Rugby League: Crompton's rise from penury to prominence

Dave Hadfield talks to Salford's fulcrum, who has exchanged the scrapheap for tomorrow's Rugby League Challenge Cup semi-final
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The Independent Online
FEW CHARACTERS in the game illustrate the ups and downs of the full-time rugby player's life better than Martin Crompton.

Crompton plays for Salford in the Challenge Cup semi-final against Sheffield Eagles tomorrow, but the other side of the coin is still fresh in his mind; the time when rugby league offered him no income and, it seemed, no prospects.

The captain of the Oldham Bears was one of the main victims of their collapse at the end of last season. They had no money to pay him and the Rugby League was reluctant to make him, and others in the same situation, a free agent.

"It was putting a tremendous strain on the family," Crompton says. "My wife was expecting our second child and there was no money coming in. I was managing to pay the mortgage, but it was money I'd put aside for a rainy day."

It was not just raining, it was pouring down and Crompton felt that the players were being left without an umbrella.

"We didn't seem to be getting much help from the Rugby League. They should have stepped in and sorted it out," he says. "Once the club was unable to pay us, it should have been a case of helping us to move somewhere where they could."

Some, including the then Oldham chairman, Jim Quinn, have since said that it was paying the players too well that contributed to the club's demise. Crompton, however, views it differently. "You can blame the players, but it's a short career and if someone offers you twice as much as you've made before, you're going to accept it," he says.

"Besides, the average contract at Oldham was only around pounds 20,000. Players had given up jobs paying pounds 15,000 or so to go full time and you have to make it worth their while. If you can't do that, you're in a business you shouldn't be."

Crompton became so disillusioned that he considered retiring at 28. Around the same time, he did bring down the curtain on his Great Britain prospects by leaving a training camp - reputedly to go fishing - when he was not selected in the Test side.

It is an episode he dislikes harking back to now. "But I'm old enough to make my own decisions and I'd make the same decision again," he says. "I'm still involved in international rugby as captain of Ireland - something that means a great deal to me."

Crompton was within minutes of signing for Halifax when Salford stepped in, since when the upturn in his fortunes has been spectacular.

It was a signing that raised a few eyebrows. After all, Salford already had two specialist scrum-halves and were in negotiation for another they eventually enlisted, London Broncos' Josh White.

It looked like a return to the often frustrating days when Crompton had to fight for his place at Wigan - not that he was worried. "I've never been afraid of competition," he says. "That's what keeps you on your toes."

However, Andy Gregory, the Salford coach, has solved the problem by playing Crompton at loose forward and now, three months after being one step from the dole office, he is one step from Wembley, where he played for Warrington in their defeat by Wigan in 1990.

"Semi-finals are decided by whether the lads can treat it as a normal match," he says. "Players put themselves under so much pressure by thinking about Wembley. But Andy Gregory is very good at taking the pressure off you. He knows when to be serious and when to have a joke. I wish I'd played for him when I was 17."