Rugby League Heroes: Garry Schofield

A try scoring machine in the ‘eighties and a playmaking supremo of the ‘nineties, Garry Schofield is one of a tiny number of British backs of the last half-century to take his club form to the international stage on a regular basis.

Equally brilliant in the colours of Hull, Balmain, Leeds and Great Britain, Schofield won the Golden Boot, is in the Hall of Fame and has an OBE for services to the sport, although he found success harder to come by as a coach.

He is now a longstanding columnist for League Express and we are delighted that he is the 100th Rugby League Hero we have included in this series.

If you could relive one day from your career, which would it be?

Most of us who played in the 1992 Melbourne Test will go for that. From the build-up to the atmosphere and the performance, the whole evening was wonderful. We dominated Australia with an off-the-cuff performance. My try was a move that went wrong, but I had a go and got lucky. It was that sort of night. I don’t think that scoreline [33-10] will happen again. There wasn’t much structure apart from Graham Steadman’s kicking game which pinned the Aussies back. We were superb from one to 17. The half-time team talk was the best I’ve ever heard. Malcolm Reilly only said three words: “Same again lads!”

Were you a better centre or stand-off?

I was a better stand-off in the end and a better all-round player. I scored tries as a centre because I followed the ball and picked up on players who loved to offload. That philosophy came from my dad as an eight-year-old at Clapgate School where Harry Jepson was the deputy head. I had to adopt an all-round game at stand-off. I had to defend better. I had to communicate and organise and be a leader. I never needed a mouthguard as a centre. I certainly did at stand-off.

Did you support Leeds as a kid?

Yes, and I loved watching them in the Wembley seasons of 1977 and 1978. My first game was a big win over Widnes. But my favourite player was from Castleford and that was Bruce Burton. He was the perfect all-round stand-off who scored tries and created them.

At what age did you start to think you could be a pro one day?

When I first got selected for Hunslet Schools Under-13s. My dad gave me 15 pence for a try. I scored 65 one season and 56 the next, so he soon stopped! Then I got picked by Yorkshire Schools and knew if I showed the right dedication then I could go all the way.

What are your favourite memories from your amateur days?

Being an amateur was far more enjoyable than being a professional because there were no egos. The highlight at Hunslet Parkside was beating Kells in the National Cup Final. They fancied their chances, but we walloped them. I was picked by the BARLA Under-19s to tour New Zealand in 1983 – a real once-in-a-lifetime experience. The management stayed in hotels. The players were paired off and sent to families. The family that David Creasser and I stayed with stuck us in a caravan. We didn’t sleep a wink; it was so cold. Later in the tour, all 28 of us had to sleep on the floor of a Maori hut. I’m glad there were no camera phones back then.

You signed for Hull when they were league champions. Why did you choose them over Leeds?

Hull had never seen me play. They signed me on the recommendation of Gary Divorty. Leeds wanted the three of us, including Creasser. One night at 10.15, Adele and I were on the settee. I won’t tell you what we were doing, but we got dressed pretty quickly. It was Mike Page and Arthur Bunting from Hull. They said they wanted to talk to my parents, so I went to wake them up. Eventually I signed and it was kept quiet until I got back. Hull seemed to want me a lot more. The Leeds attitude was that we were privileged to be wanted by them.

I trained with Hull one night before I signed and scored 12 tries in touch and pass, running off Mick Crane, Knocker Norton, Lee Crooks and Dave Topliss. I immediately felt part of it, like I’d already been there for two years. Toppo was like my second father. He did a piece in Open Rugby magazine, saying I was ready for first-team football straightaway. Arthur was a great coach and a good man-manager. 

I learned how the best players went about their business. We won the Yorkshire Cup against Castleford in my first season. I made my Great Britain Under-24s debut, my Colts debut, my Great Britain debut in a shocking game against France and was selected for the Lions at the end of the season. 

You were dropped to the substitutes’ bench twice in your second season – for the John Player and Challenge Cup finals. Did you find out why?

