Big Interview: Former England and Preston Grasshoppers ace Dick Greenwood

Craig Salmon talks to former Preston Grasshoppers and England star Dick Greenwood, who is father of World Cup winner Will

Saturday, 3rd August 2019, 11:00 am
Updated Saturday, 3rd August 2019, 12:00 pm
Dick Greenwood (Photo by Rob Munro/Getty Images)
Dick Greenwood (Photo by Rob Munro/Getty Images)

One of the abiding memories of the 2003 rugby union World Cup is England hero Jonny Wilkinson’s ‘dance of delight’ with team-mate and former Preston Grasshopper Will Greenwood.

The legendary fly-half had just sent the ball spinning through the goal posts with just 26 seconds of the final against the Wallabies remaining.

With the showpiece match, in Sydney, Australia, tied at 17-all, Wilkinson received a pass from scrum-half Matt Dawson – and the rest is, as they say, history.

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Jonny Wilkinson (left) celebrates with team mate Will Greenwood during the rugby World Cup final in 2003

The famous drop goal was the difference between the two sides as Clive Woodward’s men finally handed their country its first World Cup victory since their footballing counterparts’ achievement of 1966.

On seeing the ball sail over, the emotion of the moment was too much for Wilkinson and Greenwood as they embraced, shouting the immortal words ‘World Cup, World Cup’.

Little did the pair realise that deep within the bowels of the Telstra Stadium, two of their parents were enacting a similar scene.

Dick Greenwood – Will’s father and a former England player and coach himself – was nervously twitching in his seat as the match moved into the final moments of extra-time.

Turning to his wife Sue for some emotional support, he quickly discovered his other half had vacated her seat.

“My abiding memory of the 2003 World Cup is late on in extra time, I turned to my wife to say, ‘Bloomin eck, this is tense isn’t it’?,” recalled Greenwood, who was born in Chorley and later played and coached at Preston Grasshoppers.

“But she wasn’t there!

“She couldn’t stand the tension so she had left and was in the concourse, pacing up and down, and taking an occasional glance through her fingers at the television monitors.

“Who should pass her going in the opposite direction doing exactly the same thing?

“Jonny Wilkinson’s dad!

“As you can see there is a lovely parallel universe at play here.

“ After Jonny’s drop kick which won us the World Cup, he was pictured jumping up and down with Will in that iconic image. But lo and behold, high up in the concourse, Jonny’s dad and Will’s mum were jumping up and down together shouting, ‘We’ve won, we’ve won’.”

Greenwood admits watching his son lift the Webb Ellis Trophy is one of the proudest moments of his life.

And left him reminiscing about the days when he played alongside a young Will for Hoppers.

A teacher by trade, Greenwood was offered a position at Stonyhurst College after his playing career at the highest level had come to an end.

It was that posting which ultimately led to him turning out at Lightfoot Green firstly as a player and then as coach .

As his son began to emerge as a player with much promise, Greenwood showed Will the way on the pitch in Hoppers’ fourth team.

“Preston Grasshoppers was a fantastic experience for me,” said Greenwood, who played as a flanker.

“When you’re a player what happens is you start off at the bottom, improve and go higher until you end up at the top – and then you stop.

“But I was the one who slid back down the mountain.

“I was working at Stonyhurst and went on to play for Blackburn.

“That was massively enjoyable but then I was asked if I would take over the running of the Hoppers’ schoolboy rugby festival.

“So that saw me move to Hoppers for the 1979/80 season.

“I went on to have five exceptionally rewarding years with some great players.

“Then at a slightly later date, I said to our Will that I didn’t fancy him messing around at schoolboy and colts level so I urged him to come and have some games with me for Hoppers’ fourths.

“So I actually played a few games with Will in the late 1980s when he was about 17 and I was in my late 40s.

“I tell the story that he immediately got promoted to a higher team and I got dropped!”

Despite both reaching the highest level and playing for England, Greenwood senior is in no doubt as to who was the finer player.

“ Will just oozed class,” said Greenwood, who played the vast majority of his club career with Waterloo.

“To compare me and him – he’s 6ft 5in and I’m 5ft11; he’s got 55 caps, I’ve got five.

“He’s been on three Lions Tours – I’ve been lucky enough to watch three Lions games.

“When you look at it like that, it’s impossible to tell us apart!”

Despite his self-deprecation, Greenwood – now aged 77-years-old – was a player of great talent and was good enough in 1966 to make his England debut against Ireland at Twickenham.

However, with the game being an amateur sport back then he admits that he grew frustrated at the way the national team was run.

His strong personality meant that he was unable to keep his opinions to himself which he believes cost him more caps.

“I kept getting picked for England, but they couldn’t wait to drop me,” said Greenwood, who spent five years playing in Rome in the 1970s.

“The organisation of the game in my day was absolutely pathetic.

“There were huge selection committees anguishing for hours and then picking an entirely new team because the last one had lost.

“There was no sense of continuity or stability – it was every man for himself.

“The actual act of playing for your country was an amazing experience.

“When I made my debut in 1966, I was bursting with pride.

“But my memory of my debut was that it was extremely wet and we played some dire stuff.

“We drew 6-6, but when I look back at some of the old videos, it was staccato, clumsy – I don’t know how anybody could have found it entertaining.

“But at the time it was well thought of and at the end of the day, you are a product of your time.”

As England coach, Greenwood presided over a largely unsuccessful period from 1983 to 1985.

Ahead of his time in some regards, the former Cambridge University student admits he also made mistakes.

“I feel like I was little bit of a trailblazer when I was the coach,” he said.

“I introduced the video analysis; I suggested to the selectors that I should have assistance in the shape of Brian Ashton and Fran Cotton to specialist backs and forwards coaches.

“I was told, ‘You’re the coach – you get on with it’.

“That sort of stuff was going on and inhibiting the game at the top.

“A watershed moment came when initially Geoff Cooke and then Clive Woodward completely broke the mould and developed the game to such an extent that we won a World Cup.

“With Clive, you would never hear him say we need to get 10% or 15% better.

“He would say we need to get one per cent better at a 100 different things with regards to our preparation.

“Clive was all about making incremental changes, building a wall brick by brick.

“When I was coach, I was so fed up with the old ways that I tried to change too much all at once. That was my downfall.”