A RESIDENT of the Haresfinch district of St Helens, man and boy, Bill Adair has many fond memories of his rugby league career with St Helens and Liverpool City and totally belies the fact that on May 29, 2020, he is set to celebrate his 90th birthday, writes Alex Service.

Bill’s debut for the Saints was classed as a non-competitive fixture against the touring ‘Canaries’ of Carcassonne, on 5th October 1950, in front of almost 16,000 at Knowsley Road. It provided him with one of his most cherished memories, as he explains: [Welsh second rower] “George Parsons dropped a goal early on in the match and we were all laughing at him at the time, but it was a really close game and we actually won with it in the end 24-22! I remember playing against the great full-back Puig Aubert. We had a meal at the Town Hall afterwards and he was the only opposition player who autographed my programme!”

Bill’s centre was Vivian Harrison, late of London Welsh, who scored a try and kicked four goals, was one of a raft of Welsh Union imports to wear the red and white jersey in those days. But Bill didn’t have any clear chances to cross the whitewash during the game.

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Bill Adair is tackled on his debut for Saints against Hunslet on 7th October 1950. Picture: Alex Service

To play for the Saints was the ambition of most sporting-minded kids in those early post-war days, but where did it all begin?

“I was born a stone’s throw from where I live today,” he says “in St Andrews Grove, Haresfinch and my Dad, William, was a teaser at Pilkington’s Sheet Glass Works. [someone in direct charge of furnace operations during glass production].

"I went to Lowe House school and was more into running than rugby. When I joined the Army at eighteen I won a cup for running.

"One day Billy Mercer, the former Saints’ centre and A team coach came round to our house as part of his work with the Corporation. He asked my Mum what the cup was for and if I ever played rugby. He got me round to Saints and it all developed from there.”

Despite impressing with his pace and try-scoring prowess, chances at Knowsley Road, with the likes of Steve Llewellyn and Stan McCormick on the flanks, were relatively few and far between and Bill remained a stalwart of the Saints’ A team.

“Some great players at Saints in those days,” he recalls.

“Don Gullick was a powerful centre from Wales and there was also that brilliant centre Jimmy Stott too, probably the best I’ve ever played with.”

St Helens Star:

Saints ‘A’ team take a break at Keswick before going on to play Workington at Derwent Park. How many faces can you recognise?

First team football was soon to beckon, although not with his hometown club. According to the Liverpool Echo of 28th January 1953, Liverpool City had contacted two Saints’ players, Bill Adair and Jack Travers, who signed the necessary forms for a loan spell.

By all accounts Bill settled down well in his new surroundings at Knotty Ash and later made the move permanent.

“Dr Roebuck was in charge. It was a good club to play for,” he recalls.

“With some excellent players like stand-off ‘Dollar’ Parkes [father of later Saints’ player Brian] and Ray Ashby at full-back, who was such a confident performer and went on to play for Great Britain.”

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Good friends! Harry Wellens, Bill Adair and ‘Dollar’ Parkes

He enjoyed some memorable times at City in a team which consisted of mainly lads from St Helens and Widnes, who occasionally punched above their weight. “In 1953-54 we were one of a few teams to beat Warrington in their four-trophy year,” he recounts with obvious pride. Bill’s defensive qualities were up there with the best at club level and the way in which he had contained ‘superstar’ winger Brian Bevan had obviously made a big impression that afternoon. “My former team-mate at Saints, Stan McCormick, actually recommended me for a series of trials at Warrington when I was on the transfer list for £1,000, but I didn’t stay there.”

There was to be another adventure in Bill’s life when he made the decision to move to Canada, just before the end of the 1956-57 campaign: “My wife, Dorothy, had relations in British Columbia and we flew from Burtonwood airbase and went to a town called Fernie to work at a coal mine there. I was a joiner but they asked me to brush coal dust up all day, so we made the decision to return to the UK…by boat this time, with my wife expecting our first child. We’d only been over there a few months. Fortunately Bill Mercer, that man again, got me a job as a joiner with St Helens Corporation, so we were able to re-establish ourselves back in St Helens.”

City had removed him from their roster and didn’t expect to see him again. Potentially, he could have been classed as a free agent, but Bill re-signed for the start of the 1957-58 campaign. Terry Karalius, one of the famous rugby league family, also joined City at the same time. “After I came back from Canada, Don Gullick asked me if I would go to Leigh after I came back from Canada but they didn’t want to give me any money - so it was one game and that was it. In later years I played outside Don as my centre for Newton le Willows Vets RUFC against The Evergreens. That was in the 1980s. I think I must have been about 55!”

His professional career came at the end of the 1957-58 season. The Liverpool Echo reported that Bill had been deleted from their playing register, together with Harry Bacon, Ken Grundy [later to become Club Secretary], Tom Kelly, Harry Ody and another winger, Roy Silley. Now a rapidly dwindling band, those who played at City have always shared a special bond of friendship over the ensuing years.

Bill continued in the joinery and building trade until his retirement. He built his current house himself and has been in the same property, next to the Liverpool-Wigan railway line, since the early 1980s, land which was once occupied by the former Rushy Park Colliery. Bill was delighted to receive his Heritage Certificate and brochure from Ian Coutts of the Saints Heritage Society in March 2020 and shared the moment with his daughter Sharon.

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