Exclusive by ROB STEWART – Special Correspondent
Henderson Gill is the one that got away – in more ways than one.
For starters, the former Royds Hall High School pupil slipped through the fingers of football and ended up playing rugby league.
And he slipped through the fingers of his hometown club and Yorkshire sides and ended up in the arms of Lancashire giants Wigan.
But it was his habit of slipping through the fingers of his opponents saw the speed merchant cement his place in rugby league folklore.
That turn of speed even saw the retired winger trending on social media last month to mark his 60th birthday when the Rugby Football League tweeted a clip of his celebrated Great Britain try against Australia in 1988.
“And he does a bit of a boogie!” was how the Australian commentator’s described his flamboyant celebration in Sydney.
It would, though, have been so very different, had Gill followed the late former Town striker Bobby Campbell’s advice and pursued a football career.
“I thought the world of Bobby and he was always encouraging me to turn football into a living,” Gill told the Huddersfield Hub in an exclusive interview.
“I got to know him well and we’d play football in Greenhead Park and Bobby took me to clubs for trials but I knew it wasn’t for me.
“I played for Town boys and it helped that there always seemed to be a shortage of naturally left-sided players.”
“I started off as a left back, moved to midfield and then ended up as a left winger.
“I was a Leeds fan and I’d go to Elland Road with my pals but I couldn’t commit myself to football – my heart was set on playing rugby league.”
Born in Huddersfield in 1961 as one of five children, Gill’s family had moved to Yorkshire from Barbados in the 1950s as part of the Windrush generation.
“People like my parents emigrated to England from the West Indies in search of a better life with better prospects,” Gill said.
“My dad was a stonemason and a mechanic. He wanted to better himself and for him coming to England gave our family a new life.
“We came over on boats – we were what people refer to now as the Windrush generation.”
Gill and his siblings grew up in Marsh and he attended school in Oakes, Lindley and then went to Royds Hall where he first picked up a rugby ball.
“My teachers said I could make it in rugby because they’d seen me excel but I never really listened because I was just a typical boyo,” said Gill from his home in Deighton.
“Thankfully, I got a lucky break. I was playing against a Leeds side, Park Side, who hadn’t been beaten for donkey’s years; I did well and got a Yorkshire call-up.
“I did well for the county as well and then got into the England schoolboys side, so I was on the radar of professional clubs. That was the birth of my career.”
Also coming through the ranks alongside Gill were Wigan legend Ellery Hanley and future Bradford Bulls coach Brian Noble who all signed for Bradford Northern on the same day.
“My parents (Mum Ione and dad Casper) were very old-school – it wasn’t a case of follow your sporting dreams – it was get a proper job and a trade under your belt.
“Dad was a bit of a cricketer – he played for the Caribbean club in the Huddersfield Association league who were the West Indies of Yorkshire.
“But there was no danger of me following in his footsteps because I found the game too boring.
“I always remember dad coming back from work and watching the Test match cricket on the telly when the West Indies were on fire.
“But for me it was a big turn-off because I always associated cricket with Geoffrey Boycott who made an art out of just staying put, scoring hardly any runs.
“Dad loved his sport but he worked all hours that God sent with five of us to feed. He didn’t realise how well I was doing until his workmates told him how well I was getting on.
“And my mum only saw me play once, for England schoolboys, because she said she couldn’t bear seeing those big lads jumping up and down on her son.”
Initially Gill’s progress was hampered by a serious knee injury he sustained in 1979 and he ended up leaving Bradford once Rochdale Hornets approached his Odsal employers.
He played one season at Rochdale and that was enough to attract the attention of Wigan and he became instant crowd favourite at Central Park following a £23,000 move in 1981.
“I loved my time at Rochdale. The club chairman, Jack Grindrod, was a great bloke and the coaches Paul Longstaff and the great Terry Fogerty took me under their wing, got me sorted out and I never looked back.
“I didn’t really want to leave Rochdale because I was enjoying it so much but the chairman took me to the office and said there was nothing more the club could do for and it was time to move on.”
Gill recalls scoring on his Wigan debut, in a defeat at Barrow, that was enough to earn him an England call-up and he scored against Wales at Ninian Park and then he grabbed a hat-trick on his Great Britain debut.
Gill would score 145 tries for Wigan but one game still stands out.
“The most memorable game at Wembley was beating Hull FC in the 1985 Challenge Cup final.
“It’s gone down as the greatest Challenge Cup final ever and I even got a length-of-the-field try which was an incredible feeling.
“I’ve watched the game back quite a few times and I have to say it lives up to its billing.”
His other Wigan highlight was the1987 World Club Challenge for Wigan when Australian side Manly were beaten 8-2 in a try-less game at Central Park.
And there was the try he scored when Wigan won their first major honour in some 20 years when Leeds were beaten in the John Player Trophy in 1983 at Elland Road.
But it was the Great Britain win in Sydney that produced Gill’s iconic moment.
“To score a full-length try at the Sydney Cricket Ground in front of the Australian public was something extra-special.
“I did that little dance when I scored but nothing was pre-planned – but I always thought that once you get over that line you can do anything you want.”
After retiring from rugby, Gill went back to college and started teaching but old injuries would take their toll which means he may even need a walking stick.
He was encouraged to play through the pain barrier too many times for his own good but still cherishes his rugby league memories and he’s relishing the start of the new Super League season in March.
And he’s confident that Huddersfield Giants can prosper when the new campaign gets under way.
“I’m a big fan Jermaine McGillvary at Huddersfield because when he gets the ball it’s exciting to watch.
“I try to get back over to Wigan and I usually go to the Wigan-Huddersfield games because they’re my two teams.
“And I always want Huddersfield win except for when they play Wigan – Wigan are the club who mean most to me because of everything I achieved there.
“I’m looking forward to fans being allowed back in to watch the games at the John Smith’s Stadium and I really hope that the people of Huddersfield get behind their team because they deserve our support. I’ll certainly be there cheering them on.”