Phil Jackson Interview
Sean Fagan of RL1908.com
the first half a century of rugby league in Australia, there was
a well-beaten path from Brisbane and Sydney to the north of England.
Players sought the big earnings on offer from English clubs and
never returned - from Albert Rosenfeld to Arthur Clues.
It wasn't until the 1960s that Australian
clubs in NSW, thanks to the "one-armed bandits", were
able to attract players to come the other way.
soon saw many Englishmen settle in Australia including Dick Huddart,
David Bolton, John Gray, Cliff Watson and Tommy Bishop.
the first player to turn out for an Aussie club has largely been
his contributions to the game are no less than many other "name"
residing in the southern NSW town of Wagga Wagga is three time Wembley
finalist and Great Britain Test captain of the 1950s Phil Jackson.
Jackson is Barrow's most capped player in its over 125 year history,
making 226 first-team appearances in his ten years with the Cumbrian
(or for a time Lancashire) club.
the 'Prince of Centres' in the 1950s he represented Great Britain
27 times, played in two World Cup competitions (winning in 1954)
and twice toured with the British Lions to Australia and New Zealand.
Phil Jackson also represented England, the Northern Rugby League
XIII, the British Services and Lancashire.
Jackson, alongside Willie Horne and Jimmy Lewthwaite, was an inaugural
inductee into the Barrow Raiders Rugby League Hall Of Fame when
it was launched in 2001.
Sean Fagan recently caught up with Phil for a chat about his rugby
league career, both in England and in Australia...
Can you go back to beginning and tell us how you got started in
Phil Jackson: I went to a small school in Barrow in Furness
- the district which is a peninsular in Cumbria, it just goes out
into the Irish Sea and Barrow's on the end of it. It's a ship building
town. It's a bit of a rugby league outpost - there are 3 clubs in
Cumbria, that's Workington, Whitehaven and Barrow. Its about a 2
hour trip now to the nearest main rugby league town which is Wigan.
I grew up in Barrow but I'm a Canadian actually. I went to Barrow
when I was about 3 with my parents and then I went to the local
school, Risedale School. Strangely enough it's only a smallish school
- not even there anymore - but there are, including myself, 3 English
Captains of Great Britain Rugby League come from there - Bill Burgess
in the 30s, Willie Horne and myself.
went to work as an apprentice in a ship yard called Vickers and
they had a works rugby (union) team. I’d played rugby league at
school and I captained the Barrow School Boys Team just after the
2nd World War. Then at 15 I left school and went straight into open
age with Vickers Rugby Union Club, Vickers Sports Club.
When did you move across to league?
Well, it was a big rugby league town Barrow, and I was offered professional
terms and like most people of that time then I could use the money.
I was familiar with Rugby League and I used to go and watch the
Barrow team, was always an enthusiast and I signed up for Barrow
at 18. That was 1950 and we went to Wembley that first year at Barrow.
Willie Horne was the Captain - in the 50's we had a top side at
Barrow, nearly all local lads too.
Barrow had some great players - Jim Lewthwaite, Dennis Goodwin,
Willie Horne - how good were those guys?
They were great. We had about 7 Internationals in the team. When
Willie Horne was Captain in the Great Britain side in '52, his half-
back was a lad that was playing for Barrow, Teddy Toohey. He was
the half-back and Frank Castle on the wing. And Jack Grundy, he
came on the '57 World Cup.
Horne was the absolute legend and an icon - if you ever get on about
Willie I could tell you a few things about him. We played in Challenge
Cup Finals - we beat Workington Town and then we got beaten by Leeds
by a bit of bad luck. I'm not sure of the years now. We played Wigan
in '50 and then Workington Town and then Leeds.
When you beat Workington, what happened after the game back in Barrow?
It was amazing. Similar to the turn out that Newcastle (NSW) has
when they win. The whole town turned out. As a matter of fact, some
even came from Lancaster which is about 60 miles away, that's a
bit like the beginning of the peninsular and the whole peninsular
was lined with people. It was amazing.
So you had a little party?
Well no, we didn't use to party a lot in those days you know. Drinking
wasn't a part of our culture like in Australia, you know. We used
to have a drink on a Saturday and that was it, that was all. We
had, compared with nowadays, pretty quiet time, but we did celebrate.
We were given a function hosted by the Town Council and that sort
of thing, you know, but we didn't have a lot of impromptu parties,
no, we were pretty quiet compared with nowadays.
