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Sunday, 26 October 2014

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Barrow Island's brothers in arms

ONE name has been synonymous with Barrow Island for more than 40 years – Jefferson. PADDY McATEER talks to brothers John and Tommy about their long involvement with the Rating Lane club

THE Jefferson brothers, John and Tommy, are amateur rugby league stalwarts of the highest level.

Between them, they have devoted more than 80 years to Barrow Island as players and members of the coaching staff.

Elder brother John – who is 64, while Tommy is 55 – saw his career as a player curtailed at the age of 25, when he broke his leg playing for the 99 Club at Dalton.

But he was not to be lost to the game, taking up refereeing and coaching and, in latter years, becoming involved on the management side with the national amateur set-up with BARLA.

It was with BARLA that John enjoyed a few days in the Middle East last week at the Dubai sevens, as manager of an over-35s side which included Island’s Paul Dean and Roose Pioneers man Steve Perry.

While he was baking in temperatures of between 38C and 40C, Tommy was back home in the snow as the first team had their Cumbria Cup semi-final at Distington called off in sub-zero conditions.

John signed for the Island at the age of 16 and spent six years there, also representing the Inter-Town side before moving to the newly-formed Britannia Club, then the 99 Club and finally Listers.

“At the Island, I was in the team that won the KO Cup in 1965,” he said.

“Our first trophy success came with six lads who were under 19, lads like Dave Cross, Bob Scott and Frankie Jones. Ken Uren was the captain.”

When his playing career was cut short, John took up the whistle for several years alongside coaching at the Island, where he joined the committee.

“I told the club I was not qualified and they agreed to send me to Lilleshall on a coaching course, other Island lads were also there,” recalled John.

He coached the under-11s and later caught up with several members of the side at under-19s, overseeing them as they won the Cumbria Cup, assisted by Andy Webb and senior coaches Dave Wright and Paul Kavanagh

John assisted Wright and Kavanagh at first-team level and when Wright departed – moving up the ladder to join the BARLA under-18s in Australia – he and Kavanagh became partners in crime.

The pro game called and the duo of Kavanagh and Jefferson took over at Craven Park for two seasons, where they were involved in the epic Rugby League Challenge Cup tie with Keighley that went into a second replay.

The teams drew at Craven Park and Lawkholme Lane, before Barrow won the third encounter at Widnes.

A proud John witnessed his son-in-law Neil Shaw create a piece of history over the three games, as he claimed a hat-trick of man-of-the-match awards.

It was back then to the Island, where he has been ever since.

Though he has been troubled with a back complaint, he never takes a back seat and is still actively involved on the touchline each Saturday.

While on the coaching staff, John has seen Island lift the Cumbria Cup on two occasions.

His experience in the game did not go unnoticed at BARLA.

In the early 1990s, he became involved in the development of the game, a role which would see him visit several countries in a management role.

His first venture abroad took him to Italy for a nines competition, while the following year he visited South Africa with the national amateur side, before a second trip to the nines in Italy.

A trip to France was followed with a visit to Russia with the under-21s, a team that included Walney’s Mark McKinley, Roose Pioneers back Chris Larkin and Millom’s Andrew Mellon.

Then came the dream trip to the South Pacific as number two, a trip he made along with Millom skipper Tom Sibley for games involving Tonga, Fiji and Samoa.

John proudly states that in his spell at the Island several lads have been selected for their country.

Former Barrow and Hull star Russ Walker was first on the big stage, followed by Paul Burns, Neil Shaw, Nickie Rushton, Glen Middleton and several others.

Joining Super League clubs in recent years have been Ben Harrison, grandson Ryan Shaw (both Warrington), Brad Singleton (Leeds) Ade Gardner (St Helens) and Max Wiper (Salford), while teenage grandson Gareth Shaw regularly plays for the Island senior sides.

At Island, though, it has never been just John when it comes to the Jefferson brothers.

Brother Tommy, nine years his junior, first went to Rating Lane age 10, following the death of his father James.

Brother John was playing for the Island and he took Tommy along to watch to take his mind off their father’s passing.

Tommy liked what he saw and was soon to get himself involved, first as a mascot and a ball boy when Island won the Barrow and District League KO Cup in that 1965/66 season.

It was at Alfred Barrow that Tommy got involved seriously with rugby league, establishing himself at full-back for the school team and being selected for the Barrow Boys under-13s team that lost to Leigh 9-3 in the Lancashire schools final.

In that Barrow Boys team was Billy Strickland – the first Barrow lad to be chosen for the English Schools side and the English schoolboys’ 100 yards sprint champion.

Also in the team were Charlie Elkin, Bob Chapples and Phil Gooding, who in later years all signed for Barrow.

Tommy was to join Island’s under-19s side at the age of 16 and was looking forward to making his debut at Walney, but to his great disappointment was not selected.

“That was upsetting and I went home and cried” said Tommy.

“It was hard in the beginning. We had lads like Derek and John Jackson, Ian Singleton and Stu Walker and we went to Pilkington Recs and Salford Boys in Lancashire Cup two years on the trot and lost 72-0 and 73-0 respectively.”

Tommy played with many good players at Rating Lane, lads like Arthur Buckley, Kenny Wilson (whom he rates as one of the fastest he played alongside), Bill Oxley, Lee Thompson and Derek Wilcock to name a few.

He rates Peter Dickinson as one of the hardest to play with and against.

Island played at Flookburgh one season – a club who had a short stint in the Barrow League – and facing Tommy were his former team-mates Wilcock and Thompson, who was the team’s coach.

Tommy retired after several years playing under-19s, A-team and first team rugby, where he picked up many serious injuries.

”I had several bad moments,” he added. “The first major injury was a broken knee as a teenager, followed by a fractured cheekbone, broken arm, and then a broken jaw sustained in a coaching course – I had my fair share.”

Tommy never had the opportunity to play alongside John, whose own career was curtailed by a broken leg.

“There was one occasion I recall when Island played at Dalton and our John was referee,” said Tommy. “I took an inside ball from Paul Kavanagh and I was floored in the tackle by Dave Clough – ‘it wasn’t a high tackle,’ said John as I was laid out on the floor, ‘it was across the chest’.

“I was carted off dazed, while Clough said to John, ‘ref I think I’ve broke my arm’.

“To save face – as many Island players were not happy about him not sending him off – John said ‘you better get in that scrum’ which he did then he waltzed off – yes, with a broken arm.

“Clough was due to play for Great Britain later that season, but he missed out.”

Coaching duties were next on Tommy’s, list taking charge of the under-16s and under-18s at Island, while Wright, Kavanagh and brother John looked after open-age matters.

He brought on his two sons, Matt and Stephen, at youth rugby and recalls the day the under-16s won the Cumbria Cup with himself and Andy McDonald as coaches.

“We played Kells at Millom and the star of the show was none other than the late Chris Massey,” said Tommy.

“He played at six and he outclassed the West Cumbrian’s top dog Rob Purdham, who went to play at Harlequins and captained England only a few years ago.

“Chris was a class act.”

Matt progressed to play for BARLA Great Britain at under-21s, under-23s and open age, skippering the under-23s in Italy, while Stephen played for the Island, his university, Sunderland Storm in the Summer Conference, and had a spell with Shaw Cross in the National Conference under Super League star Lee Gilmour.

It is thanks to the like of the Jeffersons that amateur sport thrives – they are men any sport can ill-afford to do without.

What would have capped the club’s 75th anniversary for both men was for Island to win the Cumbria Cup. Alas, they were knocked out in the semi-finals on Saturday.

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