THOSE who watched St Helens RFC from the mid-1960s to the early 1970s will have fond memories of a veteran hooker signed from Wigan before the Challenge Cup deadline in 1966, who, several months later went on to Wembley glory with Saints after they beat his former team 21-2!

Bill Sayer, universally known as ‘Sos’ was a seasoned international when he arrived at Knowsley Road who had won every honour with the Cherry and Whites.

He made an impressive debut in the red vee during a hard-fought victory against Halifax at Thrum Hall on 29th January 1966, [Heritage Number #832] when the Saints won 5-2 courtesy of a Tom van Vollenhoven try and Len Killeen conversion. Two other key signings also played that day who added to the squad’s push for honours: scrum-half Tommy Bishop [Barrow] and front-rower Albert Halsall [Salford].

Bill helped the Saints to four trophies in his first season: Challenge Cup. League Leaders Bowl, Lancashire League and League Championship.

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At Wembley, Wigan were forced to play Tom Woosey in the number 9 jersey when regular hooker Colin Clarke was suspended after the semi-final and Bill’s expertise was crucial to Saints’ success on the day. By comparison, Saints had an embarrassment of riches, with the experienced Bob Dagnall in reserve, if need be.

Sayer was a real tough nut and an expert dummy half, with a penchant, like one of his predecessors, Welshman Reg Blakemore in the early 1950s, for backing up and scoring valuable tries, typified by his three pointer in the 1970 Championship final against Leeds at Odsal Stadium, Bradford. Yet he was a hooker first and foremost and a very good one too.

“The Wigan lads who played against us in the 1961 Challenge Cup final always said how well he did in the scrums that day even when their forwards came out second best in the loose,” remembers former Saints’ centre Brian McGinn, a Wembley winner on that famous afternoon in London.

Bill’s glorious swansong at Knowsley Road also encompassed another Championship final, plus replay, against Wakefield Trinity in 1967 and two Lancashire Cup final successes, against Warrington [1967] and Oldham in 1968, the only winner’s medal missing from his collection.

It was the icing on the cake for Bill and he played his last game for the Saints on 19th December 1970 against Bramley at Knowsley Road and scored a try for good measure. It was time to let Tony Karalius take the reins in the number 9 jersey, but Wiganer Bill had truly won the hearts of Saints supporters after 147 appearances and 26 tries in the red vee.

Sadly, he passed away at the age of 55 and was missed by so many in the rugby league community, especially on both sides of Billinge Lump.

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Fast forward to 2021 and Bill’s eldest son, Michael, was proud to be presented with his father’s Heritage Number Certificate on behalf of his family by Saints Heritage Society member Ian Coutts. It was an appropriate task for Ian, who had worked at the Gas Board with Bill.

“He was a real broad Wiganer and a rum ‘un for sure,” he recalls.

“After leaving the Gas Board, he went into the scrap business and you would still see him at Pocket Nook on his rounds.”

Michael, who lives in Coppull, is understandably proud of his father’s achievements with both clubs: “He was definitely a larger than life character and for a spell I used to help him on the scrap. Wherever we went there was always a good craic, especially if a big game was coming up. One place we used to go was the Rockware factory in St Helens on our rounds, but wherever we went the talk was rugby league.

"He went on a few trips to Australia too and was a member of the Lions Association. It’s so nice that he should be so fondly remembered by the St Helens club and supporters after all these years.”