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Homage paid to rugby league ‘superstar’ Bill Drake
11:08am Saturday 13th October 2012 in Sport
TRIBUTES have been paid to one of Heworth ARLC’s greatest-ever rugby league products, former Great Britain international Bill Drake, who has died, aged 81, after losing a five-and-a-half-month battle with cancer.
He passed away peacefully at York Hospital on Monday, and among the eulogies for Drake was that of his former Hull team-mate, the legendary Johnny Whiteley.
He said Drake would have been a Super League superstar had he played in the modern era.
York RL statistician and local referee Stuart Evans also described him as a great character – an old-fashioned hard-man on the field yet a gentleman off it.
After his professional playing days — with Hull, Leeds and then home-town club York – Drake was also a well-known landlord at York city centre pubs the Lendal Bridge (now called the Maltings) and the Stonebow (now The Terrace), and the Lighthorseman, in Fulford. He continued playing the game, too, turning out in the old York Interworks tournaments.
Drake and his twin, Jim, both found fame with Hull after starting their rugby-playing days at Heworth. Born in Workington, Cumbria, they moved to York with their family when they were children.
They had both also been promising stars in football, with Bill playing for York City’s reserves before switching codes. His son Steve also played for City reserves as an apprentice pro, and his grandson Sam is currently in City’s under-14s academy.
Drake followed brother Jim to Heworth and likewise followed him in signing for Hull – joining the Black and Whites in late 1952 and making his debut in April 1953 as a winger, soon switching to the back row.
The ‘Terrible Twins’ went on to form part of the legendary pack of forwards that starred for Hull during the 1950s and early 1960s. That pack, which also boasted Whiteley and the late former York boss and director Tommy Harris, was revolutionary in rugby league, coach Roy Francis adopting a fast-running style virtually unknown at that time.
Whiteley said: “Bill would be sensational in Super League. He was six feet two inches, he was well built, he had great light hands and a tremendous pass and he could run like nothing else.
“He was a bit naughty and had a bit of a bad reputation with other teams, but he was tremendous for us over ten years.”
Drake played 294 times for Hull, scoring 101 tries and 53 goals. He is one of only three forwards in the Airlie Birds’ history to bag a century of tries and his haul of five hat-tricks for the club has been bettered by only three men. He was recently inducted into the club’s Hall of Fame.
He represented his native Cumbria ten times and rugby league historians consider him unlucky to have won only one Great Britain cap, which came in 1962 after he had switched to prop. According to son Steve, Drake himself reckoned he was shunned by GB selectors because of his “naughty” reputation.
In 1963, Drake followed Francis to Leeds, where he made 32 appearances, bagging two tries and three goals.
He then finished his career with home-town club York, making his debut in March 1965 and clocking up 48 appearances in two years, scoring four tries and 16 goals.
“He was a character,” said York stats man Evans of Drake the player. “He wasn’t averse to thumping one or two, shall we say.
“And let’s say he loved the old derbies against Hull KR. He was one of the hard men of the old pack in those days.”
He added: “He played in the Interworks a time or two for the Little John pub – people weren’t too keen to play against him.
“Off the pitch he was a true gentleman. He was a good guy, a smashing bloke.”
Born William Desmond Drake, Bill was often known as Des to many of his York friends. He went on to work as a roads asphalter and later in the building trade, in addition to his time as a landlord.
Twin Jim, who played 243 times for Hull and also won a GB cap, stayed in Hull. He passed away four years ago – coincidentally also on October 8.
Bill leaves behind a widow, Pat, two sons, Steve and Paul, daughters-in-law Jane and Jenny, and grandchildren Sam, Mollie and Freddie.
His funeral will be on Friday, October 19, at 11am, at York Crematorium. All are welcome. The family have asked that donations are made to York Against Cancer.