Steve Pitchford

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Born under Aquarius, Steve Pitchford first saw the light of day on 6th February 1952, even as news of the death of King George VI was being flashed to all quarters of the globe and Princess Elizabeth was flying home from Kenya for her Accession. Schooled initially at South Accommodation Road and Swarcliffe, he enrolled at Foxwood when his parents moved from the Hunslet area to Seacroft, and there it was that his love for rugby was fostered, albeit at Union, by schoolmaster John Davies, the Leeds second-rower, who was destined to meet such a tragic and untimely death whilst playing in Dewsbury’s colours at Crown Flatt.

Delighted to pack away his schoolbooks for good, yet no less determined to make his bid to emulate ‘Sir’, Steve was given every encouragement at Headingley’s Summer School, Joe Warham’s coaching staff putting him through his paces before channelling his undoubted potential into the Intermediates. Nor did the Club have any hesitation in taking him on the register in 1969, their faith being vindicated by a highly satisfactory 1st team debut against Featherstone Rovers in Aprill970, followed in only his second game by an absolutely storming display in the 2nd Round of the Yorkshire Cup at Wheldon Road, his fire and controlled aggression inspiring a scratch side to unexpected heights and a famous victory by 14 points to 7.

Yet, well as he had played, apart from an unbroken ten-match stint in 1971-72, patience became the name of the game, and that surely is the one game that has rarely, if ever, appealed to exuberant youth. Steve was no exception. Yearning for recognition, but doomed, it seemed, to spend eternity and a day as an ‘A’ team apprentice, he was on the outside looking in for the vast majority of 1st team games over a period of four seasons, and never once so much as a sub in a Final. And there were plenty of those, in all conscience, the Loiners featuring in nine and winning six of them, with the No 10 berth more or less monopolised by experience in the shape of Terry Clawson, Bill Ramsey, David Jeanes, Geoff Clarkson, as well as hooker Tony Fisher on occasions.

One can well imagine, therefore, his mounting frustration when Mervyn Hicks, another old campaigner, was signed in April ’74. By this time, ‘Don’t fret, your chance will come’ was wearing a bit thin. Named to take over from the injured Hicks for the visit of Warrington on 14th September 1974, Steve set his stall out from the very first whistle: putting his opposite number, Brian Brady, under pressure in the tight; stealing Dave Chisnall’s thunder in the loose; and earning his winning bonus (besides bringing the house down!) with a crunching, death-or-glory crash tackle on John Bevan, even as the Welsh international winger was pounding for the line.

He’d come to stay this time all right! Retaining his place on merit for 27 consecutive matches, and making 38 appearances in all, whatever pangs he may have felt when Warrington barred the way to Wembley in a Central Park Semi-Final, St Helens were the ones to suffer the backlash in the Premiership Final, he and his young front-row partners, 21-year-old David Ward and Roy Dickinson, a mere 18, settling the hash of John Mantle, Tony Karalius and John War low, as the prelude to an inspired team performance.

Indeed had the game been staged just a few weeks earlier there can be little doubt that 23-year old Steve would have been included in England’s World Championship squad. A solid sixteen stones and squat with it, there was no holding the miller from Barnbow now! Turning out tank components during the week, on match days he roared into action like a Chieftain, generating tremendous power and riding roughshod over all and sundry. Never more so than in the 1977 Challenge Cup Final, with the mighty Widnes pack at a loss to hold him in check, and the Lance Todd Trophy awarded for one of the finest prop-forward displays ever witnessed at Wembley. Nor was that all, for apart from the winner’s medal to set alongside two more from the Yorkshire Cup Finals of ’75 and ’76, he was drafted into Great Britain’s World Cup squad as a late replacement for Warrington’s Tommy Martyn, and acquitted himself well, playing in all four games and scoring in the Sydney Final.

In his pomp as good a blind-side prop, week in, week out, as there was in the game, it is more than a little surprising that just a couple of games in Yorkshire’s colours in 1978 completed his tally of representative honours. At club level, however, despite the Loiners’ star being on the wane, he rallied to the cause to play his part in four more Finals: the Wembley classic, versus Saints, in 1978; the Premiership against Bradford Northern at Fartown in 1979 and the Yorkshire Cup encounters with Halifax and Hull Kingston Rovers in 1979 and 1980. That they were all won, like his four earlier Finals, almost goes without saying.

Of course, had it not been for that perverse crossbar in a Semi-Final at Station Road, he would have been on parade at Wembley for a third time in May 1982. As it was, Dame Fortune dealt him an even more cruel personal blow five months later, a broken right arm, sustained against Hull at The Boulevard, virtually putting paid to his career, for he had scarcely resumed playing the following March before there was a recurrence of the self-same injury at Headingley in the Castleford match. Even so, reluctant to hang up his boots, he came out of retirement briefly to give Bramley the benefit of his experience, making twenty appearances in 1984-85 and a further three in 1985-86.