Bill enjoyed 70-year career in sport

Bill Shankland
Bill Shankland

Tash Tales with Alf Ridyard...

Bill Shankland’s name will not be tripping off many people’s tongues, unless you are a Warrington rugby league supporter and general sporting buff.

Bill Shankland was born in the Glebe district of Sydney in 1907 and his sporting career began in 1924 and was to span 70 years.

In the first two years, he had represented Australia at tugby union, boxing and swimming.

Bill was also a top-class cricketer and includes Don Bradman as a contemporary.

From this we assume he played Sheffield Shield cricket for the New South Wales state team.

His swimming included races against the great Johnnie Weissmuller, who later gained fame as Tarzan in the feature films.

However, 1926 saw a change of direction for Bill and he signed for the Glebe team in the Sydney professional rugby league.

Glebe were, however, voted out of the league and Bill joined the powerful Eastern Suburbs team (Now Sydney Roosters).

He was immediately selected for the New South Wales side and subsequently the full Australian touring side to Great Britain in 1928.

His achievements on tour will stand against any Australian tourist of the future after he played in all four tests and scored 35 tries on tour.

Again we now see another episode in Bill Shanklands life, when in 1931 he came to the UK and signed for Warrington. The fee is said to have been £1,000 and a weekly wage of £6 plus a win bonus of £8.

On his arrival at Bank Quay station, the Warrington Guardian reported a crowd of 2,000 were there to welcome him.

But all did not go smoothly at first as some of his team-mates resented the fact he was on £6, when they as miners or labourers were on £2.50, Shankland rectified this by saying “give me a proper pass and I will get you the points to ensure more winning bonus”, his career spanned 231 games for Warrington, in which he scored 74 tries and kicked 70 goals.

During his career, he played in two Wembley finals and two Championship finals losing them all but did achieve two Lancashire Cup wins.

In 1938 Bill Shankland retired from the game to follow his true love in life, golf.

It was written into his contract, “that should the opportunity arise to become a golf pro he could seek a release,” which he did.

He became professional at Haydock Park golf club, a job he had been doing for a year combined with his rugby.

His rugby retirement coincided with him playing in the 1938 British open golf championship at Royal St George’s, finishing a respectable eleventh place, behind such golf legends as Henry Cotton, Bobby Locke and Dai Rees.

Bill played in every championship until 1955, finishing second once and third twice, he made the final days’ cut except for one year.

Before he moved on from Haydock to his new club Temple Newton, Leeds, he would play regularly with Peter Kane world champion boxer from Golborne and Don Bradman, when Australia were on tour in the UK, rekindling an old sporting friendship.

Bill was poached from Temple Newton by JB Ruebens owner of Potters Bar Golf club, who payed Bill £1,500 per month.

This was in 1951, a vast sum of money, this is also where Bill had a great effect on British Golf, as he was the mentor to Tony Jacklin who became the winner of the British open in 1969 and the US open the following year.

Shankland referred to Jacklin as a “cocky little bugger” when he first came to the club. Bill Shankland never returned to his native land and resided in Dorset continuing to raise over a million pounds for charity through golf exhibitions.

Bill was also the catalyst in bringing the great Brian Bevan to Warrington, having played with Bevan’s father at Eastern Suburbs.

Bill Shankland returned to Warrington in 1998 and led out the past players at Widerspool for the club centenary, sadly the following day he slipped down the hotel steps having suffered a heart attack and never regained consciousness.

But Bill Shankland truly was a Corinthian sportsman of the highest calibre.