Alan Buckley: Swinton rugby league centre

In the early to mid-1960s, when Swinton briefly had the best rugby league team in Britain, they rejoiced in a three-quarter line that sounded as though it was named with its purpose in life in mind. John Speed and Bobby Fleet spoke for themselves, while John Stopford, quite apart from his own heavy try-scoring, could have been christened for his ability to halt opponents. Alan Buckley might have had the least resonant surname of the four, but he stood out as the quality player even in that company.

Buckley was born in the Ardwick area of Manchester, and played his first rugby under union rules for Broughton Park. In 1959, however, at the age of 18, he signed for Swinton Lions, making his first-team début the following January in a 5-0 victory over Barrow. He had established himself as first-choice centre by the end of the 1959-60 season, which Swinton finished a creditable eighth place in the single division in operation at the time.

The sense that Buckley was something special really began to take hold the following season, with a brilliant overhead pass to Stopford that clinched a Lancashire Cup quarter-final victory at the home of the Lions' local rivals, Salford. Swinton went on to reach the final at Wigan's Central Park, losing 15-9 to St Helens.

They did not finish the season empty-handed, however, winning the Lancashire League Trophy as the highest-placed club west of the Pennines. It was Swinton's first post-war trophy, but a long way from being their last.

Buckley missed almost all of the 1961-62 season following major shoulder surgery. The issue that season was for Swinton, ardent opponents of the split into two divisions, to finish in the top half and earn a place in Division One. They managed it, and again reached the Lancashire Cup final – only to lose to St Helens once more – but their league form was poor enough to raise fears of relegation.

Then came the famous Big Freeze. With no rugby for almost two months, it was an invaluable opportunity for the team to regroup. From the low point of a mere 11 points from 13 games, the Lions went on a run of 17 victories in a row, with Buckley's skills at centre a vital component in their success. Victory at Widnes clinched the Division One title, which Swinton eventually won by a handsome six-point margin.

Perhaps even more remarkable was the way Swinton, no longer sneaking under other clubs' radar, defended the title successfully in 1963-64. It was a memorable season for Buckley personally, bringing him his débuts for Lancashire and for Great Britain.

The first of his seven Test caps was won in the infamous Battle of Headingley, in 1963, which Great Britain won after two heavy defeats by Australia in a series more notable for its violence than its rugby. Buckley played alongside Stopford in a 16-5 win and also appeared against France in Perpignan that season.

On the club scene, his undoubted highlight was the match against Salford in April 1964 when he scored a club record-equalling five tries, all before half-time. In his club history, The Lions of Swinton (1999), Stephen Wild recalls that Buckley could easily have set a new record after the break "but he unselfishly passed on a simple opportunity to lay a try on a plate for Ken Gowers". Buckley had the classic centre's virtue of taking as much pleasure from tries created as from tries scored, and the vast majority of those claimed by the prolific Stopford emanated from him.

After those two magical seasons, Swinton were never to touch such heights again. There was another Lancashire Cup final defeat by St Helens in 1965, before the elusive trophy was finally won in 1969. Buckley was leading try-scorer in both seasons and it was his break in the final at Central Park that produced the crucial try in an 11-2 win over Leigh.

Swinton had remained a major force, as evidenced by their club-record four players – Buckley, Stopford, Gowers and Dave Robinson – on the 1966 tour to Australia and New Zealand. Buckley was first choice at centre, playing in three of the five Tests and missing the other two through injury.

For his only professional club he played on until 1974, postponing retirement in order to try to help Swinton regain their place in the top-flight after the reintroduction of two divisions. He played a total of 467 times for Swinton, fifth in their all-time records, scoring 192 tries, a total bettered by only three players.

A draughtsman during his playing days, he was later well known as the landlord of a pub near Swinton's Station Road ground where he had done so much of his best work.

Dave Hadfield

Alan Buckley, rugby league player: born Manchester 23 October 1941; married (one son, one daughter); died Manchester 12 March 2008.

Travel
travel
Arts and Entertainment
The cast of The Big Bang Theory in a still from the show
tvBig Bang Theory filming delayed by contract dispute over actors' pay
Sport
England celebrate a wicket for Moeen Ali
sportMoeen Ali stars with five wickets as Cook's men level India series
News
Morrissey pictured in 2013
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Voices
A family sit and enjoy a quiet train journey
voicesForcing us to overhear dull phone conversations is an offensive act, says Simon Kelner
News
peopleGuitarist, who played with Aerosmith, Lou Reed and Alice Cooper among others, was 71
Travel
travel
News
Robyn Lawley
people
News
people
News
i100  ... he was into holy war way before it was on trend
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmThe film is surprisingly witty, but could do with taking itself more seriously, says Geoffrey Macnab
News
people
Life and Style
food + drinkVegetarians enjoy food as much as anyone else, writes Susan Elkin
Life and Style
lifeDon't get caught up on climaxing
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

MS Dynamics NAV Developer

£45000 - £50000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: **MS Dynamics N...

Data Analytics Manager

competitive: Progressive Recruitment: My client who are a leading organisation...

1st line call logger/ User access administrator

£9 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Warrington a...

Shine Night Walk 2014 - 'On the night' volunteer roles

Unpaid Voluntary Work : Cancer Research UK: We need motivational volunteers to...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

Spanx launches range of jeans

The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
10 best over-ear headphones

Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

Commonwealth Games

David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star