ALAN TROTT, aged just 22, had only been married for three months when his rugby career ended.
Alan, over 6ft 1ins and 17 stones, was playing prop forward for Dewsbury Celtic in a Challenge Cup qualifying game against Lock Lane from Castleford. A whole-hearted player picked for the Huddersfield District side as an under 19, he was knocked out twice.
He had also played for Westtown Boys and Heath Rangers before Celtic.
“They were different times,” said his close rugby friend, Sam Morton. “It was the old ‘magic sponge’ and you got on with it.”
Alan finished the game, but developed a blood clot and collapsed. He would spend 10 months in hospital during which time his wife Margaret gave birth to a baby son, Richard.
In a tragic start to their life together, their baby boy died before he was six months old. But for the next 49 years – their wedding anniversary would have been this week – Margaret was Alan’s constant carer.
“Obviously everything changed after that,” she said. “But not Alan, not really. He was still the same man I loved and married. He was so laid back, he looked the same, he had the same humour. He was still my Alan.”
Alan Trott suffered a stroke at the family home in Heckmondwike, on Sunday August 11th and was rushed to hospital but never regained consciousness. He passed away with Margaret and their daughter Sharon by his bedside.
His funeral was on Wednesday at St James Church, Heckmondwike.
Margaret took comfort from how Alan passed away. “He hadn’t fallen or hurt himself. The one thing we both wanted was that I didn’t go first, that Alan be left alone.”
Although he spent most of his life in a wheelchair, Sam Morton recalled how Alan gave himself five years to get back walking.
“He was determined to walk again,” said Sam. “We used to pick him up and take him to training – we used what was the new gym then at St John Fisher school, and Alan would do exercises.”
This was long before the medical advances current patients have access to.
“One night I was with Alan in the car and he simply said to me, ‘that’s it Sam, don’t come for me any more. My five years is up’.
“When you think, nearly 50 years … it’s been remarkable,” Sam added. “It’s been a pleasure and an honour to be his friend.”
In recent years the Rugby League’s benevolent fund has been a source of both financial and physical help for victims like Alan Trott, and another Celtic player David Roebuck, who was left a quadraplegic in 1982.
Both men shared one similar fate – no financial safety net from the sport itself. While the rugby community rallied magnificently to David’s plight, Alan’s case was radically different.
“I wrote to every club in the country,” said Sam, “asking for whatever little help they could give. There was ten bob here, a guinea there, but the response was poor, especially from local clubs.”
An unlikely ally came in the shape of the St Helens club, one of the biggest names in the game who put on a social evening. The Celtic lads went across in a minibus and mingled with their stars, men like Cliff Watson and Tommy Bishop, Tony Karalius – he sold raffle tickets – and the great South African winger Tom Van Vollenhoven.
The Saints board handed over a £250 cheque – at a time when £20 was a good wage. Tom Van Vollenhoven even organised a collection at his benefit match, which raised £191.
Sam, who was the curator at the Rugby League Heritage Centre in Huddersfield, recalled an event when Van Vollenhoven came back from South Africa for the final time. `Sam took Alan, plus all-time RL great, Mick Sullivan, to the event.
“Tom went straight to Alan, as soon as he saw him,” said Sam. “It was really touching. He remembered him instantly.”
Margaret paid tribute to all the help the family have received over the years.
“The Celtic lads and his rugby friends never forgot Alan, they’ve been there over the years. And lately the Benevolent Fund has been a great help to us.
“Alan loved his trips to Wembley, and that was a break for me too. It always gave Alan something to talk about. No words can say how much the support of his rugby friends has meant to us.”
By Danny Lockwood