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51 years up north and Kel's still going strong
IN July 1962 young Welsh rugby union international Kel Coslett took a leap into the unknown when he switched codes and signed for Saints.
And although he was following a well-worn path north he hadn’t a clue where St Helens was at that time.
How the times change - 51 years since he clambered on that train up to Liverpool Lime Street, ‘Cossy’ is truly settled in his adopted town.
After stints as the club’s player, captain, coach, and football manager the 71-year-old Welshman is now occupied as Saints’ game day manager.
Although he played his last game in the red vee back in a landmark treble winning season in 1976, Coslett still holds a number of club records and fond memories.
Coslett had just turned 20 when he was called up for Wales in what was then the Five Nations in the days the Welsh rugby dragon really did breathe fire.
But with the prospect of a glittering union international career mapped out in front of him, Coslett returned from an afternoon shift at the steelworks to find Saints directors Lionel Swift and Basil Lowe having supper in his front room.
Coslett takes up the story: “They asked if I wanted to sign – there was no question of a trial, it was just a case of signing on the dotted line. We talked until four in the morning, until I finally put pen to paper. To be honest I didn’t even know where St Helens was.
“I was young and didn’t really know what I was getting into, I just wanted to play a game of rugby.
“But I was confident in my own ability, so I signed not knowing the difference between both codes.
“I certainly did not know the quality of the player here at St Helens – Murphy, Van Vollenhoven, Sullivan and Huddart. It was quite frightening at the time.”
Although there were always stories of players taking the professional ticket being shunned as turncoats – Coslett left south Wales with only good wishes.
“My family, friends and neighbours in Bynea were brilliant. My street even had a collection and bought me an electric razor and waved me off. They all said they didn’t want me to go, but wished me all the best,” he said.
Saints needed a goalkicker and Coslett went straight into the side star-studded team at full back, playing in every game in 1962-63, kicking 156 goals and failing to score in only one of them. He consolidated that record the following year.
But three games into the third season he broke his leg against Rochdale Hornets and did not play again that season. He also lost his place to local hero Frank Barrow – and had to convert into a forward towards the end of the 1965/66 season.
He missed Saints’ 1966 Challenge Cup final win over Wigan, but six years later he skippered an injury-hit team to a 16-13 Wembley win over Leeds, collecting Lance Todd in the process.
“We had a lot of injuries that day, Tony Karalius and Eric Prescott had to cry off at the last minute. We had a few young lads, Ken Kelly was just a kid back then, so used the captaincy as an excuse to look after those lads.
“Leeds were favourites and if you looked at their team on paper it could have been frightening. But Graham Rees scored a try after only 35 seconds - and that just gave us an advantage. Everyone stuck to their guns, it was a tremendous team effort,” the skipper said.
Les Jones went in for Saints’ second, with the rest of the points coming from the trusty boot of loose forward Coslett.
Four years later Saints were back beneath the Twin Towers, this time beating cup holders Widnes 22-5 in the baking heat.
Coslett, who by this stage had moved to prop, recalls: “Our ’76 side was very good, a difficult one to beat. Although I think Widnes did a good turn really by calling us the old men or Dad’s Army.
“The game was a tremendous battle and was not as easy as the scoreline suggests. And with it being such a scorching hot day, getting back in front was so important.
“But there were good players about – whether they were old or not, they were capable of playing one good last game. Communication and experience were very important. Players talked to each other and helped each other a lot!”
It was the swansong for that side with Coslett, compatriot John Mantle and scrum half Jeff Heaton all moving on.
But they had a small matter of wrapping up the Premiership with a win over league champions Salford first – followed six weeks later the first unofficial World Club Challenge game against Eastern Suburbs in a three game tour Down Under.
His move into the player-coach’s role at Rochdale followed before he took the hot seat at Wigan for their ill-fated 1979-80 season, but was powerless to stop the Riversiders’ relegation.
He returned to take charge at Saints the following year to replace Eric Ashton, but by that time the rugby league balance of power had been transformed, with Widnes and the two Hulls being the dominant forces.
Coach Coslett explained another problem: “Our good side had grown old together, some had gone, some were still there but the replacements had not been brought in.
“Although we made it to Challenge Cup semi-final in 1981, we were just clutching at straws really.
“It is so disappointing to lose in a semi final, but in reality it was a wasted season because there was no building - just survival.
“The following year things had to be done and somebody had to do them. There were a few comings and goings and the theme became youngsters.
“I thought the house was coming into order just before I was finished. I was disappointed at having to leave because once things were put in place, the club went nine consecutive games unbeaten.
“I would have liked another season and if things hadn’t worked out I would have known myself and walked.”
He drifted out of the game, but kept in contact through his job with brewers Whitbread.
But once he finished there he was drawn back into the Saints fold to take a job in the commercial department.
When the football manager’s post became vacant due to Eric Hughes’ departure Coslett had no hesitation in going for it. His role has subsequently been game day manager and he remains a familiar sight in the tunnel around matchdays, an involvement he still relishes.
“One thing you miss when you stop playing or coaching is the involvement. Taking part in sport is such a tremendous feeling, and when you have been involved in something from being a kid you really miss it when you stop,” declared Coslett.
Career: 1962 - 76.
Appearances: 531 (record).
Saints tries: 45.
Saints goals: 1639 (record).
Saints points: 3413 (record).
Goals in a season record: 214 (1971-72).
Points in a season record: 452 (1971-72).