MY dad, former Saints and Warrington halfback Alan Gwilliam passed away recently at the age of 71.

He had been in ill health for a few years and finally succumbed on 7 May 2021. Admitted to Whiston Hospital on April 24 he was diagnosed with sepsis, ‘Gwilly’ was only given a few days to live, but always being a fighter, Dad defied medical experts and managed to hold on for a further two weeks.

In a year that has seen so much sadness, separation and death for everyone across the country it's difficult to put Dad’s journey into context as no life is worth more than any other.

Thankfully, Covid played no part in his death, I was lucky enough to be able to see him every day and fortunately have a platform from which I can tell dad’s story.

My utmost sympathies go out to all those who suffered loss and were unable to see loved ones in their final days.

Warrington Guardian:

Dad’s professional career spanned 11 years and 200 appearances for two of the biggest clubs in rugby league and although it was not as trophy-laden as his talent deserved, ‘Gwilly’ left a lasting impression on every teammate, opposition player and fan who supported him from the terraces.

Warrington Guardian:

From left, Alan Gwilliam with Paul Ford and Ken Kelly at a Warrington Wolves Players' Association dinner in 2017. Picture: Mike Boden

The younger brother of Ken, Alan had captained England at 19 before signing for St Helens from Blackbrook ARLFC, the breeding ground for so many great players, in September 1971 before moving on to Warrington in 1976. Brought up in O’ Sullivan Crescent, Dad lived on the same street as the Blackbrook playing fields and would remain connected to the club for the rest of his life.

At Blackbrook, he would forge lifelong friendships, raise a family and after coaching stints with Warrington, Parkside and Culcheth would return as coach of Blackbrook Royals in the late ’90s.

Alongside Ste Peters it was a role he cherished, together they built one of the best junior rugby teams Blackbrook has ever produced.

Under his guidance a team full of local lads, including my two younger brothers and future St Helens greats James Graham and James Roby, Gwilly’s Blackbrook Royals would go on to completely dominate their respective age groups, consistently winning everything for the next 5 years.

Warrington Guardian:

This was not a one-off either his time at Parkside with Kevin Thompson during the ’80s had also been a huge success. Throughout the miners strike, Dad’s Parkside team became a beacon of light for the workers, their families and the local community. When the government of the time where throwing generations of coal miners on the scrap heap, Parkside Colliery’s amateur rugby league club gave them a purpose and sense of belonging. Dad managed to harness the anger, rage and passion contained within the town to propel Parkside from the depths of the lower divisions of the North West Counties League, through several promotions, eventually leading them to the first Premier Division title in the club's history.

> Read more about Alan Gwilliam's playing career

A bricklayer by trade Dad’s love for the underdog always shone through, he was drawn to those he felt had been unfairly treated, maligned or left behind. He worked for a time in Liverpool where he taught YTS courses in bricklaying to school leavers and young people aged 16-17, some of whom had lost their way. He aimed to knock down class barriers and show everyone that no matter where you came from if you put your mind to it and worked hard you could achieve absolutely anything.

Whether that be the youngsters of Liverpool with few prospects, the persecuted miners of Parkside Colliery, the men affected by the justice system who played for him at Culcheth or the working-class kids from his very own neighbourhood. Dad fought for and with them giving them a belief that allowed them to achieve successes that may have otherwise eluded them.

A near 50-year friendship with former Saint Tony Atherton was also a testament to Dads character. Tony suffered a sickening head injury during a match for Saints A-Team in 1975 an injury that almost ended his life.

The damage was so serious Tony needed a 3-hour operation and was even given his last rites. Throughout his recovery Dad remained by Tony’s side helping and encouraging him, even naming me, Anthony Philip after him.

Yet despite suffering partial paralysis Tony recovered from his life-threatening injuries and would always attribute the help and support dad gave him as key to his successful rehabilitation. They would remain close friends for the rest of their lives.

Married to Margaret for 50 years Dad was first and foremost a family man with a wicked sense of humour and an extremely soft centre. I remember being aged around 8 when for some reason Dad was desperate for me to try Muesli at breakfast.

Warrington Guardian:

He would ask me every day for weeks and weeks to give it a go. Because I didn't like the raisins I would always refuse, constantly shouting back ‘I don’t like raisins dad!’ he never took the hint.

One morning I came down and decided that to shut dad up I should probably try this muesli for breakfast.

So with dad's nagging ringing in my ears, I carefully poured the muesli into my bowl and as I added the milk I discovered that all of the raisins had been taken out.

In 1989 with 4 children to provide for Dad and Mum began training for brand new careers as publicans and were given The Nags Head pub in Irlam, Manchester. At the same time, Dad was offered a coaching position at Salford, but always one to put his family first he turned the Reds down in order to provide more security for us. It would prove to be his last chance at a career in professional rugby league.

The outpouring of love and support from the Rugby League community that our family has received since the news of Dad’s passing has been overwhelming. From the fans who watched him to the players who knew him, the stories you have told have been a joy to hear.

Even the ones we can’t repeat, usually involving team trips to Blackpool or Wembley. We are so happy to share Dad with all of you and the fact he meant so much to so many has given us a lot of comfort, strength and just as importantly an awful lot of laughs.

Warrington Guardian:

Reunion of the 1978 Wire team that defeated Australia at Wilderspool. From left, back, Brian Case, Ian Potter, Steve Price, Mike Nicholas, George Thornton, former chairman of Warrington Players' Association; Eddie Hunter, Steve Hesford, John Whittaker. Front, Derek Finnigan and Alan Gwilliam.

We would also like to thank Whiston Hospital and all the staff on Ward 3D who went above and beyond to make Dad's last few days so comfortable.

I was lucky to have a Dad who in my darkest hours and lowest ebbs was there for me with the odd pearl of wisdom or wisecrack that cut right to the heart of the matter.

During one of my many teenage strops, I was struggling to find some direction. Somewhat dramatically I told Dad I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life. Quickly and succinctly he replied that instead of trying to make a living, why not just try to make a difference and while the teenage me attempted to decipher this potentially life-changing piece of advice, Dad smiled enigmatically, turned back around and just continued to watch his horse racing.

As I held his hand I remembered those moments, celebrated his successes and praised his achievements.

Then as he drifted away I was able to tell him that he was the toughest, funniest and most loving man I had ever known.

He was my hero. My Inspiration. But most of all he was my Dad.