IT is sad to report the passing of former Saints, Salford, Widnes, Runcorn Highfield and Lancashire county player Eric Prescott.

He was 75.

A fierce competitor on the field, but a warm and friendly gentleman off it, Eric will sadly missed by all his family, friends, former teammates and neighbours.

Born in Widnes, but settled in the Nutgrove area of St Helens, the longevity of Eric’s professional career is remarkable.

He made almost 600 senior appearances spanning 1968 to 1989, and was just one year off playing in four different decades.

What is even more remarkable is that Eric did all this while working full time as a painter and decorator with Widnes Corporation and then Halton Council.

He earned success, too, gaining 23 medals across those clubs including Championship winners medals at both Saints and Salford, plus a memorable Wembley victory with Widnes.

Eric signed professional forms at Saints from Widnes ICI in 1968 and he showed his speed and versatility in those early seasons in the red vee largely playing centre, wing and occasionally in the back row.

Eric played on the left wing 1970 Championship Final at Odsal against Leeds – displacing Frank Wilson who had crossed for a hat-trick in the semi-finals.

But Eric did his job to perfection that day, crossing for two fine tries as Saints beat the Loiners 24-12 to be crowned champions.

The following season Eric, now largely a strong running second row or loose forward who was used effectively hitting a crash ball, featured in a magnificent 37-10 win over the touring Australians in front of a 15,213 crowd at Knowsley Road.

Runcorn and Widnes World:

Although a regular in the 1971-72 season, clocking up 31 appearances, Eric missed out on both the 1972 Challenge Cup final against Leeds and the Championship final the week after.

Although he played three games for Saints at the start of the following season, he was sold to big-spending Salford for a then world record transfer fee of £13,500.

His athleticism, tenacity, high work-rate and enthusiasm was a key component of a Salford pack that helped lay the platform for the Quality Street gang in the backline to perform – with stars like Paul Charlton, Keith Fielding, David Watkins, Chris Hesketh and Maurice Richards thrilling the Willows crowds.

They were great days while they lasted at the Weaste and Eric won two Division One titles with that side in 1973-74, and 1975-76, plus the Lancashire Cup and the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy before it began to fall apart in the early 80s.

Runcorn and Widnes World:

But Eric was not done – and he had the opportunity to return to the town where it started, with Widnes paying a £22,000 fee in 1981. He still had the dream of playing at Wembley that has eluded him.

The Chemics were going through a rebuild under Doug Laughton, having sold a chunk of their squad to the fledgling Fulham side in the off season.

But the signings of old heads like Eric and Brian Lockwood helped rejuvenate them and both showed they still had plenty left in their locker.

Eric partnered experienced Cumbrian Big Les Gorley in the second row as Widnes made it through to Wembley in 1981. There they beat Hull KR 18-9 in front of 92,496 with tries from Mick Burke, Mick George and Andy Gregory.

Runcorn and Widnes World: Eric Prescott with Widnes hooker Keith Elwell after the 1981 Wembley win

His elation and toothless smile - picking up hooker Keith Elwell - was captured at the end of the game in an award-winning picture by Glen Cameron. 

Eric was back at Wembley the year later playing against Hull FC in the drawn game and then in the subsequent replay at Leeds United’s packed Elland Road.

He was still rising to the big occasion and the following season he gave a battling performance in a torrid encounter at Naughton Park against the Australian Kangaroos, dubbed The Invincibles.

Eric returned to Salford in 1984, in a swap deal with John Wood, and then seemed reluctant to hang up his boots, having a final swansong with Runcorn Highfield.

Considered one of the best forwards never to get an international cap, Eric played 11 times for Lancashire.

Indeed his son, Steve, who became a legend with Saints and Hull as a full-back, cited his dad’s appearances for Lancashire as an achievement he was proud to emulate.

Despite several decades of being knocked about on the rugby field, Eric retained a sporty competitiveness after retirement and ran the London Marathon in the early 1990s, clocking a time of 4hrs 30.

Rugby league remained in his blood, and Eric would often be seen on the touchline watching Thatto Heath Crusaders.

A love of sport is clearly something he passed on to his children and grandchildren.

A wonderful husband, dad and granddad we send our condolences to his wife Pat, son Neil, daughter Suzanne, daughter-in-laws Linzi and Jill, and grandchildren Taylor, Amelia, Koby and Ruby, and all the family at this sad time.