THERE was a special birthday celebration recently at Greenalls Club in Alder Hey Road for former Saints’ player and coach Bill Boycott, enjoyed by his family – with his extended rugby league family in close attendance too.

Organised by Saints’ Players Association, there was a goodly number of former players who had come under his tutelage from the early 1960s to the 1980s.

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Born in Aylesford, Kent, the son of a regular soldier, Bill moved up north when he was 8 and attended Knowsley Road and Rivington Road schools.

After enjoying sport at the YMCA, he joined Huyton Juniors – future Saint Brian Howard was in the same side – and was selected for the St Helens Under 21s team. A forceful centre, who could also play stand-off half, he later joined the powerful United Services outfit, which included the likes of Tommy Finn and Walter Delves.

Bill had trials at Knowsley Road but National Service with the Royal Artillery beckoned, although he did sign for the Saints during his time in the military.

On demob in September 1953, he became an A team regular and captain, although first team opportunities were limited to just one appearance against Barrow in the Ward Cup.

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Bill, who developed his own upholstery business based in Croppers Hill decided to concentrate on coaching younger players.

“I enjoyed coaching more than playing,” he says.

“Getting to know lads and see how they developed as players was a real buzz for me.”

He enjoyed a fulfilling career behind the scenes at Knowsley Road at all levels, becoming Assistant Coach under Jim Challinor and Eric Ashton, the latter spell giving him one of his greatest memories.

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“The Dad’s Army final in 1976 was the highlight for me when Saints beat Widnes,” he says. A photograph of the occasion shows Bill on the bench next to Ashton dutifully compiling the tackle sheets for the game.

“They were started by [Conditioner] Eddie Cheetham and it was really the start of the statistical stuff they have today,” he adds.

Amongst the array of former Saints who paid tribute to him on the night were Tony Barrow, who made his first team bow in the early 1960s and one of the first to come under Bill’s coaching wing, Brian McGinn, Ray Howard, Kel Coslett, Harry Pinner, Graham Liptrot, Tony Bolton, Johnny Butler, Brian Parkes, Kevin Wellens, Mike Bowes, Tommy Frodsham and Chris Arkwright, with Dennis Lyon and Frank Taylor winging their way over the Pennines to join in the celebrations.

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On a nostalgia-soaked evening, a Saints’ A team image from the 1950s, including Bill, was produced which included the likes of Vince Karalius, Roy Robinson, Alec Davies, Arthur Pimblett, Tommy Finn, Austin Rhodes, Len McIntyre and Josh Gaskell…a measure of the strength of the club’s second string at the time.

Bill rates the young Alex Murphy as the best of them all, however. “At 17, he was just amazing,” he recalls.

“It was no surprise to me that he became such a big star in the game.”

And of his time as coach?

“There were so many talented lads out there, but if push came to shove, I would opt for [scrum-half] Ken Kelly.

"I first saw him as a schoolboy, when Tommy O’Neill was his stand-off. Ken was a brilliant player when he made his breakthrough in the late 1960s and achieved much in such a short time at Knowsley Road.”

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Widower Bill knew little of the planned celebration and despite being “stitched up” as he put it, was pleasantly surprised and delighted to see all the familiar faces once again. It was a fantastic cameo of pre-Super League times at St Helens RFC.