I think I was coming back from injury for the John Player Final, but I never got an explanation about Wembley. I’d suffered a bit with second-season syndrome in 1984-85, but Peter Sterling always said Arthur got it wrong that day. James Leuluai was coming back from a shoulder injury and declared himself fit. Arthur announced the team on Thursday night. I was on the bench with Steve Evans in the other centre position. I don’t mind admitting I cried. And I sulked! Toppo wasn’t playing either, but he talked me round. I came on as a sub, but I didn’t feel part of it. 

You went on strike at Hull and missed their game against the 1986 tourists. Was that connected to you leaving 12 months later?

The papers called it a strike, but it was just a dispute over payments. I wanted a pay rise, but it wasn’t coming. It wasn’t connected to me leaving because that wasn’t in my head at all in 1986. But we had heard rumblings of the financial situation. The Chairman had five grand nicked from the boot of his car because he used to take the gate takings home. That wasn’t a good sign. Lee and I had signed three-year deals for ten grand apiece. We wanted more but they wouldn’t budge. Then they signed Gary Pearce from Wales for 20 grand, so we went looking for 15 and didn’t get it. Arthur got sacked after a game with Swinton. Crooksy left and then I did. The club was skint and needed the money.

By the time you left Hull, you were an established international. You were named Great Britain’s player of the series in the 1984 and 1986 Ashes, and you scored four tries against the Kiwis in 1985. How much belief did that team have?

Not enough. Not compared to what we had between 1990 and 1993. The 1984 tour was a jolly boys’ outing. It was the last tour for some players, and they wanted to enjoy themselves. We were on a bed-and-breakfast basis. There were no team meetings or curfews. We trained at 7am, 10am and 3pm. We were free men from 5pm, so we just got on the drink. I was 18, and it was a massive eye opener. Our team song was “We’ve got high hopes”, although it got scrapped halfway through the tour when we no longer had high hopes! But the results were much better than in 1982.

I was lucky to be selected for that second Test in 1985 because Maurice Bamford blamed me for the Kiwis’ winning try in the first Test and said I’d be lucky to be picked at Wigan. But the rest is history as I scored all four of our tries. I just followed John Fieldhouse, Harry Pinner, Ellery Hanley and Tony Myler and fed off the scraps. Jeff Grayson came back into the side at 36 and was brilliant. David Watkinson was fantastic as well. It was brutal series. We knew what the Kiwis had done to the Aussies, and we rated them number one in the world. But we showed we were improving too.

We did have belief in 1986. Maurice was a motivator, and we had a great spirit. We were based in Chorley, and it was a good camp. But Australia had better players and more depth. Mal Meninga couldn’t get in the centres because of Gene Miles and Brett Kenny. That’s how good they were. The crowds were huge in 1986 and I think that was the start of us becoming competitive.

What was the biggest reason for the vast improvement from 1990?

Malcolm Reilly’s appointment as coach. We had some great players like Ellery, Martin Offiah, Andy Gregory, Andy Platt, Joe Lydon, Shaun Edwards and youngsters like Paul Newlove and Gary Connolly coming through. Mal got it into us that they were just human. If they can bleed, they will hurt. Mal was a winner, and we adopted the Wigan game plan because we had so many of their players. We ripped in and we matched Australia in two Ashes series and a World Cup Final, but we came up just short each time.

Is there a defeat that still haunts you?

The first test in Sydney in 1992 when Martin got caught twice from behind by Andrew Ettingshausen. We slung the ball around and ripped them open in the first 25 minutes. We’d never seen anyone catch Martin, but ET did. He won them the Ashes in those first 25 minutes. We played very well that day and had we racked up early points, we’d have gone on to win, as we did in Melbourne.

The other thing that cost us in 1992 was the third Test taking place a week after the second. Tests used to be two weeks apart, but we had to play the decider one week after Melbourne. The Aussies were desperate to make amends, but we needed an extra week to prepare. We didn’t have the intensity of the Winfield Cup and two Ashes Tests in eight days was too much. 

I thought you would say the 1992 World Cup Final. Did the Ashes mean more? 

It’s hard to say which I’d have preferred to win, but we didn’t deserve to win the World Cup. I was moved to centre, and we didn’t create anything. We just kicked penalty goals. But we could easily have won the Ashes, not just in 1992, but in 1990 as well.  

You partnered Andy Gregory and Shaun Edwards in 1990 and 1992. Who was your favourite halfback partner? 

