish early and go straight to Wilderspool ready for an evening match. This was due to the fact that players only received £8 for playing and £30 for a win. “Dave Chisnall worked with me at Pilkingtons on their Fibreglass extension and was having a discussion with one of the engineers on site and the engineer who did a lot of running asked Dave how someone his size could run. He had obviously not seen Dave play and so Dave challenged him to a race. We set up a one-hundred-yard track on a concrete section of the contract and the race was on. Dave left the engineer way behind, and Dave’s ability to run was never questioned again.
“My wife, Kath and I on occasions used to host prospective signings when they came up with their families to see the area before finally signing. I well remember the time when Frank Reynolds, his wife Susan and children Kerry, Paul and Louise came to our house and we took them to Chester Zoo for the day to keep them out of the way of other club scouts. Frank was signed from Aberavon RU Club and worked as a rigger at Shell at Ellesmere Port.”
It is now hoped the treasure trove of memories can help raise funds for the club’s Squadbuilder to help support the talent of the future and the work of the Warrington Wolves Foundation.


Club captain Kevin Ashcroft and the team celebrate getting to Wembley

Sir Oswald Davies, died died aged 75 in June 1996. he began a lifetime’s career in construction in Lymm and was a board member of construction giants AMEC until only a week before his death.
Sir Oswald was only 15 when he joined Leonard Fairclough, which was then a small building contractor when the firm was laying a sewer in the village.
He was also responsible for saving Warrington Rugby League Club from financial ruin in the early 70s. When the club faced bankruptcy after a public appeal for funds had failed, the millionaire invested heavily in both the stadium and the players.
He was responsible for bringing Alex Murphy to the club as coach and by 1974 the Wire had won the Challenge Cup.
Sir Oswald was awarded a CBE in 1973 and was knighted in 1984.


About Author

Experienced journalist for more than 40 years. Managing Director of magazine publishing group with three in-house titles and on-line daily newspaper for Warrington. Experienced writer, photographer, PR consultant and media expert having written for local, regional and national newspapers. Specialties: PR, media, social networking, photographer, networking, advertising, sales, media crisis management. Chair of Warrington Healthwatch Director Warrington Chamber of Commerce Patron Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace. Trustee Warrington Disability Partnership. Former Chairman of Warrington Town FC.

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