Obituary: Bill Shankland

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FEW SPORTSMEN have achieved so much in two such contrasting sporting disciplines as Bill Shankland, who competed at the highest level as both a rugby league player and a golfer.

Born in New South Wales in 1907, Shankland played for the Glebe and Eastern Suburbs clubs in Sydney before coming to Britain on the Kangaroo tour in 1929-30. Although he had already represented Australia in rugby union and as a swimmer and a boxer, it was the start of a remarkable sporting career in what became his adopted country.

A versatile back, he played in all four Tests on that tour and later signed for Warrington. Britain was where the money was in that era of rugby league and Shankland's deal was one of the most lucrative; pounds 1,000 up front, pounds 8 for a match and pounds 6 a week wages. Rewards on that scale caused problems, he recalled later. "You can imagine what miners earning 50 bob a week thought of me getting pounds 14 just for playing rugby," he said. There was even one player who refused to pass to him. "He used to throw it over my head all the time. All I could do was get him on one side and try to tell him that he'd get a lot more winning pay if he'd give it to me properly."

The message got through, because Shankland became the centre three-quarter and captain of a successful Warrington side, which reached two Challenge Cup finals at Wembley and two Championship finals. On his first appearance at Wembley, against Huddersfield in 1933, he was drilled not to speak to the guest of honour, the future Edward VIII, unless spoken to. But, as the Prince of Wales came along the line, he greeted Shankland like an old friend and asked after his golf. "Fine, sir," he told him. "How's yours?"

All his major finals ended in defeat for Warrington and his career as a professional golfer was a similar story of near misses. Three times he came close to winning the British Open, the occasion he recalled with the most exasperation being at Hoylake in 1947, when he led the field until the 16th hole of the final round, only to land in a bunker and take a six that cost him his chance.

Even after he retired from tournament play, Shankland exerted an influence on British golf as a respected teacher of the game. As a professional at Potters Bar, he moulded the early career of a cocky young Tony Jacklin, who later acknowledged the part that Shankland's tough regime had played in putting him on his way to worldwide celebrity.

His old rugby league club also had reason to be grateful to him. It was Shankland who steered an unlikely looking Australian winger to Warrington in 1945, after Leeds had turned him down. "He just came and knocked on the door and asked if I could fix him up with a game of football. If I hadn't known his father, I might have turned him away, but I told him I thought I could." Brian Bevan became the most celebrated player in the game, scoring 796 tries in his career.

Shankland eventually retired to the Dorset coast in the Sixties, but he returned to Warrington last weekend to help the club celebrate the centenary of the Wilderspool ground.

Old friends in the town described him as having a marvellously nostalgic weekend, recalling some of his other sporting adventures, including swimming against Johnny Weissmuller, playing cricket with Don Bradman and challenging and beating a leading American baseball pitcher in a throwing contest. "I was lucky with my sport," he said. "I could do anything. I was a very athletic chap."

Dave Hadfield

William Shankland, rugby league player and golfer: born Sydney, New South Wales 25 July 1907; married Daphne Craig (deceased; three sons); died Warrington, Cheshire 8 September 1998.