The Self-Isolation Chronicles: Salford Red Devils

1. We have Latvia to thank for Niall Evalds.

The 26-year-old enigmatic fullback has become a key performer for Salford Red Devils, playing a starring role in their journey to the Grand Final last year. That was unchartered territory for the Red Devils, as Evalds and co overcame the odds massively. An inherited grit and determination, for Evalds, that was born in none other than Latvia, during the climactic years of the Eastern Block. His grandfather, Janis, escaped the Baltic state during the Second World War, setting up camp in Halifax. He then changed his name to John to integrate into British culture, before setting up arguably the most quintessential British business, a fish and chip shop.

2. They are the original Red Devils, not Manchester United.

The moniker ‘Red Devils’ was in fact borrowed by the football powerhouses from Salford, despite the fact they only became Salford Red Devils in 2013. Way back in 1934, Salford became the first Rugby League side to be invited to tour France, after they were seen as the top side in the UK. Legendary Kiwi Lance Todd was their coach, at the time, while they had a star-studded side led by Gus Risman. In October and November 1934, they won all six games on tour, prompting French journalists to give them the nickname Les Diables Rouges (The Red Devils). Their opening game in Paris took place on Sunday 21st October, following an overnight ferry on the back of their 21-12 Lancashire Cup final victory over Wigan. They then played the first ever Rugby League match at Old Trafford in 1958, beating Leeds 22-17. Heading into the 1960s, Matt Busby’s Manchester United replaced their ‘Busby’s Babes’ nickname with ‘The Red Devils.’ The source, undisputedly, was from the original Red Devils to play at Old Trafford – Salford.

3. Salford played baseball in the 1930s.

The following Summer, after their tour in France, the city of Salford was being hit by the new sporting rage of baseball. They joined the National Baseball League in 1935, playing under the name ‘Salford Reds.’ British entrepreneur John Moores, the founder of Littlewoods with a university in Liverpool named after him, was spearheading the league and was kick-started in Manchester. Everton football legend Dixie Dean was enticed to take part in 1938, even meeting Babe Ruth, as the Great Britain side even beat the US Olympic team in their peak. So where does Rugby League fit into this? Gus Risman and some of the other Salford players regularly played for the Reds during the Summer off-season for Rugby League. In another Rugby League link to baseball, Wigan legend Jim Sullivan also played for Wales’ baseball side against England in 1921.

4. David Watkins scored tries in 92 successive games.

We have seen some staggering points scorers in Rugby League, with Neil Fox and Kevin Sinfield, in the modern era, usually the first names to spring to mind. Former Wales dual-code international David Watkins, however, was simply a points machine of a different calibre. He joined Salford in 1967 for £15,000, a club record which would later prove a bargain. From August 19th 1972 to 25th April 1974, Watkins scored in a staggering 92 club matches in a row, which still stands as a Rugby League record. In the 1972-1973 season, he also kicked a world record 221 goals in a single season. Watkins totalled a club record 2907 points for Salford, in just 12 years in the 13-man code. Neil Fox’s British record of 6,220 was across a 23-year period, meaning Watkins was not far away at all.

5. They once trialled a Palestinian refugee.

Dr Marwan Koukash did a lot of things (of varying nature) during his time as Salford owner, but this one is certainly less documented. Koukash invited a refugee from his homeland, Palestine, to train with the first-team. Khaled Issa had been living in a Palestinian camp in Lebanon when the invitation arrived to partake in activities with the club. Issa had been introduced to the sport by Palestine Rugby League founders Rabie and Ahmad El Masri, with the latter also having trialled at Hull FC in 2011, and joined up with head coach Iestyn Harris’ side. Issa spent a week with the club, sharing a dressing room with Adrian Morley and Rangi Chase, before returning back to his homeland to play a leading part for their national side.