Wire fan Stanski's personal reflection on a man who made his debut for The Wire 50 years ago today

THE year was 1969 and man had landed on the Moon

'Je t’aime… moi non plus' by Jane Birkin and Serge Gainsbourg became the first banned number one single in the UK.

And 50 years ago today - October 10, 1969 - an 'Australian' superstar made his debut for The Wire.

His name...Bobby Fulton.

The chairman of Warrington, Walter Challinor, had took everyone by surprise at the shareholders annual general meeting in July when he said: “Our secretary has been on the phone to Australia with a view to obtaining a leading international rugby player.

"This morning we have had a cable from the Australian club to which he is attached, telling us what insurances they would need to be covered by if he plays for us.

"We are hoping that the player will be playing for us in a few weeks' time.”

Warrington Guardian:

Bobby Fulton preparing for his debut in Wire colours

Fulton was actually born in Stockton Heath in December, 1947, before his parents, Mr and Mrs George Fulton, took him to live in Australia when he was only three – taking up their government's offering of a £10 one-way ticket!

The Fultons settled for a familiar type of town in unfamiliar surroundings.

Wollongong in New South Wales was dominated by a steelworks, and surrounded by coal mines, in a rugby mad area.

He signed for Manly-Warringah at 16, making his debut at 18, and settled in a club that promised loads of football and surf.

He took over as captain two years later to be the youngest top-class skipper in the Sydney premier competition.

Operating at either centre or stand-off, Fulton had speed, balance, sleek footwork and a sixth sense of what was to happen.

He could also handle the rough stuff, so he was the complete package.

There was public outrage when he failed to make the 1967 Kangaroos squad.

Did the selectors think he wasn’t among the best 26 in the country, or did they not like his brash attitude?

One thing is certain, they never made the same mistake again, as he became a World Cup winner in 1968 and here he was coming back to Warrington, as a guest of the club.

It felt like the prodigal son was returning.

Arriving here on the Monday, and training the same night, he was keen to wear the white jersey with primrose and blue bands.

His debut was to be at Wilderspool at home to Salford.

The Warrington RL club had fallen on hard times, since the glory days of the 1950s, and was languishing six places off the bottom in a 30-team league, while Salford were riding high near the top.

Already out of two competitions, the Lancashire Cup and BBC2 Floodlight Trophy, coach Joe Egan was trying to find the right combination, with 27 players having already been used and the season was not yet two months old.

Recent signings had included Bill Pattinson, an under-24 international loose-forward from Workington, Paul Taylor an Australian centre from Cronulla, and just the week before full-back Derek Whitehead was finally captured from Oldham.

The expectation was there, and a crowd of 9,450 assembled, more than double the season’s average.

It took Warrington only a couple of minutes to get on the scoresheet.

Jones intercepted in midfield, and as play moved left Hughes sent Cannon racing between two defenders from 20 yards out.

Salford went into the lead after 14 minutes when hooker Harrison lost the ball deep into Salford territory, and flipped it into the hands of Dixon.

Stuart Whitehead took a poor pass, but made 50 yards, before sending winger Burgess on to cut inside to score, with McInnes converting.

At 3-5 that’s how the score stood until six minutes after the interval. Substitute Gwilliam, who a few minutes earlier had come on for McInnes, lost possession from a scrum.

Taylor was quickly on to it, and as he was challenged he flicked the ball overhead to Fulton in support, to go in for his debut try. Whitehead added the extras.

Three minutes later Smethurst was penalised in a tackle on Taylor 40 yards out on the right, and Whitehead put over a lovely kick to gave The Wire a five-point lead.

With their tails up Warrington kept on pressing.

Fulton sent Whitehead away down the right. He got in his pass to Ayres, who went for the corner, dived, but the touch judge had his flag up!

A try then might have sealed the game, but Salford took heart from their good fortune and in a ten minute spell from the 60th minute former Wales Rugby Union star David Watkins sealed Warrington’s fate.

First he reduced the arrears with a penalty following a scrum offence, then from a weaving break down the middle by Hesketh, he finished the move off, and added the goal.

His 35-yard drop-goal completed the scoring, but not the thrills.

Derek Whitehead went on a down-the-middle run but defenders covered the supporting Gordon. Then Taylor nearly crashed in, but in the closing minutes of pressure, the forwards wasted valuable possession by trying to batter their way through, instead of giving the ball air. The full time score Warrington 10 Salford 14.

Around this time in the charts there was a song by The Equals called “Viva Bobby Joe” which would get the words adapted by supporters chants throughout the land.

In it there was a line – ‘Everybody’s gonna see a sensation, a sensation’ well here he was.

Although Fulton played centre in his debut match, he was moved to stand-off for the rest of his time here, forming a great half back partnership with scrum half Parry Gordon.

In the 16 games he played for The Wire, he scored 16 tries, a remarkable record, and through that period they won 10 and drew 1.

Sadly, with all the supporters' good wishes, he had to go back in February, 1970, to get ready for the new Australian season.

It’s ironic that Warrington’s great gift to Australia, would come to haunt us many times as a player, and then as a coach, but that as they say is another story.

My introduction, also that day, into the world of Rugby League had been ‘love at first fright!’

Wire team that day: Derek Whitehead; Warren Ayres, Paul Taylor, Bobby Fulton, Brian Glover; Billy Aspinall, Parry Gordon; Ken Halliwell, Dave Harrison, Phil Jones, Brian Brady, Peter Cannon, Arthur Hughes. Sub used: Tommy Conroy.


Warrington Guardian: Bobby Fulton leads the tourists out of the tunnel at a packed Wilderspool

Bobby Fulton returned to Warrington as captain of Australia in 1978 and played in the tour match against Warrington at Wildersspool Stadium. Pictures above and below: Eddie Whitham

Warrington Guardian: Captains Bobby Fulton and Billy Benyon shake hands before the start. Pictures by Eddie Whitham

Warrington Guardian:

Bobby Fulton played for Australia against Great Britain in the Test match at Wilderspool Stadium in 1973

Warrington Guardian:

Bobby Fulton was back in Warrington as coach of Australia in 1994, seen here ahead of the club match against Warrington at Wilderspool Stadium