My first memory of attending a Saints game was around the early 1980s. The mind plays tricks when trying to recall events that happened so long ago, to the point where games start to merge into one and details get mixed up. Yet I’m fairly sure that it came against a pre-Rhino Leeds side.
Or was it Hull FC or Hull KR? I’m unsure but what I am sure of is that in the centres that sunny afternoon was one Roy Haggerty. He scored twice, rampaging through the defence with the bulldozing, high-kicking style that would become his trademark long after a loss of a yard or two of pace and the arrival of the great Mal Meninga forced Roy into the second row.
I wish I could remember the details more clearly now with the news that Roy has passed away at the age of just 58. When you are a child watching your heroes achieve what look like superhuman feats you never contemplate their vulnerability. You never think that one day you will be sitting at your keyboard trying to put into words what they mean to you after their passing. Yet now that he has gone all we have left of him are these cherished memories, fuzzy though they are. Roy scored 115 tries in 363 appearances for Saints between 1978 and 1991. He toured Australia and New Zealand with Great Britain in 1988 and played at Wembley in the Challenge Cup defeats of 1987 and 1989.
That 1987 Cup final defeat to Halifax was my first visit to the national stadium. The following season Roy would kick 13 of the 20 drop-goals of his Saints career, yet I vividly remember him passing up the opportunity to have a pot-shot as Saints trailed by a point in one of the most dramatic cup finals ever played. I nearly blew one of my soon-to-be frail kidneys out from bellowing at him, pleading with him to have a go. Yet in many respects that was classic Roy. A thousand per cent endeavour and effort and no little skill, but never the shrewdest of operators. There are a gazillion urban myths about Roy, from talking to cash machines to informing Australian reporters on tour that he lived at the top of Elephant Lane. These may or may not be true, but they are very Roy and in that they have taken on a life of their own and become somehow plausible.
It certainly wasn’t all disappointments on the field, even if Roy played for Saints at a difficult time in their history. He played in the Lancashire Cup final victory over Wigan at Central Park in 1984, a Premiership Trophy final win over Hull KR at Old Trafford the following year and the memorable 15-14 John Player Trophy success over Leeds in 1988. In this period, the era of such relentless dominance from the mob over the lump, these wins were particularly glorious and sparked arguably even more crazed celebrations than some of the many that followed in the Super League era. By then we had become almost used to winning, and the expectancy and sense of entitlement we had developed could be a little numbing. It’s always more rewarding to taste success when expectations are lower and Roy helped deliver that for us. That alone is a reason to be eternally grateful to him.
Roy was a great player, but it was his accessibility and the time he had for everyone that marked him out as particularly special in my young eyes. In the days before full-time professionalism he would embark on training runs in the street where I grew up. Each and every time he jogged past us as we played whatever sport was on television at the time be it football, rugby, tennis, cricket or even American football there would be the same exchange between Roy and me and my mates;
“Alright Roy…” we’d enquire hopefully;
“Alright lads…” he would always shoot back. Every single time. It’s hard to quantify what even that little bit of interaction with a Saints player meant to a group of nine or ten year-olds but I think that Roy may have understood it. Either that or he genuinely did not feel that he was any different from anybody else in the community in or around the top of Elephant Lane. He was a regular in the off-license where my mum used to work during the 1980s and I have clear memories of her coming home with news of the birth of both of his rugby league playing sons Gareth and Kurt. The latter was, he told my mum, named after the former Widnes prop-forward Kurt Sorensen who Roy greatly admired. Not that it stopped him from bashing Sorensen as hard as he could whenever Saints met the Kiwi's then mighty Widnes side.
That was Roy. Live and die for the shirt which may seem obvious but is not something that you see exuding from everyone who has the privilege to pull on the red vee.
Roy Haggerty - 1960-2018