Big interview - Henderson Gill

Henderson Gill
Henderson Gill

MIKE Ford sends the ball to Brett Kenny, a looping pass from the Australian finds David Stephenson and then Henderson Gill is away.

He shrugs off Hull’s Peter Sterling in his own half before slipping through a desperate tackle attempt from Gary Kemble uncomfortably close to the touchline – no one will catch him.

It is the 1985 Challenge Cup Final between Wigan and Hull and Gill’s try before half-time has given his side a 16-8 lead.

Recalling one of the most exciting tries Wembley had ever seen, Gill said: “I felt on top of the world – It was one of the greatest feelings I’ve ever had. It made it even better because it was in a Challenge Cup Final.”

Gill had moved to Wigan in 1981 from Rochdale Hornets and had played in 1984’s 19-6 Wembley loss to Widnes.

But the mood in the camp the following year was different, and Gill had a feeling the outcome this time would also be different.

“We set off to Wembley about three or four days before the final,” he said.

“The feeling in the camp was just of excitement. It was pretty much a similar build-up to what we’d had for any other game we’d played because we always trained with an early morning session the day before a match as well.

“I remember Wigan started those a long time ago so the day before the game we always had a light session.

“Everything was going well we were looking good in training. I think what made it even better was the fact we’d been the year before and failed so it wasn’t like it was new to us. We knew what it was going to be like down there and we knew what we had to do to get it right.”

Gill had a hard upbringing in Huddersfield during the1960s when racial tension was rife.

“There were bars and clubs in Huddersfield which we couldn’t go to,” he said.

“They just wouldn’t let us in! We’d have regular fights against the skinheads. We’d come out of clubs and have to walk home in groups of two or three, to keep safe.”

But the upbringing moulded him so that even in his early days was never a bread and butter rugby player.

His gift for shimmying out of tackles and instinctive reading of a split-second situation got him noticed by the Wigan directors while he was playing for Rochdale.

But even before then his career very nearly withered away.

Gill takes up the story: “I started at Bradford and I left there after my first knee injury. I didn’t think I was getting the chance I deserved at Bradford and as a young lad you start to lose faith.

“I think it was when the great Australia side came over in 1979, I’d always heard about Ian Schubert, this great Australian winger, and I was looking forward to playing against him at Odsal.

“But I got dropped to 16th man for that game and after that my days at Bradford were numbered really.

“I had the operation on my knee and I got fed up really. I cut the bandage off myself, I took the stitches out myself and I thought, well I’ll build my leg back up my way.

“Then I just didn’t go back Bradford. I was about to quit the game and Rochdale Hornets came. They encouraged me to come back into the game.”

Gill only needed a season at second division Rochdale before Wigan, a club which had just been promoted back to the top flight itself, took note of the obvious talents at his disposal.

He made a try-scoring debut on October 11 1981 in a 20-15 loss to Barrow but Gill knew his career was about to take an upward curve.

“Wigan had seen me and I’d scored a couple of tries against a Wigan A team and I must have demoralised them,” said Gill.

But the move wasn’t easy for Gill, as his experiences at the Hornets were so different to the bitter fall-out he experienced at Odsal.

For the full interview, see this week’s Wigan Observer