In our latest big interview, TotalRL writer Aaron Bower sits down with Castleford CEO Steve Gill to discuss his time at the club, what it would mean for the town and a very special story concerning the club’s former owner, Jack Fulton, before he passed away in 2015.
AB: Steve, the players and the staff have said all week they will try to make it feel as close to an ordinary game-day as possible. Is that the best way, do you think?
SG: Yeah, definitely. The prepration for us is about simply treating it as any other game. It won’t be any ordinary game, we know that – but I’ve been to a lot of Grand Finals and I always wished we could walk out in our famous colours with our famous fans sat in the Stretford End. Together, we get to do that on Saturday.
AB: You’ve done nearly every job at this club, before eventually becoming chief executive. Castleford is in your blood, isn’t it?
SG: You could say that! My first game was the 3rd of March 1970: we beat Leeds down here 9-5. It’d be fitting if we could finish this year off beating Leeds at Old Trafford in that regard, I guess.
AB: But as is now well-known, Castleford almost completely fell off the rugby league landscape altogether, didn’t they?
SG: Yeah, it’s well-documented. I got a call from Jack (Fulton) one day – the dates are insignificant – but his words were along the lines of me getting to his place up in Harrogate. I knew at that time that the previous CEO had walked out and I knew how bad the club was, but as head of youth, there’s not much you can do about it. He asked if I’d step in as interim CEO, which blew me away. I asked how long I had to think about it, and he said ’30 minutes’, or else he’d pull the plug on it. Six weeks later, I asked how the interviews were going and he said that I’d got the job.
AB: Castleford was known for two things in the 1970s and 80s: rugby league and coal-mining. When the latter industry collapsed, rugby league became everything to the people in this town, didn’t it?
SG: Yeah. It’s everything around here, rugby league. I did 20-odd years underground at Sharlston and there wasn’t an hour that passed by without someone talking about rugby league. We had all these people employed in mines and when that collapsed around 1990, things changed and rugby league suffered really. But slowly, surely, we took our time and built the club back up. I want the club to be proud of its fans and I want the fans to be proud of its club. It’s taken five years of dedication, but I think we’re there. We want to build a legacy here and we know you can’t just go out and buy any old player. You’ve got to have something with an underbelly inside you where it means something to play for your club.
AB: I’m sure Jack Fulton will be in your thoughts this weekend – but is it true that the way Daryl Powell’s side play convinced him to get back to the games and watch live before he passed away?
SG: I do wish Jack and Bridie were here to see it, but we’re in good hands with Ian and Janet. Jack suffered with motor neurone disease, but he had lung cancer too, which I don’t think many people know about, and his movement was really restricted. When Daryl started to put his stamp on this team and the ‘Classy Cas’ nickname returned, I’d go up and watch the odd game with Jack. He’d say: ‘Steve, that’s better than any medicine’. We got him to a couple of games before he couldn’t come anymore and he fell back in love with it again because of this team. Him and Daryl were like father and son.
AB: Winning the League Leaders’ Shield was special a few weeks ago: Saturday could be even bigger.
SG: I’ve always wanted to bring a trophy back to this place, and being stood at the sidelines when we won the League Leaders’ Shield, there wasn’t a sweeter feeling: I closed my eyes and just took it all in. Hearing the fans sing ‘Sweet Caroline’ that night was phenomenal.
AB: Do you allow yourself to dream of winning on Saturday?
SG: No. All I’ll do afterwards is come back here, have a cup of tea and listen to Bruce Springsteen. Do I dare to dream? I just want to enjoy the day. I didn’t enjoy Wembley in 2014 because of different circumstances but I want to enjoy this. It’s been a hectic couple of weeks with my grandson being born recently too so I just can’t wait for the final.
AB: Has he been named yet? Or will that honour be reserved for the winning try-scorer on Saturday if Cas win!
SG: He’s been named – and it’s ironic really as he’s a big crowd favourite and he’s not named after him but he’s called Jesse! I told Jesse and he was made up: he thinks it’s superb. He’ll be two weeks old on Monday and he’s already a Cas fan.