Bobbie Goulding was my favourite Great Britain scrum half. The problem with Andy, Shaun and me was that we all wanted to be the main organiser. Mal had given me that role in 1990 and I justified it with my performances against the Kiwis. Andy and I did well in 1990 against the Kangaroos, and it worked when Shaun came into the side at seven in Melbourne. When one of us wanted to take charge that night, we did. What I do remember from 1992 is Andy storming out of the camp when he didn’t get picked in an early match. Maurice said he’d sort it out. Then when Andy came back into the team, Shaun then stormed out of the camp. Maurice sorted that out too. I remember thinking if a non-Wigan player did that, he’d have been on the next plane home.

Tell us about your relationship with Maurice Lindsay.

We had a great relationship for the most part, and he was great for Rugby League. He was a doer and not a ditherer. He revitalised the sport and my generation were the ones to benefit at first. He was a great tour manager and we worked well together when I was captain. 

Then along came Super League, and our relationship collapsed. Leeds encouraged us to be vocal against summer rugby and, let’s face it, I needed no second invitation to be vocal about something. Suddenly I found I had no loyalty payment – which all the best players were given unless they signed with the ARL – and I was on the outer with the national team. It was very frustrating watching England just fall short in the 1995 World Cup Final with a support player at stand-off in Tony Smith and not a playmaker and organiser like me. Our threequarter line that day was Robinson, Connolly, Newlove and Offiah and we had no one to give them the ball. I’ve always believed I didn’t make the squad because of my views on summer rugby.

You hold the record of 46 Great Britain caps with Mick Sullivan. Can you remember that last cap, should you have won more, and did you know Mick well?

I was on the bench at Elland Road in the third Test, with Phil Clarke at stand-off. Phil was never a stand-off. Daryl Powell and Bobbie were also on the bench. Phil went over on his ankle after ten minutes. I was hoping he’d come off obviously – I don’t mind admitting that. I got up quicker than the speed of light, got my boiler suit off and just hoped Ellery wouldn’t send on one of the others. It worked! It was my last chance to get the joint record and help us win the Ashes. I got a great roar from the Leeds crowd. The game was in the balance, but we didn’t win. We’d shot ourselves in the foot by bringing in the pitch by three yards on both flanks. That was a huge error because we were never going to go through them. We could only beat them on the edges. I don’t know whose idea that was, but it was a shocker.

Mick presented me with a piece of glassware for equalling his record, but I didn’t know him other than that. We then got inducted into the Hall of Fame together in 2013. What a career he had! He was one of the greatest wingers to play the game, and it was such an honour to share the record with him.

Should I have won more caps? Doug Laughton suspended me at Leeds because he didn’t believe I had an ear infection. I wasn’t allowed to play for Great Britain during the suspension and missed a game with France. 

What are your memories of playing for Balmain in 1985, 1986 and 1987? 

It was a wonderful experience to play with big personalities like Wayne Pearce, Blocker Roach, Benny Elias, Garry Jack, Paul Sironen and Kerry Hemsley. As a 19-year-old British lad, I had to earn their respect straightaway, and I’d like to think I did. I had to get into their lifestyle and philosophies. Training was so well organised and there was no whingeing even when we were getting flogged. There was no walking or chatting after drills. The players all had jobs and only trained on Tuesdays and Thursdays like us. Training was hard, but everyone enjoyed it. I just wanted to score tries, and it was music to my ears when Frank Stanton said that’s why they’d signed me. We had a great side. We won the Panasonic Cup in 1985 and we were 80 minutes from the Grand Final.

You signed for Leeds in the autumn of 1987. Were you joining a club that was a genuine trophy contender?

They were in a mess. Bernard Coulby came in as chairman and he was a great bloke. He wanted to put bums in on seats, so they signed Peter Tunks, Eric Grothe, Peter Jackson, Slippery Morris and Lee Crooks. Then I signed. Dave Heron, Colin Maskill and Dave Creasser were already there, so it wasn’t long before we had a decent side. 

Tell us how you won the 1991 Man of Steel.

