Club historian Alex Service recalls a famous night in 1971 with bizarrely a near identical ending to that of 2020…
Friday night’s incredible scenario made me think of two last gasp finishes for major finals: 2002 [Long’s drop goal] and the 1971 Championship Final, on a gorgeous sunny afternoon against Wigan at Station Road, Swinton. I was there for both. In fact, there are certain parallels with the 1971 final in particular.
Saints were struggling in the 1971 clash with 12 men on the field after John Mantle was sent off. We were facing a 6-12 deficit with five minutes to go before Saints worked an opening on the left for Bob Blackwood to go in at the corner. Kel Coslett’s conversion is the finest of his career, in my opinion, but still a point in arrears and only something special could win it for the Saints.
With the game tied at 12 a piece, and a minute to go, John Walsh attempted to kick a drop goal, which he sliced to the right. Stuart Wright on the Wigan wing was deceived by the bounce and right centre Billy Benyon, following up caught it and scored, with Wright clinging on to him desperately on the line.
Naturally there were claims for offside by the Wigan contingent, but we were watching in line from the Main Stand Paddock and it did seem as though Benyon was on side and had naturally followed up the kick. I do believe that if the scenario had been scrutinised by the dreaded Video Referee there would not be much in it.
Part of their disappointment was that Wigan, led by second-rower Bill Ashurst had dominated the game. I always remember Geoff Pimblett telling me that “Ashurst kicked us to death.” But another engaging parallel in 1971…Wigan full-back Colin Tyrer was ‘off’ with his kicking…I think he missed four in the first half…which could have otherwise been a bridge too far for the Saints.
They called Billy the ‘One Armed Bandit’ after that, as he was struggling with a shoulder injury for most of the game.
So there we have it, from Billy Benyon to Jack Welsby – what great memories! And Wigan beaten in a major final.
Funny how things work out.