Obituary: Gus Risman

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Augustus John Ferdinand Risman, rugby league footballer: born Cardiff 21 March 1911; married (two sons); died Workington 17 October 1994.

ONLY his fellow-countryman Jim Sullivan comes close to matching the combination of longevity and personal achievement in the game of rugby league which marked the career of Gus Risman.

Risman spent 27 seasons in the sport after joining Salford from rugby union in his native Cardiff - he went to the same school in Tiger Bay as another rugby league legend, Billy Boston - shortly before his 18th birthday.

Already a player of great quality and maturity at either centre or full-back, he was instrumental in helping Salford become a dominant force in the game during the 1930s.

Although he scored over 2,000 points in his 427 games for the side that became known as the Red Devils long before that name was applied to their football neighbours at Manchester United, he was even more renowned for the way his intelligent play created opportunities for others.

In 1946, he became the captain- coach of the recently established Workington Town club. In the course of becoming an adopted Cumbrian, he steered Workington to the Championship in 1951 and a Challenge Cup in 1952, to add to the one he had won with Salford in 1938. That second Wembley victory came at the age of 41 - a record unlikely to be overhauled.

He had also won three Championships at Salford and moved to Batley to end his career in 1954. When he retired, he had established career records which place him second in terms of appearances with 873, third in terms of points scored with 4,052 and fifth in terms of goal kicked with 1,678. The citation when he became one of only four living players to be inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame in 1988 reads: 'His monumental record, coupled with an exemplary demeanour on the field, made Risman one of the sport's most revered figures.'

Monumental as his record was at club level, it is probably as a Great Britain international that Gus Risman will be even more vividly remembered.

It is ironic that he should have died on the eve of an Ashes series, because he had the unique record of facing Australia in five series without ever losing the Ashes.

He played in the home series in 1933 and 1937 and toured with the Lions in 1932, 1936 and 1946. On that last tour, he captained the party which became known as the Indomitables - after the aircraft carrier that took them to Australia - at the age of 35, another record.

Settling in Cumbria after the end of his playing days, Risman began something of a rugby dynasty. His elder son, Bev, was a dual international in union and league and now heads the Student Rugby League, whilst John also had a long league career which included playing for Wales.

Increasingly frail in later years, Risman was able to reflect that he too had become a dual international, albeit through the back- door provided by the wartime relaxation between the codes. He captained Wales in five wartime rugby union internationals, midway through a league career that brought him 17 Great Britain caps and 18 for Wales and earned him a permanent place in its annals.

(Photograph omitted)