I had no intention of turning up because we hadn’t had a good season and I had no idea I would win. Everyone assumed it would be Denis Betts. I’d been invited to some boxing at Leeds Town Hall and wanted to go to that, but Adele kept insisting we go to Manchester for the Man of Steel. We had a bit of a tiff. I gave in, but I thought it would be a crap night. We got there at quarter to eight and I was greeted by a very relieved David Howes. That was my first clue! When Harry Gration, the MC, explained the award was for the 12 months and it included internationals, I knew it was me. I looked at Adele and Alf Davies from Leeds and swore at them for keeping it a secret! Adele said if I’d resisted for another ten minutes, she’s have had to let the cat out of the bag. It was a very proud moment, and I remember paying tribute to David Ward, who had put trust in me as a stand-off.

Did you begin seasons believing you could topple Wigan?

We did, and we lost one title by four points under David Ward. The team spirit under Wardy was so enjoyable. We couldn’t wait for training to come round again. If we’d signed another second rower and a centre, we would have had Wigan, but the club made a terrible error in sacking Wardy and bringing in Doug Laughton. It’s the worst decision in the club’s history.

I read the interview you did with Laughton recently. The reality is we just hated each other. I wanted him sacked after two weeks because the players didn’t want him. In the end I was proved right. He’d bought success at Widnes and couldn’t replicate it Leeds. He just wasted a lot of money and created a really poor environment. Going to work every day with him in charge was a nightmare.

Why did you turn Wigan down?

It was when Laughton was in charge. Leeds were chasing Ellery. I was at a function when Maurice told me he wanted me. I was on 22 grand a year at Leeds, and Maurice offered me 100 grand a year for three years. I suppose that also shows why Wigan ended up in such a mess. Anyway, I turned him down, saying we were going to be overtaking Wigan soon. Wigan then offered Ellery plus £25,000 for me, but the Leeds board turned it down, saying they didn’t want to sell me. If Laughton had been honest with me and said he couldn’t work with me, I’d have gone to Central Park, but it would have broken my heart to play for Wigan at Headingley.

Why did you join Huddersfield in 1996?

They offered me a four-year deal and Leeds were so skint they had to sell me. Laughton had spent all the money. My last game was against Swinton in the Cup. Normally you’d get a bonus in games like that, but that was stopped, and we would only get £127 each because the bank had frozen the club’s account! Anyway, I tore a pec muscle. I was 31 and wanted another two years. I wanted to work under Dean Bell and work my way up as a coach. Dean and I got on well when he took over from Laughton. But Dean told me that if Huddersfield offered the right money, they would have to accept it.

It was a huge error on my part. Ken Davy is a great man and I respect him totally, but it didn’t work out. Greg Mackey, God bless him, told me Daryl van de Velde had told him not to pass to me in the first 20 minutes of a game. What’s all that about? Daryl eventually got the sack.

They brought in Steve Ferres for 1997. In his first meeting, he said, “Are you wankers or winners?” They were his exact words! We just looked at each other. He didn’t really take to me either, so I suggested he make Phil Veivers captain and put Steve Booth at six, with me at 13. Halfway through the year, Les Coulter told Dave King to organise a ballot among the players whether they wanted Steve or not. I didn’t want him to get sacked like that, so I stuck up for him and Les backed down. Steve eventually got fired at the end of the season, and I took over when we got into Super League for the 1998 season.

Huddersfield then got in a sports psychologist, which I was totally against. A couple of players who tried it told me it was garbage, but he got into Ken’s head that it was the way to go. They ended up sacking me for not having the right coaching qualifications. That was true, but they had never asked if I had them in the first place. Having sacked me, they expected me to go back to just being a player. In the end, I took them to court and won, just as I did with Barrow many years later. 

You finished off at Doncaster and then Bramley.

I had to leave Donny because they were skint and they had asked me to take a 50 per cent pay cut, which I wasn’t prepared to do. This was 1999. I then moved to Bramley and played 19 games, but the enjoyment started to go. I’d always said I’d finish when that happened. I was only 34 and not carrying injuries. I was on 500 quid a week, but it wasn’t right to just take the money if I wasn’t enjoying it. I enjoyed working under Mike Ford, and he invited me down to say goodbye to the lads. That was the end of my playing days. I loved every minute of it, and I wouldn’t change a thing.

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