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Ray French on the days Saints wore parachutes for jerseys
THEY were the post war days, when Saints were so hard up they once had an all white kit stitched together from a bunch of tatty parachutes.
An era when players built their muscle on the building site or down the pit rather than in the gym – and would do whatever it takes to drag their battered bodies out on the field to ensure they earned a crust.
Ray French, the veteran broadcaster, has seen it all in rugby league in a career spanning more than 50 years, which has involved playing, broadcasting, teaching and writing.
So it was not surprising that he delivered a talk that was both revealing and humorous to an audience at St Helens Archives Library, kicking off the town’s heritage celebrations in grand fashion.
French, 72, reminisced with guests, inviting questions throughout, as he discussed the town’s history and what St Helens means to him.
In typical French-style, Ray gave his own unique view on the task he was set.
Ray, a former Cowley teacher, began: “They asked me to talk about the 50s and 60s. I think I’m going to start in the 40s though. I’ll tell you how I was introduced to rugby...”
French described how a post-war Saints managed to keep the team going through a string of defeats and the fascinating tale of how the team lined up in a plain white shirt – which ended up in shreds by half-time.
He said: “Saints were struggling after the war and anyone could beat them. I remember that for one game, the shirts for the players were made by two ladies who used two old parachutes to make 15 shirts... at half-time, most of them had been ripped to pieces because the material was so thin!”
Among the various anecdotes and tales, Ray also discussed the change in rugby over the years. Ray, who commentated on every Challenge Cup final from 1982 till 2008, was awarded an MBE for his services to rugby league last year.
He said: “The attitude used to be ‘win at all costs’. “There was no ‘broken legs and out for the season’, he’d be playing the next week if he wanted to get paid!
“It seems nowadays that everything is artificial. When I was playing, the lads had trades behind them that helped build their muscle.
“Now they have state-of-the-art gyms that can put a muscle on your fingernail, if that’s what the coach wants!”