IT is sad to report that a Saints’ forward of the 1950s, Josh Gaskell, has passed away at the age of 85, writes Alex Service.
A pupil of St. Mary’s Junior school and later Rivington Road, he began his rugby league career by playing for the United Services junior club, before attracting the attentions of St.Helens R.F.C.
John Gaskell, known universally as ‘Josh’, grew up close to a strip of land next to Beecham’s called the ‘Bruk.’ His father had a billiard hall in Kirkland Street which was also used for Union meetings. A strong and forceful forward, he came into the First Team on March 20 1954 as a blind-side prop, against Liverpool City at Knowsley Road. The Saints won 18-0 and 12,000 were there to see it. The front-row that day was Ayles, Blakemore and Gaskell.
Josh went on to make 20 appearances in the 1954-55 campaign, although he only managed five in the First Team during 1955-56, the season when St. Helens won the Challenge Cup for the first time. Yet there was to be disappointment for Josh when, after Walter Delves was declared unfit, Roy Robinson was drafted into the Wembley team by Coach Jim Sullivan. Roy and Josh were mates at the time and Roy had grown up in nearby Albion Street.
Despite his disappointment, Josh kept on plugging away in the second row, making 24 appearances and scoring seven tries in 1956-57. During the season, he played in the Lancashire Cup final against a powerful Oldham team at Central Park, Wigan, when the Saints lost 3-10. Yet his greatest moment in the red and white jersey was undoubtedly the famous tour match against the visiting Australians when all the pack scored. Not to be out-done, big Josh scored twice in a memorable 44-2 victory on November 24 1956.
All told, Josh made 50 appearances for the Saints, scoring 11 tries. He was later transferred to Warrington, where he played 61 times for the Wires, scoring another four tries.
Josh worked as a drayman for Greenall Whitley, where he remained for many years. “He was a huge man in his playing days. Six feet and sixteen and a half stones,” recalls Denis Whittle. “He was very much the old type of front-rower.”
Josh was always a regular in the town centre and enjoyed talking rugby league with his friends. In recent years, however, his health had deteriorated and he was forced into a more sedentary role, much to his annoyance.
A member of the Saints’ Players’ Association, Josh was so proud to have played for the club and we send our condolences to his family at this sad time.