FORMER Saints and Great Britain half back Neil Holding has always had the gift of the gab - both on the field and off it as the club’s funny man on the mic during the early years of Super League.

So when he decided to do something to raise awareness of the work of the Alzheimer’s Society, it was natural for Holding to take to the stage and talk.

Although he has had personal family experience of the disease through his mum and uncle, it has been seeing the early onset of it in other people he knows and respects that has prompted him to do something.

Holding, a star on the field from 1977 to the mid 90s, will be chatting about his own memories; growing up, his parents, work and his Saints career at the event at the Percival Rooms, Ruskin Drive, at 8pm on Saturday, 28 October.

Holding said: “Alzheimer’s is a very cruel illness. My Uncle Frank had it and recall visiting him in the old cottage hospital and having a good chat with him about Saints.

“I went back a month later and he hadn’t a clue who I was.

“There are that many people I hear every day of being struck by this condition that I wanted to do something, and running a cake stall was not me really.

“I will be talking about growing up, with my family life and a bit about playing. If someone asks me something I will answer it and that may take me off on a different tangent.”

Holding has plenty to talk about having signed for Saints as a teenager from Pilkington Recs, having won the Lancashire Cup at under 18s level while only 15.

His talk will more or less coincide with the 40th anniversary of making his Saints debut at Swinton.

He remembers the day and build up like it was yesterday.

He recalls: “Geoff Heaton had gone, so Ken Gwilliam was the scrum half with Alan Ashton next in line as back up.

“But they were both injured that week, but I had gone to a do at Newton Cricket club. Half way through someone shouted ‘phone call for Neil Holding'.

“I answered it and coach Eric Ashton was on the other end and he said: ‘Don’t drink any more, go home, you are playing tomorrow.’

“I turned up and played. I scored on the blindside.

“It had happened really quickly. Three weeks before the Swinton game I was playing at Pilks and scout Harry Wellens came round and said Saints want to have a look at you.

“A week later I was in the A team and then the weekend after I got that phone call.

“Suddenly I was in the team with lads I had been watching from the terraces – Derek Noonan, George Nicholls and Tony Karalius.

“If I had not played as well as I did at Swinton they may have thought we’ll leave him in the A team for a bit.

"But the week after I went to training and got changed in the first team dressing room.”

Scrum half, as it is today, has always been a pivotal position on the field.

But in those days feeding the contested scrum, which often resembled two mating octopuses, was a key job in securing ball supply.

As a prodigious talent he was up against some wily old foxes - and some tough nuts to boot.

“There was Paul Woods who played for Widnes and Rochdale,” he said.

“He broke his thumb on my head once, I went down the blind side and he came after me and I ducked and he hit me so hard that his thumb exploded on my head.

“In the 70s the likes of Roger Millward, Parry Gordon, Reg Bowden, Steve Nash all knew how to play the game and it was about me trying to learn how to outwit them with the skills I had.

“As a team you knew how your scrum half was. Some had pace, others were good with the ball. Andy Gregory wasn’t blessed with pace but he had a good head on him.

“Coaches at the time understood what traits you were good at and did not try to interfere, rather they would point you in the right direction.”

Holding’s big plus points were his eye for the gap, pace and a chip over the top kicking game that yielded many a score.

They were skills that secured recognition at the highest level.

Holding said: “I played against Peter Sterling when he was at Hull and when I played against Australia and he never took anything out of me.”

He played in all three tests in the 1984 tour - twice at Sydney Cricket Ground and the other at Lang Park in a tour in which they gave a good account of themselves despite suffering another Ashes whitewash.

He had earned that call despite being in a Saints team that had been up against it for much of the early 80s, with experienced old stars moving on and being replaced by keen local youngsters.

Holding, alongside Harry Pinner and Graham Liptrot, tried to steer the ship against the two Hull giants and Widnes, but the trophy cupboard stayed bare.

But in 1984 Saints brought over a catalyst to help that local talent of Ledger, Peters, Haggerty, Arkwright, Round and Platt fulfill its potential in the shape of Kangaroos legend Mal Meninga.

Holding explains: “I had played against Big Mal on the 84 tour. It was his presence more than anything - he was a massive unit and he gave everybody that little bit of extra.

“There was an aura around him. People stepped up and you could see their true potential 1-15.

“We won two trophies that year and would have got to Wembley that year, but our first round game had been postponed Mal’s head was not there that night and you could see it go through the team.”

Wembley success would continue to elude Holding and the team, and he was part of the team that suffered the heartbreaker of 1987 and the 27-0 walkover of 1989.

Despite that he remains philosophical.

“That is how it goes. I am lucky to have been involved three times at Wembley, some great players like John Woods and Jeff Grayshon never got there.

He did, however, have one big regret. Having played behind a pack that was always game, but lacked a big man in the front row, he was moved on by coach Mike McClennan just when Saints filled that role with a tough as teak front rower with an offload.

Holding, who was also Saints’ head groundsman, explains: “I was cutting the grass on the front training ground when I saw the unmistakable figure of Kevin Ward coming out of the ground.

“Kevin said ‘Nay then lad, tha’ll have to be following me every week.

“I shook my head. Unfortunately I was on the list and on my way out because they were bringing in Paul Bishop and Jonathan Griffiths.”

From there Holding had stints at Rochdale, Widnes and Bradford before hanging up his boots.

After that he landed a dream groundsman's job tending Liverpool FC's Anfield, but younger Saints fans will remember him from his lively stints on the mic at the outset of Super League when David Howes transformed the match day experience.

It did get him in lumber at times, but he entertained, just as he had done as a player.

Reflecting on the rugby, Holding concluded: "I found my original contract not so long back - it was £1000 for signing, an extra £500 if I played for Lancashire, £500 for England and an extra £1000 if I got called up by Great Britain.

"When you signed on, you were there for life unless they wanted to sell you.

"Wages wise we got £15-£18 for losing, but the winning pay was good.

"When we lost at Wembley in 1989 my wage packet after tax was £49.

"Injury wise my shoulder went twice, I got my jaw broke at Leigh, had my thumb broken a couple of times, and did my knee and foot.

But that's all part of it and the good times always outweighed the bad."

Tickets for the event cost £15 and that includes entry into the raffle.

Call 07861 705307 to reserve tickets.