As the Second World War dragged on into its sixth year, filling in the team-sheet blanks for matches in the Emergency League Competition became more and more a weekly numbers game, with S.O.Else and A.N.Other frequently pressed into service, and A.N.Y.Body standing by just in case; so one can well imagine Manager Eddie Waring’s relief when the Rugby Union trialist stand-off recommended by centre Tommy Cornelius turned up on 11th November 1944 for the game at Knowsley Road.
To field a full team was an achievement in itself, to unearth outstanding talent from time to time was a jackpot reward for persistent endeavour. A year earlier, in similar circumstances, loose-forward Ike Owens, an R.A.F. colleague of Cliff Evans, had made an electrifying impact in his very first game; so, too, did this slight, ginger-haired, 19-year-old employee of Bristol Aircraft Company, who had taken his B.Sc. at London University some five months earlier. Newsprint was scarce, the scanty match report an understatement: Easy winners by 23 points to 3, Leeds were helped considerably by an unnamed stand-off who, in addition to scoring a try, showed high promise. Quick and active, he linked so well with scrum-half Hector Gee that the two were altogether too much for the St Helens defence.
Scarcely able to believe his good fortune, Eddie Waring had no hesitation in negotiating provisional terms on the way back to Manchester, and a seven year contract was signed within the fortnight. Only then did Richard Williams shed the cloak of anonymity. Born at Mountain Ash on 16th March 1925, he had represented Welsh Schoolboys against England in 1939, and developed his natural flair for fast, flowing, open rugby with King’s College, Welsh Academicals and Bristol, dreaming perhaps from time to time of! Not now, the die was cast! Not for him paeans of melodic praise from Cardiff Arms Park’s internationally renowned choir; instead, the full-throated roars of approval from Headingley’s thronged terraces as he kindled the lamp of thrilled expectancy with his bravely incisive running and fearless stocking-top tackling.
His initiation could scarcely have been more gruelling, the depleted Loiners suffering one crushing indignity after another during 1945-46. Came 1947, however, and he was a constant source of inspiration as Frank ‘Dolly’ Dawson’s men headed down the Wembley trail with a vengeance, routing Wakefield Trinity en route by 21 points to nil in the Semi-Final, yet only to suffer the inexpressible anguish of defeat in the Final. Nor did the Yorkshire Cup offer any solace the following November, for though Dicky’s late try saved the day in the Fartown Final, Trinity won the Odsal replay by the odd point in fifteen. A Semi-Final defeat at the hands of Warrington in 1950, another against Barrow just a year later, unjust Fate never relented, leaving him with only one winner’s medal, that for the Yorkshire League Championship in 1951, to show for his nine-year stint at Headingley.
Memories, not medals! Memories of captivating, crowd-pleasing displays that still glisten like pure gold, none more so than that at Headingley on 31st December 1949 when Wigan, for all their pomp, were brought to heel in a league match by 15 points to 6. With Arthur Clues lame for the greater part of the match, Dicky took command and played the game of his life, providing the spark of genius in attack, driving the cherry-and-white backs to distraction with relentless tackling, and completely outplaying his opposite number, the great Cec Mountford. Moreover, eight weeks later, in the 2nd Round of the R.L. Cup, he put paid to the Central Park Visitors yet again, hovering in the rear at play-the-ball and then shooting up the left flank like a meteor, to score the only try of the match. Cardiff Arms Park wasn’t in it! Headingley’s 37,144 raised the roof! As for his courage, I can see him now at Odsal, toppling twice his- size Frank Whitcombe: the subsidence was considerable; survival, a miracle of perfect timing!
Recognition at Test level was only a matter of time, following a superb performance for Wales against New Zealand at Swansea in October 1947. True, he had to wait another twelve months before facing up to the 1948 Kangaroos at Swinton and Odsal, but thereafter was the undisputed No 6 for a time, missing only one Test out of five on the 1950 Tour and, playing in all three against the New Zealand tourists in 1951, the latter two as captain.
Then it was, however, in December 1951, that Dicky returned from a Wales v Other Nationalities international at Abertillery with a knee condition that two orthopaedic specialists had no hesitation in diagnosing as ‘a cartilage’. Had he agreed to an immediate operation, he would possibly have been back in action within ten weeks at the most; as it was, the joint locked solid in a Doncaster match at Headingley and recovery from delayed surgery was inordinately slow, limiting him to just nineteen below-par appearances over the next eighteen months. Even so, but for his unwillingness even to consider a brief spell in the ‘A’ team, in a bid to regain fitness and confidence, his transfer to Hunslet on 5th December 1953, for a fee of £1,000, would never have been entertained for a moment.
The outcry from uninformed, irate supporters was understandable; the sequel, as so frequently happens in sport, appeared to be a reflection on management folly, for within a matter of months Dicky was appointed captain of the 1954 Australasian Tour party and proceeded to play with distinction in three of the Tests. Nor had the Parkside club any regrets, for he served them well, making 44 appearances before bowing out in 1956 to make way for Brian Gabbitas.
Employed in the City’s Engineering Department at the Civic Hall, prior to taking up a lecturing appointment at the College of Technology, Dicky is now living in retirement at West Park. Rare as his visits are to the scene of his former glories, his place on Headingley’s Roll of Honour is untarnished by time.