ANOTHER link from the 1956 Challenge Cup winning squad has been severed with the passing of Brian Howard at the age of 83. He had been ill for some time, writes Alex Service.
The 1956 success against Halifax at Wembley was the first time the Saints had lifted the gleaming trophy and Brian played his part in this never-to-be-forgotten triumph.
Playing left centre that afternoon, Brian’s deft pass on the hour to Frank Carlton enabled the winger to fly away and score the crucial first try of the game that did so much to ensure eventual victory.
“I was there as a spectator that day”, recalls former Saint Brian McGinn, “and he was obviously a regular first-teamer then. I was sixteen and signed for the club shortly afterwards. Eventually, of course, I became a team-mate of his in both the A team and the seniors.
“He came through with the likes of Walter Delves, Roy Robinson and Josh Gaskell. He was a very good all-round footballer and a nice bloke off the pitch too.”
Hard-working, creative and defensively sound all describe Brian Howard’s rugby ability. He also had the requisite pace to score tries as well as create them. It may be a something of a cliché to describe someone as a ‘utility back’, but it is true that Brian, at various times, occupied every position for the club in the three-quarters, mostly as a left centre in his early career at Knowsley Road.
Yet later on he became a stand-off, playing in the number six jersey on 57 occasions, with Alex Murphy as his scrum-half. This is where he enjoyed his most successful season, in 1958-59, when he turned out in 40 matches and scored 22 tries. Overall, he played 131 times for his home town club, including 48 tries.
Born in 1933, Brian attended Rivington Road School. Rugby-wise, he was a former member of the United Services and the Saints ‘B’ teams in the Junior Leagues and signed professional forms for his home town club on January 22 1952.
Brian made his senior debut on the right wing for St. Helens against Salford at Knowsley Road on October 18 1952 [Saints won 14-6] and his last match was against Liverpool City, on April 26 1959, when he was right centre to the great Tom van Vollenhoven in a 41-22 success.
Apart from the magnificent Challenge Cup final success in 1956, Brian played in one other final for the club, when Saints lost to Oldham in the Lancashire Cup final of 1958 at Central Park. He also scored one of his team’s tries against the visiting New Zealanders in 1955, when the Kiwis were defeated 16-8.
Rugby League is very much in the Howard family’s DNA. His uncle was William Birkett, who played for St. Helens Recs as a three-quarter between the wars and, of course, one of Brian’s two sons, Harvey, created his own niche in the rugby league game as an international and renowned club professional on two continents, with a clubs including Widnes, Wigan and Brisbane Broncos on his resume.
Brian moved on to Leigh from 1959-62 and made 79 appearances for the Hilton Park club, scoring 15 tries. A personable guy, Brian was a fine footballer and a member of the Saints’ Players’ Association.
We send our condolences to his family on this sad occasion.