And what did you make of Wembley?
PJ: Oh fantastic, yeah, the first time it was an awesome experience
actually for an 18 there was 90,000 odd there for the Wigan final.
I forget what the score was 12 - 2 or something like that. It's
a funny thing, it's hard to play your own game at Wembley you know
with the occasion and the surroundings and everything. It wasn't
until later in the game you started to settle down and realised
it was just a football game, you know.
I remember one of the lads, Huey McGregor, was telling me when we
first started the game, his legs wouldn't move with nerves you know
and the open spaces and crowd. It's entirely different after being
there once. You play better when you get there in later years. You
get there again with a bit of luck. I consider myself lucky being
able to go 3 times. Some players play all their career and never
get there once you know.
So League in that period was very popular, very big crowds?
Oh yes, it was very strong up in Barrow and of course Wigan, St
Helen's down in Lancashire and Yorkshire, yeah, very strong. And
in those days we were stronger than the Australians, you know. We
came out here (to Australia) in '58. We won it in '56 in England
and came out here in '58 and won it.
When you were playing for Barrow did you come against a lot of Aussies?
Not a lot. Not compared with nowadays but in those days they had
a team called Other Nationalities.
Did you play against them?
Oh sure and they used to beat us too. They had a fantastic side
and the likes of, there was a big player, great Australian player,
Arthur Clues in the second row.
The Leeds fellow.
Yeah, that's right. Gee you're well informed! And Harry Bath, He
and Clues in the second row. And we had a lad that captained us
here, that was Dave Valentine. He was a Scot and they didn't have
a Scottish team so he was with the Other Nationalities and Ken Kearney
was in it, the hooker, a bloke called I think it was McMasters,
a front rower, Wallaby Bob McMasters - an Australian. Brian Bevan
on the wing, Remember him? Lionel Cooper on the other wing. Oh it
was an awesome side and they were a hell of a good side.
And how long was your career at Barrow?
I signed in 1950 and then in 1958 after the Lions tour here, I'd
had a shoulder injury and that sort of thing and I hadn't had a
lot of knee trouble. But when I got home the season was going again
and I’d had '57 and '58 tours to Australia. I suppose my knees just
packed it up and we got back in about August when the season was
underway. I had 3 weeks off and I went down to Torquay with my wife
and had a spell.
when I began playing again my right knee started - it were giving
me a lot of trouble, swelling and I couldn't play and went on for
weeks and weeks and tried. After I trained it swelled up and then
I went for an exploratory operation from an eminent surgeon in Leeds
and that shot me down in flames. Put a big stop to it that is. It
took me 12 months to get on the field but it wasn't good enough
and I retired from football in England. That was in about 1959.
I was in the stand watching the Kangaroos team which contained all
the newcomers like Raper and Irvine and Gasnier, you know. They
were a great team and I was in the stand with my knee watching.
what happened... I’d attempted to come to Australia earlier 'cause
I liked it after the '54 tour. I'd liked to have come to Australia
to play but the transfers of Englishmen to Australia... it wasn't
done. I don't whether they weren't allowed. But in England when
you signed for a team then, it was for life, there were no term
contracts. Once you were with a club that was it. I tried to get
away from the Barrow club a few times.
I’ve heard that you actually sat out a few weeks at one period,
trying to get a release?
Yeah, I sat out 6 weeks hoping they'd give me a transfer but they
wouldn't. I would've liked to have gone to Leeds 'cause my girlfriend
was living there then and had approaches from Leeds and Wakefield
and you know, and these teams were stronger teams, stronger clubs
and they were getting better money than I was at Barrow.
were only getting, I was only getting very ordinary money with Barrow.
Like remember Billy Boston. Billy signed for Wigan and he was getting,
I'd been all those years as an international and Billy's getting
a lot better money as were the Wigan lads than I was at Barrow you
know and then as I say I were a young bloke and I wanted a change.
You were first selected for Great Britain in the Lions touring team
PJ: That's right. Billy Boston and I were in the Royal Signals (National
Service) playing rugby union. A place called Cadrick Camp on the
Yorkshire Moors. Billy and I were playing for the British Army rugby
union team at Hanover when we found out we'd been picked to come
on tour. It was a wonderful thrill, particularly when you're doing
your National Service then to spend a couple of months of a rugby
(league) tour is good.
How long did it take you to get to Australia 'cause that was the
first Lions tour via a plane wasn't it?
