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Tuesday, 07 July 2015

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Barrow RL legend Phil Jackson - exclusive interview

ALONGSIDE Willie Horne, Bill Burgess and Jimmy Lewthwaite, Phil Jackson’s is a name that will live in the history of Barrow RL for as long as anyone plays the game.

An Ashes-winning Great Britain captain, part of three Barrow sides to play at Wembley – including the victorious 1955 team – and a World Cup winner to boot, Jackson did it all in a remarkably short career.

Earning his 27 Great Britain caps – a record for a Barrow player – by the time he was 25, he managed only eight seasons before his playing career was cut short by a knee injury.

But during those eight seasons, Jackson was part of the greatest Barrow team the town has seen, and he did more than play his fair share in their successes.

A total of 225 appearances and 89 tries tell only part of the story of the now 78-year-old star’s playing career.

It was his majesty in the centre that set him apart and earned him all those international caps, his unassuming nature that captured the hearts of his hometown, even though his birthplace was thousands of miles away in Montreal, Canada.

Lured from the rugby union ranks at Vickers – where older brother Dennis had persuaded him to come along and play – Jackson made his Barrow debut in September 1950 and would play for 10 years before emigrating to Wagga Wagga, Australia – where he still lives with wife Ruth.

What happened at Craven Park is history and even 60 years on, Jackson, back in town for what he says will be the last time – ‘age and money have an effect’ he says – remembers those glory days well.

“I went to Wembley three times and a lot of players never manage to get there,” he says.

“We won the once, which was fantastic, they are wonderful memories.

“To win at Wembley in front of 70,000 people was wonderful.

“The first time we went was when I was 18 and we got beat by Wigan, which was disappointing, but just to play at Wembley was a great thrill.

“The best memory of 1955 was knowing we were going to win. It is the ultimate feeling going to Wembley and winning.

“When the full-time whistle goes and you walk up the stand to receive the cup, it was just magic.

“On the way home, there were people all along the way waving to us.

“When we got to Barrow and we came out on to the balcony of the town hall, the place was just packed with people cheering. It was wonderful. I had never experienced anything like that and I still remember it with a great deal of joy.”

Jackson’s visit to Barrow this year came about through his membership of the Wagga City Rugby Male Choir.

He has been involved with the game since moving to Australia with wife Ruth and daughter Lynn – both back with him for this visit, along with granddaughter Ellie – but now finds himself in a rugby union camp.

The choir – which Jackson says is the closest thing you can get to being in a team again – have toured Europe, with dates in Germany, Wales, Ireland and here in Barrow.

The Barrow trip – where the choir performed alongside the Barrow Male Voice Chat the Forum – was extended for Jackson himself, as he left the rest of the party to head to Dublin while he and brother Dennis, who now lives in Liverpool, returned to Furness for a few extra weeks.

His time was certainly packed, as he met up with many old friends and team-mates, was welcomed by the mayor at Barrow Town Hall and stepped onto the turf at Craven Park with rugby ball in hand once more.

His memories of playing at the Hindpool ground revolve much around his team-mates from those years in the 1950s when Barrow had internationals running right through their ranks.

Willie Horne comes in for much praise, as do others from a side that came together at just the right time.

“Willie was magic. I have been asked all my life since I went to Australia who the best player was – Willie Horne is always the answer.

“He was such a modest man, but he was good at anything. You wouldn’t take him on on the dart board, on the pool table or anything because he would clean up.

“He was such a modest man, very likeable and a great captain.

“He wasn’t bombastic – he spoke very quietly, he would occasionally give you a word or two of advice.

“In Australia, in what they call the dressing sheds, you could hear the coaches going off sometimes from a hundred yards away. But Willie never did that, he always spoke very quietly.

“Then there was Jimmy Lewthwaite and Frank Castle as well, great wingers.

“Dinks Harris, Ted Toohey, Jack Grundy – all the names roll off the tongue. There were the local lads – Hughie McGregor, Bill Healy.

“We spent so much time on the bus together. Unlike other clubs – if you lived in Lancashire or Yorkshire, 20 miles is a big trip – we had three-and-a-half hours on the bus and we spent a lot of time together.

“We used to sing together and crack jokes and that made us a lot closer.

“That had a lot to do with the success – we had a great team spirit.

“The longer I have been in this game, the more aware I am of how important team spirit is. You have got to have skill and talent, of course, but attitude is everything and we had the right attitude.

“We were all together and we would say ‘come on lads, let’s get stuck in,’ and we did.

“We a had a three-quarter line with four internationals and the two half-backs – Willie Horne and Ted Toohey – were internationals.

“Jack Grundy was an international, so was Reg Parker in the pack, it was a very good pack.

“So many of the players were locals as well. Frank Castle, Ted Toohey and Harry Stretch, they were the only players who weren’t local lads.

“We were all great friends and I have fond memories of my time at Barrow RL.”

As well as his career at Barrow, Jackson made more than a small impression in a GB jersey.

His 27 caps included appearances in the first two World Cups – winning one and missing out on the other in Australia – and the chance to captain his country Down Under for the deciding Test of the 1958 series, where the Ashes were won.

On that series, he recalls: “We were beaten in the first Test and then we had the big Test at Brisbane, which we had to win to stay in the Ashes.

“After about the first quarter-of-an-hour, the skipper, a great skipper he was, Alan Prescott, broke his arm.

“There were no replacements then and you could tell he was in trouble.

“At half-time, you saw he had a broken arm but he wouldn’t come off and he played the whole game with a broken arm.

“Vince Karalius and Alex Murphy murdered them that day and we won the Test.

“We went to the final test and, of course, Alan couldn’t play and I had to take his place as captain.

“Dave Bolton also fractured his collarbone in the second Test.

“Tom Mitchell, the team manager, called me in and he said: ‘How do you feel about playing at stand-off?’ I liked playing there and I said ‘okay’.

“He asked me if I knew anything about Gregg Heywood, the lad I would be playing against. I said I’d played against him before and it had been all right.

“He said: ‘Well keep your head down’.

“He had a bit of a reputation as a late tackler.

“Funnily enough, Greg Heywood now lives in Wagga and I still see him.

“One of the times, I remember being on the ball and Alex Murphy at half-back gave it to me and I saw Eric Ashton receive the ball and then I woke up on the hillside with a sponge on my face.

“As I say, there were no replacements.

“I say to Greg now, I was expecting him to be a second late, not five minutes.

“He says: ‘I got there as soon as I could!’

“I see a bit of him and we are good mates. I call him Five-minutes Greg, but he doesn’t mind.”

Jackson has much to say about his time as a player, but he is never boastful, always praising others for their help in making his career so successful.

This goes some way to explaining his popularity back home in Barrow and why so many people will be hoping this is not his final visit.

Have your say

This a late post, but there was another Jackson on the team. Freddy Jackson and he was a local lad.
Good but no Phil.
I missed Dennis Goodwin being mentioned in the article. He was an international too.

Posted by John Green on 27 October 2011 at 23:45

I remember jackson, but as fred, who had two nicknames, fearless freddy, and stonwall jackson. But can not recall calling him phil .played alongside him before I left barrow in the early 1950s in a local team [ Stand ]

Posted by stand on 1 December 2010 at 10:28

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