Nostalgia with Margaret Watson: Recognising a rugby league great

Nostalgia - Pictured at Shaw Cross Boys' Club receiving special awards in 1952 after playing for England against Wales are: Mick Sullivan, David E Smith and Austin Kilroy. Also pictured are; the Mayor and Mayoress, Coun and Mrs R S Roberts, Mr F Smith, chairman of the club, and Douglas Hird, secretary. Coun Roberts, who later became an alderman, was president of the club for many years.

Nostalgia - Pictured at Shaw Cross Boys' Club receiving special awards in 1952 after playing for England against Wales are: Mick Sullivan, David E Smith and Austin Kilroy. Also pictured are; the Mayor and Mayoress, Coun and Mrs R S Roberts, Mr F Smith, chairman of the club, and Douglas Hird, secretary. Coun Roberts, who later became an alderman, was president of the club for many years.

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Many people were delighted when former Great Britain star Mick Sullivan was admitted to the Rugby League Hall of Fame recently.

They will have felt, as I did, that the honour was long overdue for a man who actually hailed from Pudsey but learned the game at the famous Shaw Cross Boys’ Club

Nostalgia - A dashing young Mick Sullivan shortly after he signed for his first professional team - Huddersfield.

Nostalgia - A dashing young Mick Sullivan shortly after he signed for his first professional team - Huddersfield.

Mick was a pupil at Dewsbury Technical College where his talents were spotted by the late Harry V Smith who soon included him in the various Batley and Dewsbury Boys’ representative sides.

To prevent Mike having to travel so far from his home for training, Mr Smith allowed him to stay at times at his home. This help, for the man known to many in this area as ‘Sully’, was never forgotten

I am indebted to Harry’s son David, who inherited the pictures on this page from his father, for allowing me to use what are now historical souvenirs of a very distinguished career.

At one stage Mick was selected in 1952 to play for England against Wales in a Boys’ Club international along wit his Shaw Cross colleagues David E Smith and Austin Kilroy, who also went on to have notable professional careers.

A picture of Batley and Dewsbury Boys' under 18 rugby team in 1950, which will bring back many memories for those pictured who are still with us, and for the families of those who are sadly not. Unfortunately, a few faces cannot be identified. Back row left: Harry V.Smith, league secretary, Jack Briggs, G Neville, unknown, unknown, D E Smith, unknown, E Shaw, management committee, W E Smith league chairman.  Front row, from left: C Netherwood, S Cockburn, B Rhodes, M Cox, Mick Sullivan, Bennett, G Wallace

A picture of Batley and Dewsbury Boys' under 18 rugby team in 1950, which will bring back many memories for those pictured who are still with us, and for the families of those who are sadly not. Unfortunately, a few faces cannot be identified. Back row left: Harry V.Smith, league secretary, Jack Briggs, G Neville, unknown, unknown, D E Smith, unknown, E Shaw, management committee, W E Smith league chairman. Front row, from left: C Netherwood, S Cockburn, B Rhodes, M Cox, Mick Sullivan, Bennett, G Wallace

In those days, of course, young men were called up for National Service and Mick became the centre of a tug-of-war between the Royal Air Force and the Army.

Both branches of the Armed Services were keen to have him because they felt he could play a major part for them in the prestigious Inter-Services Tournament, albeit in the rugby union code.

Mick was informed by a very senior RAF officer that he would indeed be called up for the Air Force and would be stationed in North Yorkshire to enable him to travel home and play for his first professional club Huddersfield.

However, when the papers came, he had been called up for the Army. He contacted the RAF officer and promptly received a letter back which began - “Dear Sullivan”, and the letter went on to assure him he would indeed be joining the RAF, and this turned out to be the case.

Mike’s Great Britain appearances have been previously mentioned in this paper when he was admitted to the Hall of Fame, and therefore I will not repeat them.

But, after playing for various clubs, including St Helens and Wigan, he eventually came to be player coach at Dewsbury and guided them to the Rugby League Cup semi finals.

Mick was a familiar figure around Dewsbury until his recent illness, and although he didn’t come from the town, he did make his home here. He will always be regarded as a ‘Dewsbury Great’ and remembered for his record number of tries for his country.

He was only 19 when he played for the Great Britain side which won the world cup in France in 1954. He received special praise for his performance against Australia.

Although he weighed only 11 and a half stones at the time, Mike was directly opposite two opponents who weighed almost three stones more.

The courage he showed in that game was to be a hallmark of his performances throughout a long and distinguished career.

It is nice to see a local sports person recognised, albeit belatedly, and perhaps someone may now consider an honour for another Dewsbury Great - Channel swimmer Eileen Fenton, who has never officially been recognised.