THERE will be no one prouder than Alan Bolton if Saddleworth raised George Ford helps England to victory over South Africa in the rugby union World Cup final in Japan tomorrow (Saturday, November 2).
Alan, from Springhead, was one of the coaches who first introduced toddler George to both codes of the game.
The England fly half, now 26, threw his first pass aged four for Saddleworth Rangers.
Then aged 10, and under Alan’s tutelage, George and his teammates from Knowsley junior school, Springhead went to a tag tournament for the future international fly half’s first taste of rugby union.
“George had moved on from Rangers to Waterhead at that stage,” explained Alan. “But I used to coach down at Knowsley because my boys went there and I think half of Rangers team at that stage did as well.
“They had never played union before and we went to this tournament in Manchester where we came up against lads from grammar schools and private schools.
“But out bunch of lads from Springhead were outstanding. They completely demolished all these union playing schools.
“Their coaches were coming to look at our lads and George in particular because he was just dancing through them all.”
But it was at the equally humble surroundings of Saddleworth Rangers’ Shaw Hall Bank Road rugby league club where it all began for now superstar George.
“My sons, Tom and Chris, both played and so you went down to the club on a regular basis,” explained Alan. “Before you know it you are on a coaching course.
“In those days we hardly had a youth section at Rangers.
“There might have been a few open age groups but nothing like we have now from Under 8s through to Under 16s.
“But people like George’s dad, Mike, Chris Willis, Kevin Bradbury and Keith Greenwood-dad of Super League stars, Joe and James Greenwood- tried to get age groups together.
“So, George made his first introduction to rugby, probably when he was about four years old.
“They would just try and sneak him on towards the end of the game. His older brother, Joe, played but he was three years older.
“George eventually came to me at under eights and he was an absolutely fantastic player. He played in the same team as Joe Greenwood.
“You could tell, even at that early age, he had everything. He could run he could pass, he could side-step. It was an amazing to see in an eight-year-old.
“You could tell he was destined for great things. George would get man of the match every week.
“But it would always go to some of the other kids to try and encourage them. Rugby league isn’t just about trying to reward superstars.
“Unfortunately, we didn’t have an Under 9’s side at that stage so his dad moved him to Waterhead.
“We didn’t have a problem with that because it was the right decision at the time. Mike was planning his career out already at that stage.
“But his brother Joe continued to play at Saddleworth all the way through. And his younger brother Jacob also played at Saddleworth. The Fords have always been a big part of the club.
“So, it is fantastic to see George on the verge of hopefully becoming a World Cup winner. We are all very proud of him.”