IT is more than 46 years since Tony Atherton’s world was turned upside down after receiving an horrific head injury, playing for Saints’ ‘A’ team against Leigh.

This was a week after he had made a successful debut at stand-off against Castleford at Knowsley Road on 3 March 1974, when Saints won 25-5.

The former St Albans pupil always wanted to play for his hometown team and with his pace and skill it looked as though Tony had quite a promising future ahead of him in the game.

Unfortunately what was thought to be concussion, initially, proved to be much worse leading to a three-hour operation at Walton Hospital, where his condition was deemed to be so serious that the Last Rites were given at one stage.

Despite enduring partial paralysis and other distressing side effects, he did recover, but his rugby dream was over.

The ramifications were far-reaching and Tony’s courage and tenacity to overcome seemingly overwhelming odds have been an inspiration to others who have suffered a similar injury.

Tony was delighted to be presented with his Heritage Number certificate [#900] and remains a regular at Saints’ matches. Yet one of his greatest moments came last week when he was Guest of Honour at RFL President’s Ball at Queens Hotel in Leeds, when 300 guests were in attendance.

Tony took the stage and was interviewed by Dave Woods in which he talked candidly about his situation before and after that fateful afternoon, receiving a standing ovation from the audience.

“It was such an emotional time for me,” said Tony.

"It was a brilliant occasion, so well organised and obviously I was a bit nervous about speaking to so many people, but [interviewer] Dave Woods put me at ease.”

Tony and partner Margaret were able to meet such luminaries as [out-going] President Tony Adams, and RL Benevolent Fund Chairman Tim Adams, as well as a whole range of guests from the various clubs and charitable organisations connected with the rugby league game. His portrait also fronted the souvenir menu, together with a resume of his life story inside.

Tony also has contacted another team-mate from his Knowsley Road days, Saints’ Yorkshire centre Steve Gobey, who also has endured some difficult times.

“He was staying at the Abbey Hotel in Denton’s Green when he first came over,” remembers Tony. “I was working behind the bar there at the time and we played together in the A team, so it’s been a marvellous few weeks.”

Despite all that has been thrown at him, the Saints’ #900 remains such a bright and positive character, who just loves to talk about matters rugby league, whether at the Totally Wicked Stadium, Wembley or Old Trafford. He is an inspirational figure for us all!