What better way to begin a new series about well-known Saddleworth sporting families than one which coincides with the Rugby Union World Cup…
George Ford, who is expected to be England’s fly half, comes from a family steeped in the sport.
The battle for the No 10 shirt between Oldhamer George Ford and Owen Farrell is providing England coach Stuart Lancaster with one of his big dilemmas for the RU World Cup.
It looks as though 22-year-old George, who played in the final warm-up match against Ireland, is the slight favourite given his meteoric rise in the last 12 months.
The Grasscroft-raised Bath fly half overtook Farrell with impressive displays in the autumn internationals followed by the RBS Six Nations Championships.
It ought not to be a surprise that George has become a top player as he has mixed with elite players since he was a young boy.
Father Mike, who had spells as defence coach for the Ireland and England RU teams after an illustrious playing career in RL for the likes of Wigan, Warrington and Castleford, explained: “When I was player/coach at Oldham RL, George would come to training and sit on the bench with me.
“When I was with Ireland and England, he would come to a couple of training camps during the school holidays.
“He has grown up with the likes of Jonny Wilkinson and Ronan O’Gara from a young age and they made a big impression. It is something you cannot buy.
“When you see how mature George is, you need to understand why that it. He has grown with the sport since the age of four.
“He has put the hours in practising since that age and sat and listened. It is all he has ever done and been brought up in that environment.”
George, who went to Knowsley Primary, is not alone as elder brother Joe is at Sale Sharks, but younger brother Jacob also has the potential to go far.
The 16-year-old began his playing days at Saddleworth Rangers before winning a scholarship to the prestigious Harrow School. Jacob was in the academy at Wasps, but now has moved to Bath.
Mike, who is Bath head coach, said: “Jacob has so much talent that we have poached him.
“He is not as good as his two brothers as he only started playing when he was aged nine/ten whereas they began at four or five so is behind them, though his attitude is as good as them and he has a determination to make it.”
Mike, who was raised in Springhead, was taken to Watersheddings as a young boy by his father who had a plumber merchants on Oldham Road.
He began playing rugby at the age of nine and enjoyed great success, playing in a Lancashire Cup final and also curtain raiser before the 1977 Challenge Cup final.
Yet Mike might also have become a professional footballer as he had a spell on the books of Oldham Athletic.
He said: “I took a break from rugby and signed as a schoolboy for Oldham Athletic aged 15.
“I wasn’t offered an apprenticeship by Latics and returned to RL signing for Wigan aged 17 when I was still at Saddleworth School. I then played RL for 20 years.
“I often wonder what might have happened if I had played football and not RL?”
Mike added that he encouraged George and Joe to play football.
“They didn’t take to football like me and both wanted to be rugby players,” he said.
George and Joe both played RL for Saddleworth Rangers and Waterhead before moving to Rishworth School where they were first introduced to the 15-man game.
Both boys remained RL players, though, as George had scholarships at Warrington, Wigan and Bradford while Joe was at Bradford where he played for the under18s.
Soon they switched codes with George starting out at Leicester Tigers and Joe at Leeds Carnegie where they both made their debuts against each other, both playing fly half.
Indeed, George became the youngest-ever player to appear in the Aviva Premiership aged 16 years and 237 days.
The sporting gene certainly runs deep in the Ford family as Mike’s sisters Dena and Sharon both played basketball for England while Sharon’s son Adam Davies has played RL for Great Britain Emerging Lions.