Wilf Roach Passes Away

SAINTS’ supporters of a particular vintage, especially those who watched the team in the early 1950s, will be saddened to hear of the death of Wilf Roach, at his Eccleston home at the age of 85, writes Alex Service.

Wilf played in 37 matches overall for the seniors at Knowsley Road and was a popular figure amongst the fans on the terraces. He was also a valued squad member too.

On April 4 1951, Saints beat Leeds 22-14 at Knowsley Road in a league match, in front of more than 18,000 fans and Wilf made his debut at left centre.

“Roach made a more than promising first team debut under exacting conditions,” wrote Touchstone in the St. Helens Newspaper. “His first half display was excellent,” he added. “The Saints centre strength has received a severe testing in the last few matches. Now Roach has shown us that with [Jimmy] Stott, Gullick and Harrison unavailable, the club has not reached its last resources of power.”

Wilf was, in fact, the perfect utility player, who could play centre or wing when required. He could tackle his opposite number hard and score tries given the opportunity – the ideal squad player, they would say today.

“I began with the amateurs Pilks Recs,” he remembered, speaking about his career in an article for the Saints’ programme a couple of years ago. “At one stage Leeds showed interest, but Saints got wind and being a local lad, there was only one club for me and what’s more, I didn’t have a car!”

Wilf originally lived in Doulton Street and went to Knowsley Road juniors and Rivington Road with Saints’ Chairman Harry Cook as Headmaster. He won the Ellison Cup at ‘Rivvy’ and soon became a valued member of a saints’ squad that made a serious bid for honours during the 1952-53 season.

“You could say I was the ‘third man’ with Duggie Greenall and Don Gullick the first choice centres,” he adds, “but they were great times. I remember we became the only club side to beat the Australian tourists [26-8] and my fellow centre that day, Duggie, had a blinder!”

He also neglected to say that the man outside him, Stan McCormick scored twice in the rout.

The team went on to top the league and remain unbeaten away from home, with a draw at Huddersfield the closest thing to defeat. It was one of Wilf’s 15 appearances during the season. “The signing of Glyn Moses was a real bonus for us and gave us another attacking dimension and we were worthy Champions at the end season,” he maintained.

The following year, with competition at Knowsley Road as intense as ever, Wilf joined Rochdale Hornets, where he starred in the same three-quarter line as the Australian Wally McArthur and by his own admission it was always nice to get a result against his former team, albeit rarely!

Wilf worked at Foster’s Glass before joining the Army and going on to work at Fibreglass. On his retirement, he enjoyed life at home in Eccleston with wife Elsie and has two daughters, Shirley and Ellen, plus grandchildren Hannah, Daniel, Amy and Katie. Wilf and Elsie also recently celebrated their Diamond wedding anniversary. He retained a keen interest in sport and Saintly matters in particular.

Yet the memories of his time at Knowsley Road and playing in front of invariably huge crowds, in the Jim Sullivan era, are those he always cherished.

He was a lovely man and we send our condolences to his family at this sad time.

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