Barry Simms RIP
Barry Simms, pictured second from the right, was hooker for Leeds in the 1961 Championship win
It is with much sadness that the club today learned of the passing of 1961 Championship winner Barry Simms.
In a tragically short six year career, cut down by a chronic knee injury aged 23, the local product was the first hooker in Leeds colours to win a title. His typically busy, all-action performance at Odsal in 1961 characterised his approach to the game, heeling three out of every four scrums and proving to be an 80 minute livewire in the loose. He picked up what was to become a sole cap, against France, the following season eventually succumbing to the increasing inevitable after 142 appearances. In his first cup tie, deputising for Bernard Prior in the 1958 Yorkshire Cup final, his nerveless first half performance in a narrow win over Wakefield was exemplary, his hooking skills creating three touchdowns before he bagged one for himself.
He made his debut in the aftermath of the 1957 Cup win, away at Blackpool, the first of 142 appearances. His arrival, though, was somewhat circuitous. Speaking back in 2011 ahead of the 50th anniversary of the club’s first ever Championship win, he recalled, “I went to Middleton school and played at Hunslet Juniors. They wanted to sign me up at Parkside and offered me a standard £25 of which the tax man took the first three. My brother didn’t think it was enough and said he’d pay me that much not to sign. It turned out to be wise advise but once I told them that, they wouldn’t let me play so I came up to the Juniors at Headingley. At the same time I played in a county match under Ken Traill and Dolly Dawson and only two of us were picked for the next game against Cumbria. I was asked to go play a trial at Halifax and afterwards they called me up to the boardroom and wanted to sign me. The phone rang while I was in there and it was my brother again and he told me that Headingley had been on and they wanted me. I got the bus back to City Square with Dolly, I think he lived up Headingley way at the time and put pen to paper that night.”
He joined a dressing room that was in transition but also contained a great deal of experience which made settling in easier for a youngster coming through. “Everyone was smashing, we used to go over and have a couple of pints at the Bowling Club after training and a game of snooker. Dennis was great, Russell Robins, Colin Evans, Fred Pickup and big Jack and I used to spend time together.”
The first time he crossed the whitewash in blue and amber saw him post a hat trick against Liverpool City at Headingley while his initial taste of glory was a precursor to the main event; a narrow Yorkshire Cup win in 1959 against Wakefield, at the scene of the impending ultimate triumph, Odsal. “I don’t remember a lot about that game other than I scored a try. I was switching between loose forward and hooker, I wasn’t bothered which position I played but I preferred to be in the middle of the scrum.”
It was from there, with his astonishing strike rate that denied Warrington possession – and set up the Loiners for their onslaught – that the foundation for victory in ‘61 was established, a bit different to the role now. “Obviously I think there should be contested scrums, that was an art in itself, winning the ball. It’s a bit of a joke now, to be honest, you never know where the ball is going to be put in and it all seems a bit pointless. It’s all about keeping the game flowing, I understand that, and they are all athletes. I don’t suppose any of them have got a size 18 neck like I have from putting my head in all those times and the pushing that went with it. We’d go down to training after work in our muck, I remember once George Airey stopping to pick me up in his Rolls as I walked down from the Skyrack when I had my work clothes on. I was only about 18 at the time.”
Like so many of the ’61 stalwarts, Simms is a reticent hero. Whilst they appreciated the commemoration and loved the rekindled camaraderie, as a group they are – almost to a man – shy of the limelight. “It’s lovely that people remember and the best thing for us has been meeting up with all our old mates again. My only sorrow was that Dennis Goodwin couldn’t be with us, he was one of my best friends. It was so sad that our first get together was to go to his memorial service. There are some characters among us, I was surprised to see big Jack Fairbank there, it must be about four years since I’ve last seen him and he was looking even better – and so smart, he never was usually, that was a shock.”
Perhaps the best moment of that reunion for the happy hooker of the mob, and again a complete surprise, was at the commemorative dinner when skipper Lewis Jones took the microphone and awarded his own man of the Odsal match that finally bought the silverware home. He gave a heartfelt profile of everyone of his team mates but reserved the ultimate accolade for the midfield ball getter. “The first shock was that Lewis wanted to speak. Of course there was nothing like a man of the match officially awarded in those days and I was just happily listening to him running through the team. It never occurred to me that he might be leaving me until last. It was a terrific surprise and a wonderful one, I don’t even recall at the time it was ever mentioned. On that day everything just went right for us and my main memory is of a party thrown by Jack Myerscough afterwards.”
The fickle and desperately cruel nature of sport, especially in that era, meant that in January 1964, aged just 23, he was forced to retire on medical advice. “I got a knee injury, I just kicked fresh air and in those days, unlike now, it couldn’t be repaired so that was it. I’ve had both knees done recently and I’m as right as rain now. I felt cheated but it was one of those things, I couldn’t do anything about it.”
It meant a change of tack. “I started coaching the under 18s. Jack Nelson who had been doing it moved up to join Roy Francis and we had some success, we won a Championship. The likes of Barry Seabourne was starting to come through in that team although not too many of the lads ended up turning pro.”
The thoughts and prayers of everyone at Leeds Rhinos go to Barry’s family and friend at this sad time. Barry Simms RIP.