It was the Super Constellation - it was in the news a few months
ago actually, I think one of them flew here. It was one of the first
big airliners the Super Constellation. I think it was 5 days and
4 nights or something and was a hell of a hard trip, particularly
for the big blokes which we had quite a few of then.
traveled through India and we had about 6 to 8 stops I think. We
were stopping at places like Karachi and Jakarta and Bombay, all
those, you know, we weren't used to that weather. Sitting there
all that time, all the big fellas had all their ankles swelled up.
We couldn’t stray from the plane and you know these are big fellas,
broad shoulders, there wasn't a lot of room and yeah it was a nightmare
of a trip actually.
So you got to Sydney and you played your first Tests at the SCG.
What did you make of that? I think there was about 65,000 there
Oh yeah, absolutely fantastic, awesome actually. How it happened
is quite an interesting story. In 1952 against the Kangaroos one
of the English centres was Douggie Greenhall.
had a special way of tackling, Douggie. He was a ball and all tackle
- it included knees, elbows and all that sort of thing. Anyway,
he caught one of the Kangaroo players with it and the Australian
went off and it created a hell of a lot of furore about it.
when we all got to Sydney in ‘54 everyone was waiting to see Douggie
Greenhall and the press were absolutely fanatical about. He's only
a slim little guy. Douggie said to himself they're going to kill
Douggie didn't play very well here and I took his place and that
was my break you know.
RL: You lost the first Test?
Yeah, on a wet day which suited us really. Billy Boston had a big
game, scored a great try.
What happened in that NSW versus the Lions game that was abandoned
in the second half? Did you play in that?
No I didn't. That was a game, my feeling is it was on a Wednesday.
It seems strange now to play a game 3 days prior to a Test on a
Saturday. But that’s what we did. We picked the Test team and kept
them off and picked what was left for the Wednesday game. We had
a lot of very willing forwards then who called themselves the "Wednesdays"
cause they weren't making the Test team you know. Anyway, there
was a hell of a big brawl and Douggie Greenhall played in that match
and of course the Aussies were looking for Douggie.
Do you know what ignited the fight?
Oh hell, yeah! There was I think Greg Hawick (NSW) was in that and
he and Douggie clashed. Maybe Wellsie (NSW’s Harry Wells) too. The
referee called it off. He couldn't get them to play football. I
think the referee panicked a bit but it was pretty willing you know.
He just got fed up of it all.
Apparently referee Aub Oxford gave the game away after that.
Did he? Well, that wouldn't surprise me, but it was a very difficult
game to referee but maybe he panicked a bit and called it off you
So that was your first visit to Australia, did you go to Wagga Wagga
as part of that tour didn't they?
Yeah we did and there's a bloke, well he's living up in Tumut now,
that had played against us that day, a lad called Doug Cameron,
a little half back. He scored a couple of tries against us. We played
at the old Showground. Never thought I'd end up living here did
I? Yeah we played Riverina here. They were always a strong side
in those days too.
in those days, as a matter of fact, in those days, I don't know
whether it was that particular year or not long after, Greg Hawick
was representing Australia in Tests while playing for the Wagga
Wagga Kangaroos here. Which is a team that I follow now and strangely
enough Greg's got my jersey at home and I've got his Test jersey
we swapped after a Test. Never thought we'd end up both living in
Wagga you know!
You lost the deciding 3rd Test of the ‘54 series back in Sydney
- 20 to 16 in front of nearly 70,000 fans?
Yeah I reckon we got done by in the last Test. Harry Wells scored
a try for Australia, but I reckon it was a double movement. As a
matter of fact I said to Harry at the Kangaroos reunion recently
that it were a bloody double movement. “Orrr, get out of it!” he
says. Harry and I are good mates now. Anyway, that won them the
game as the winning try so I consider we were a bit unlucky there.
Then as soon as you got back to England it was just in time for
a World Cup in France?
Yeah, we won it. A lot of the guys didn't go who'd gone to Australia.
Most were married and hadn't seen their wives and kids and we were
all very weary. And when the World Cup was calling, it was only
a matter of weeks after we'd been home. A few of them couldn't get
there, the more experienced players, so they picked you know Mick
Sullivan for instance, he hadn't even represented Yorkshire and
he was picked and you know how good Mick turned out to be. There
was a lad David Rose on the wing to me, I just forget what the team
was, but there weren't many that had been on the Lions tour.
You beat Australia again, you beat them quite easily.
