Fan feature: Being a Saints supporter has gone swimmingly well for Joe

Jeff Heaton touches down at Wembley in 1976

George Nicholls makes a tackle

Saints v Leeds scrummaging in the late 70s

Tommy Martyn - the master of the blind pass

Kevin Ward on the charge at Naughton Park

Geoff Pimblett, Graham Liptrot and Harry Pinner

First published in Sport

Long distance swimmer Joe Coy’s first memory of Saints was as a six-year-old waiting at Toll Bar to watch that star-studded team of 1966 bring the Challenge Cup home. Five years later the 52-year-old from Sutton Heath became a home and away regular – and has been in for the long haul ever since, through bad times and the good.

He inherited his love of the Saints from his dad who took him to the games as a small boy – despite him being inconveniently born on a match day.

Joe said: “I suppose following Saints came from my dad.

“I actually stopped him going to a Saints game the day I was born in May 1960. They were playing Wigan in the Championship play off. It was an evening kick off because it was FA Cup Final Day and he had to come and visit me and my mum in hospital.

“My first game was Liverpool City away in September 1966, when I was six.

“My dad took me on the coach. The ground was on a triangular piece of land on East Prescot Road and the coach nearly hit a lamp post as the driver tried to turn into the side road.

“All I remember was Len Killeen scoring a few tries and kicking about six goals. We won 35-12. Funnily enough it is just across the road from where Dovecot Baths was.

“I then went to a few games when my dad took me, but it was the 1971-72 season that I became a ‘proper’ supporter, going to every home game and most away games.”

St Helens Star: Kevin Ward on the charge at Naughton Park

  • Kevin Ward on the charge at Naughton Park

Although Joe had missed out on the team of Tom van Vollenhoven and Len Killeen, the team of the early 70s had a certain amount of style about it too.

He said: “We seemed to play like the Harlem Globetrotters with the ball being flung in every direction. We seemed to win every week.

“I recall the 1970 Championship play-off semi final and final. We drew at Castleford on the Saturday and the replay was on the Monday. Castleford were playing at Wembley the following weekend so sent an A team.

“We were losing well into the second half, then Frank Wilson scored a length of the field try. He ended up with a hat trick, but when we played Leeds in the final he was dropped and Eric Prescott played on the wing.

“We set off for Odsal in brilliant sunshine, but it rained, hailed, sleeted and everything that afternoon. We won 24-12.

“The following year we played Wigan in the final. Bill Ashurst was battering us and John Mantle got sent off, but we came back from 12-6 down with a few minutes left to score two tries and win 16-12.

“Wembley in 1972 is another great memory as it was the first time I went. Playing the Aussies in 1974 was a great game as we were the only team to beat them on that tour.”

St Helens Star: Saints v Leeds scrummaging in the late 70s

  • Saints v Leeds scrummaging in the late 70s

But all good things come to an end and that team grew old together and was broken up, making way for a seven-year spell in the wilderness. Joe stuck by the team, through every false dawn and last gasp heart-break, keeping the faith when it seemed that Saints would never need a silver cloth again.

“I think we always went to games being optimistic. We had the likes of Harry Pinner, who could produce a world class display, and Neil Holding, who would do something off the cuff and win us the game.

“Losing in the semi final of the 1979 Challenge Cup was horrible. Not just the fact that we lost but the way we lost. That game seemed to signal the beginning of the end of the success. At the time the town was losing jobs and Saints were our only source of hope.

“The number of times I came home saying ‘That’s it, I am not going again until.........’ cannot be counted, but I was there the following week. Hope kept me going and the fact that I am parochial.

“I remember the 1979-80 season when we lost our first four league games as well as the Lancashire Cup. That was worrying and life ending. “What was annoying with Wigan is the number of times we played well against them but just lost, like the semi final in 1990 and the 16-16 draw in the cup in 1995.

"Another one was Boxing Day 1994 when we came back from 2-20 to lead 25-20, only to concede two late tries. “They always seemed, rightly or wrongly, to get the benefit of any 50-50 calls. Their fans would be as quiet as a church mouse until they knew they had won, then start shouting the only song they knew: ‘Wigern, Wigern’.”

But Saints’ day returned with the advent of summer rugby in 1996 and the winning of the double heralding the start of another glittering era.

St Helens Star: Tommy Martyn - the master of the blind pass

  • Tommy Martyn - the master of the blind pass

Joe, who is a keen sportsman himself who helps out at the Swim Training Scheme, still enjoys his rugby, but he would make a few changes to improve today’s game. He says: “I would make it so that if a team packs players in a scrum to stop the clock then those players must stay in the scrum until it is over.

“I would also have contested scrums and reduce the number of interchanges. Bring back promotion and relegation, or at least have a play off between the lowest one or two in Super League and top one or two in the Championship “I would get rid of Magic Weekend and the Exiles games. Although I would keep the Grand Final, I would have it as a top five and bring back the Lancashire Cup. We should also have the tours to Australia back and go back to having Great Britain.”

The game today is much different to the one he started watching as a six-year-old but there are some aspects of the old winter sport he preferred.

“One of the best things about winter rugby was that sometimes the ground conditions played a part in the game.

“Like the ball bouncing ten foot high on a frozen pitch or stopping in a puddle of water and a player slipping and costing his side a try.

“Things like that could change a game. There was no official time clock for the fans to see, so in a close game you use to panic in the last few minutes.

“Since Super League everything seems to be analysed to the finest detail so players seem to be more bothered about not making a mistake than taking a risk. ] “There used to be more aggression in the game. Perhaps it was because most of the players were local lads - not just at Saints but all clubs seemed to have more locals.

“I thought there was nothing wrong with a bit of fisticuffs and it got the fans going. It was always guaranteed when we played Warrington. When the fixtures came out the first thing you asked was ‘When are we fighting Warrington?’ The game had a plenty of characters back then – and there were always plenty on the opposition team list that Joe would ‘enjoy’ seeing play, especially ex-Saint Alex Murphy.

St Helens Star: Geoff Pimblett, Graham Liptrot and Harry Pinner

  • Geoff Pimblett, Graham Liptrot and Harry Pinner

“I remember the 1972 Cup Semi Final. We were awful and Murphy was taking a kick at goal which would probably have won the game for Warrington.

“We were all in the Boys Pen at Central Park booing him. He missed and I was totally convinced we put him off. Leeds had the Headingley ‘H’ Bombers of Hardisty and Hepworth who always seemed to cause us problems.

Later they had John Holmes who I really rated.

“Wigan second rower Bill Ashurst was always a problem. He seemed a giant.

“The referee, Billy Thompson was also a character. If the opposition scored a try and we started calling him, he would get his handkerchief out and pretend to blow his nose in front of us as the conversion was being taken,” Joe said.

Joe Coy’s favourite XIII Geoff Pimblett, Alan Hunte, Billy Benyon, John Walsh, Anthony Sullivan, Tommy Martyn, Jeff Heaton, Kevin Ward, Graham Liptrot, John Mantle, George Nicholls, Roy Haggerty, Harry Pinner. However my favourite player was George Nicholls

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