The news of the passing of Roy Haggerty at the age of 58 has, quite naturally, come as a considerable shock to the rugby league community in St. Helens and beyond.
He was a fans’ favourite when he played for his home town team for well over a decade and will be remembered with a special affection reserved for only a select few. Why? He is not a member of the Greatest 17 or a top appearance-maker or points’ scorer but we all thought the world of him in the red vee.
Simply because of this: Roy Haggerty, a local lad, bled red and white. He would go out onto the field and give everything he had for the cause, in his own unique style, with tremendous pride and an unbridled passion. Supporters loved that.
Pound for pound the Saints have never had a harder player and he never once took a backward step. In that respect, he was a sort of seventies Duggie Greenall, who could more than hold his own against bigger, arguably more powerful opponents. With socks rolled down to his ankles and his left knee eternally bandaged, he would plunge himself into the fray with unbridled enthusiasm, more often than not after getting on the end of one of skipper Harry Pinner’s passes, to cause absolute chaos and pandemonium in the opposition defence.
He seemed to be ‘all knees and elbows’, a nightmare to tackle and possessed a devilish sidestep. Roy was certainly quick off the mark and most effective up to, say 30—40 yards. He was extremely durable and had few major injuries during his career – an undoubted measure of his toughness.
Roy had a distinctive one-armed off-load too, which was put to its best use in the forwards, rather than in the centres. He was certainly not necessarily the ‘perfect’ rugby league player. He played it his way and sometimes made the wrong choices on the field, simply because he would try something different, frustrating coaches, his team-mates and supporters alike at times, but he always remained an endearing character throughout it all and a real cult hero. His commitment to the cause was never, ever, in doubt.
Born in Thatto Heath, on March 22 1960, Roy played rugby union at Grange Park School, where two great Saints were on the staff, namely Steve Llewellyn and Geoff Pimblett. He played league for Pilkington Recs and came through the ranks from Colts level at Knowsley Road, where his individual flair and determination singled him out as future first team material. He made his debut at left centre, at Naughton Park, Widnes in a second round John Player trophy tie on September 30 1979. Saints lost 20-31 but his winger was another Thatto Heathen also making his debut: Kevin Meadows.
He joined a squad in the throes of change, at the end of the 1970s, when many stalwarts from that golden decade were moving on and the club’s fortunes were about to decline. Roy was one of a host of youngsters thrust into the spotlight, such as Chris Arkwright, Steve Peters, Barry Ledger, Paul Round and Brian Parkes, with legendary loose forward Harry Pinner at the helm.
Roy gradually managed to cement his place in the seniors with some powerful displays in the centres, as the Saints showed that they were turning their fortunes around. The advent of Mal Meninga saw Roy switched more to the second row, which proved to be the perfect platform for him to become not just a member of a successful Saints’ team, but also take the eye of selectors at county and international level. The Meninga season saw Roy win a Lancashire Cup winner’s medal against Wigan [including a barnstorming try] and a Premiership final victory against Hull KR at Elland Road.
The mid to late 1980s saw Roy established as a real fans’ favourite, although he ran out of luck in major finals, with Wembley defeats against Halifax and Wigan [1987 and 1989] and Widnes in the 1988 Premiership final, even though he scored a superb try in the Old Trafford sunshine. He did win the John Player trophy final in 1988, however, after a titanic battle against Leeds at Central Park, followed by selection for the Australian tour that same year. He joined fellow Saints Andy Platt, Paul Loughlin and Paul Groves on the plane Down Under, although he did not play in any of the tests. Roy played in two tests for Great Britain, however, against France at Leeds [52-4] and Carcassonne [20-10] in 1987, in which he packed down in the second row with the likes of Andy Goodway, Chris Burton and Mike Gregory. Roy also represented Lancashire [against Yorkshire] on one occasion.
From relatively humble beginnings in Thatto Heath, Roy played rugby league at the top level. He remained close to his roots and had no airs and graces, a veritable ‘working class hero’, in fact. He enjoyed a smoke and a pint and his team-mates loved having a laugh with him, especially when he worked on the groundstaff with the likes of Shane Cooper, Paul Loughlin and Neil Holding and he took it all in good faith. Stories about him are plentiful, although several have that apocryphal touch. Suffice to say, who can dislike a guy who told a subsequently bemused Australian journalist on landing in Sydney that he came ‘from the top of Elephant Lane’ and who took a ready supply of pot noodles with him to France on Great Britain duty because he would miss ‘British food’. Legendary stuff. Roy was a genuine ‘one-off’ and there has been nobody like him since.
His last chance of possible Wembley glory evaporated in the 1990 semi-final at Old Trafford, when Wigan secured victory with a controversial last try. Roy also became something of a drop-goal specialist in his later years and notched a one-pointer in his final game against Wakefield Trinity at Belle Vue on April 7 1991, as Saints won 22-8. His fellow back-rowers were Paul Jones and Shane Cooper. It was the last of his 363 appearances in the red vee, including 115 tries and 20 ‘drops’.
A spell at Barrow followed and a dalliance at amateur level, before his retirement from the game that had meant so much to him. He enjoyed a successful testimonial in 1990 and two sons, Kurt and Gareth followed him by also playing professionally at Super League and international level.
Roy leaves us all with some fantastic memories of his career, from an era when we simply loved his contribution to the Saints’ cause. There will surely be a further flood of tributes from team-mates and opponents alike for one of the great entertainers in the Greatest Game. We will never forget him.
At this extremely sad time, we would all like to send our extreme condolences to Roy’s family and friends. Funeral details have not yet been arranged.
Roy Haggerty – Born March 22 1960, Died April 22 2018
Written By Alex Service