We beat ‘em, we beat em quite easily, then we had a good victory.
France were very strong then too and we beat them and they had a
good side and we beat them in the Final in a great game.
:Was Dave Valentine a big part of that?
Oh yes, sure and as I say we were a lot of inexperienced lads and
Dave got us all together and got a great team spirit. There was
one lad playing a big part, Gerry Helme at half back, he'd been
on the tour. He was a very experienced man at the half back, he
played great stuff and I was in good form then, I was playing well
and I got some write ups in my memorabilia stuff about the World
Cup in France and it was a thrill to win it.
Was there much of a welcome at home?
PJ: Not great, no. Not great. We arrived back in London you know
and well not many people in London care much about rugby league.
No never mind them you know so it wasn't a really big deal. Strangely
enough I think, I don't know whether I mentioned it to you, we got
the shittiest little medal. It was, of course, looking back, not
long after the war, about 9 years after the war but it was still
having an effect.
we got the shittiest little medal and I've got them now, this little
medal, insignificant medal and a pen knife. The pen knife's got
all green mould in it, but only last year I got a nice looking medal
from the UK. They struck another medal made for us for the World
Cup winners. I have it here now. It's a more fitting medal for World
Cup winners you know it's a nice one - to get it how many years
later? 40 years later! Quite a thrill actually.
So '55 rolled around and you beat the Kiwis pretty easily.
We had it over the Kiwis in those days. Mind you after a hard tour
in Australia and you're looking at going home but sort of going
to New Zealand is sort of an after thought you know and there the
Kiwis are waiting for us in 6 inches of crap on Carlisle Park. It
was a real muddy ground then and the big Maoris waited with a half-cocked
stiff arm you know and they're pretty hard days. They were usually
pretty hard games but we managed to beat New Zealand in those days.
Ken Kearney's Kangaroos toured in 1956 - a great win for you?
PJ: That's right, we had the drop on them. We had quite a good side
then and we didn't have too much trouble beating them. Although
I think they nailed us in the second Test, it was in knee-deep mud
and we were favourite then in the mud but they got together and
they beat us but I forget the scores. I think we ended up winning
the series pretty comfortably.
I’ve got it here that in the third Test, you won 19-0, but apparently
it wasn't that much of an inspiring game.
Oh I forget. You know I forget the individual games now Sean you
know. I remember winning it and I remember that I collected a stiff-arm
off Keith Holman. In those days of course you had to see the game
out, there were no replacements. They put me on the wing and I had
a good game and scored a try that game. I think on the wing as I
can't remember a thing about it.
always reminds me about it at the reunions, “I put you in your place
you Pommy Bastard!” he always says to me - and you know, he did!
He copped me with a beauty. Great little fella Keith and he was
a tough little bugger of a half back too Of course in those days
stiff arms is part and parcel of the game. There was a little bit
more of it going on in England. It was more par for the course in
England than it was in Australia and of course the Aussie press
branded us head hunters all the time. I suppose we were but it was
part of the game in England, you know.
Was it out in the open or in back play more?
Not so much in back play, no just in the tackle and short arm jabs
coming from underneath and I'd never had any trouble off the ball
in back play. I never had trouble in off the ball stuff until I
came to Australia.
1957 and you were back in Australia yet again, for another World
PJ: We should have won that I think - it was a bit of a surprise
result that we didn’t.
After that World Cup, apparently you went back through South Africa?
We did. No, we first went to New Zealand, oh gee we'd had enough
then. Well we went with the Frenchman that had been here in the
World Cup through South Africa and played a few games and unfortunately,
I couldn't play I'd had an ankle that just wouldn't come good. Anyway,
the man in charge in South Africa RU in those days, Darnie Craven,
he was anti rugby league and we weren't even allowed to play.
were playing the Frenchmen in demonstration games and he wouldn't
even allow us to play in Johannesburg, we were kicked out to a place
about 60 miles away to a place called Benoni and I think we had
a game in a place called Orange and down in Durban and they were
a waste of time but it was bad luck because the Frenchmen didn't
have a decent side, well they weren't having a go. But the strange
thing was the Frenchmen were training twice a day, we didn't train
at all and we'd go out and flog 'em. I think it was supposed to
help popularise the game in South Africa but Craven just wiped us
you know so we didn't do any good there it was just a waste.
Phil Jackson makes another Lions Tour to Australia and New Zealand,
before making a permanent move "down under"....
Part 2 of interview
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