Graham Paul: The Cornish Express
March 5, 2022
On March 5 every year, Cornwall celebrates its national day.
Named St Piran’s Day after Saint Piran, one of Cornwall’s patron saints, it was first commemorated by the Duchy’s tin miners as one of the their many holidays.
It is unclear exactly when St Piran’s Day became a more generalised celebration of the Duchy but historians have discovered that given Cornwall’s close links with Celtic nations, revivalists wanted to give Cornish people a national day like St Patrick’s in Ireland for example.
Celebrations were considered low-key but since just after the Second World War, St Piran’s Day has been widely celebrated by the whole of Cornwall with festivities taking place from Saltash to St Just and everywhere in between.
And with Cornwall celebrating in the name of its most famous son, the Duchy’s first professional rugby league club on this, our first ever St Piran’s Day, remembers Graham Paul, 13-player codes biggest Cornish luminary to date.
With the Choughs about to embark on an exciting rugby league expansion project, it is very much envisaged that in years to come, many locally born and raised players will etch their collective names into Cornwall folklore.
But currently, given our short existence, the day in the sun for Sam Gilder of Kyle Johns, for example, is yet to come.
However, for Paul, he has already been there and got the rugby league t-shirt but like many current members of Cornwall’s squad, he began his oval-ball career playing union.
A talented fly-half with the Penzance & Newlyn team, who are now called the Cornish Pirates of course, Paul, donned the black and gold of Cornwall’s county side and also represented the Royal Air Force.
In 1958, life would change for Paul when he shocked the rugby union community by switching codes and joining Hull Kingston Rovers. Paul wouldn’t be the only player from the West Country to join the Craven Park outfit as then club chairman Ron Chester heavily recruited from out of rugby league’s heartlands.
Across the Tamar in Devon, Chester placed an advert in a local newspaper and this enticed Mike Blackmore, arguably the county’s most talented player of his generation, to join Rovers too.
Over time, Blackmore and Paul would form a deadly wing partnership for the red side of Hull but initially, the latter would play out wide and, on occasions, at five-eighth too.
It was whilst playing on the flank that Paul gained his charming nickname – ‘The Cornish Express’. This moniker came from the legendary BBC rugby league commentator Eddie Waring who, when writing for the Sunday Pictorial newspaper, came up with the headline – ‘Cornish Express runs non-stop through York’.
Waring was writing after Paul had crossed the whitewash five times in an Easter Monday win for Rovers against York and the nickname stuck.
Paul lived up to Waring’s wonderfully apt appellation too and in season 1962-63, scored 34 tries to set a Rovers post-war try scoring record.
Despite his try-scoring feats, the one thing that eluded Paul was a major rugby league honour although in 1964, he came mightily close.
Rovers won through to the final of the Challenge Cup and faced Widnes in front of close to 85,000 fans at Wembley. Sadly for Paul, the Chemics prevailed 13-5 and shortly after his Twin Towers disappointment, he surprisingly announced his retirement from the sport aged just 29.
Paul then returned to his home town of Penzance and became a publican but his rugby involvement was limited until rugby union relaxed archaic rules preventing those that had played professionally becoming involved in the sport. With union’s sanctions lifted, he returned to the Mennaye Field as a coach of both senior and junior sections before becoming the club groundsman and although Paul has now relinquished his roles with the Pirates, he still lives in the Penzance area.