Obituary: Alan Prescott

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The Independent Culture
ALAN PRESCOTT will forever be remembered for one of the most conspicuous acts of bravery seen in sport. Playing through injury is one thing, but carrying on with an arm broken in the third minute of a rugby league Test against Australia is the stuff of legends.

Prescott was the captain of the 1958 tour to Australia and had already led his side to defeat in the first Test in Sydney, making the second, on 5 July in Brisbane, vitally important if Great Britain were to win the series.

Prescott recalled later that he had shattered his arm when it struck the head of the Australian forward, Rex Mossop. "It went numb and I knew it was broken," he said. But, such was the importance that the side attached to the game, he never considered going off and leaving his side short- handed; this was, of course, long before the days of substitutes.

A team-mate, Dave Bolton, had no choice but to go off with a broken collar- bone, and three other players were badly hurt during the first half of what became known as the Battle of Brisbane. At half-time, the Australian doctor on duty in the dressing rooms insisted that Prescott must come off, but he was having none of it, his determination to carry on all the more remarkable for a man playing in the most physically punishing of positions at prop forward.

The Great Britain manager that day was Tom Mitchell (who died earlier this month). He wrote that Prescott swapped places in the scrum to try to protect his broken right arm, but otherwise tried to carry on as though nothing had happened.

"He gathered the ball, he ran, he dictated the pattern of play and he tackled well with his good arm," Mitchell recorded. "Only those present at the game had any idea of the man's naked courage."

With Prescott there to hold them together, Great Britain hung on to win 25-18. Two weeks later, with one arm in a sling and the other holding aloft the Ashes trophy, he was carried shoulder-high around the ground in Sydney after they won the third and deciding Test 40-17.

Mitchell, knowing of Prescott's precarious health, left a tribute to him before his own death, talking of his "selfless sacrifice for his team and country, unequalled in any sport anywhere in the world".

Alongside a story like that, many careers would fade into insignificance by comparison, but Prescott's was a fine one, even without the heroism of Brisbane.

He began as a winger in junior rugby in his home town of Widnes and it was in that role that he joined Halifax, his first professional club, in 1945. They converted him into a loose forward, but it was St Helens who turned him into a prop.

In an era where size was often considered more important than speed to a front-rower, the compact Prescott - despite his powerful presence on the field, he was only 5ft 10in - stood out as an exception. His unusual pace made him a prolific try-scorer for a prop forward.

His most memorable performance for Saints came in the Challenge Cup final against Halifax at Wembley in 1956, when his running set up one try and later brought him one of his own in a 13-2 victory. That day, he won the game's highest individual award, the Lance Todd Trophy, as the man of the match.

Prescott won the first of his 28 Great Britain caps in 1951 and in 1956 became the first forward to captain the national side. After retiring from playing, he became St Helens' coach, although players in his charge found that, contrary to his ferocious reputation on the field, he was perhaps a little too easy- going to make the same success of that role.

Although in other sports Prescott would have been feted for the rest of his life, he dropped out of the public eye. Earlier this year, his son, Tony, appealed for news of the whereabouts of his memorabilia, including his international caps, cup-winners' medals and his Lance Todd Trophy, all of which had disappeared.

"In the past, he told me all of his collection had been stolen, but I suspect he may have sold them and, to maintain some pride, would not tell me."

Alan Prescott, rugby league player: born Widnes, Cheshire 17 June 1927; (two sons); died Wigan 20 September 1998.