The daughter of a Salford rugby league legend is climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in order to raise money for dementia – a condition that both of her parents live with.

58-year-old Helen Butler, who is the daughter of beloved Salford rugby player and manager Les Bettinson, will soon face the challenging climb on the 3rd of January 2020. With the money raised being donated to the Alzheimer’s Society.

For the past 10 years, Helen’s parents Les, 84, and Frances Bettinson, 85, have been living with dementia leaving them housebound and totally dependent on family and social care.

Les played for Salford 319 times in the 1950’s and 60’s. He then went on to manage the side in the 1970’s, successfully leading Salford to two league title wins in 1974 and 1976.

Subsequently, Les became the inaugural president of the RFL (Rugby Football League) and was chosen to manage the Great British Lions in their tour of Australia, New Zealand and Papua New Guinea in 1988.

Frances and Les Bettinson were also admired for their careers in teaching, inspiring their daughter to follow in their footsteps. Helen recently retired from a 37-year-long teaching career in order to spare more time to care for them.

Helen will keep her parents in mind while she embarks on an eight-day trek up the world’s highest free-standing mountain in January.

With the summit’s altitude measuring over 19,000 ft, and temperatures ranging from 20 to -20 degrees Celsius, Helen is aware of the immense challenge at hand: “We are looking forward to it but with some trepidation.

“I’m hoping that when it gets to that tough stage in the last couple of days when the temperature plummets I will be able to dig deep and remember the cause I’m climbing for.

“The thought that maybe in the next ten years there will be a cure or an effective treatment for all forms of dementia, that’s got to drive us on hasn’t it.

“Even if it’s not quite there for us hopefully it will be there for young people and it won’t be something that you need to worry about as you get older.”

Helen added: “The family is around them but it’s such an unstoppable disease. There’s nothing to be done other than to keep them safe, keep them happy, keep them comfortable and amongst loved ones and long may that continue.

“They’ve been together since they were 16. For them both to get dementia I imagine is a little bit unusual but it’s also got some comfort with it.”

Although Les and Frances are suffering from Alzheimer’s and their memories are slowly fading, there are many stories from their admirable past that they remember with great clarity.

Looking through old pictures of Les’ accomplishments, the rugby star pointed to a picture of himself playing for Salford decades ago.

Les playing rugby for Salford vs Swinton. Image Credit: Cari Morris

“That’s a Swinton winger, number five, and I’m pretty sure he’s about to break my nose” Les explained.

Reflecting back on his rugby achievements, Les said: “They called me the man at the top”

“I felt privileged to go from player to coach. It just seemed to be a natural event. I took to it”

However, Les did not conform to your stereotypical rugby league player.

His daughter revealed: “He didn’t swear. He didn’t really drink. He sort of bucked the trend of a rough and tough rugby league player, he was a gentleman of the game and I think he was known for that. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anybody speak badly of him.”

Helen explained that Frances was a strong support system behind Les throughout his triumphant career: “Behind every successful man is a successful woman.”

“Rugby was her life as much as it was my dad’s. They were a team then and they are a team now and it’s lovely to watch because they haven’t lost that togetherness.

“With that in itself, they are inspirations to me.”

To donate to Helen’s fundraiser, click the link here.


  1. Alan Grimshaw

    I still have school reports with Les’s writing on them. One in particular reads: “Quite a good sportsman,” which I took to be quite an accolade from Mr B. He actually ‘discovered ‘ me for the Under 13 school rugby team, suggesting my name to others in the team. I always found Les to be approachable and fair. I attended Marple Hall School when it was a grammar school from 1962 to 1967. I haven’t been anything of a sportsman for a good few years now being 69 and a bit of a crock. So sorry to learn of both Mr and Mrs having Alzheimer’s. I am retired now but used to work with people with dementia.

  2. Sorry to hear about Les and his wife.I played for marple hall grammer rugby team between 1963 and 1968 .Les wrote on my report once “does not make full use of his fine physique“

  3. Anthony(Tony,)Smart

    Have known Les from the early60’s when I was at the then Bredbury Boys school.He and Bill Stanton recruited me and David Price from Marple Hall as tennis coaches for a training camp for young athletes from various sports at Crewe and Alsager college.
    We remained in touch until I retired in 1988.As Dep.Head at Cheadle Hulme he would drop in for a coffee.He even turned out for a 6th form v Staff rugby match,despite his crocked Achilles!!
    When I was given a sabbatical, 1977-78,he was a massive support in finding me a place in the M.Ed. course.
    We played a little golf together at M&TGC,not his finest sport.He believed the ball should disappear from view which it often did,not to be found!
    Some years since,he and Frances were staying somewhere in the Conway valley and came to visit us in Harlech where we live.Then the contact stopped.
    Pat and I were convinced they had moved to the Algarve,I have tried in vain to make contact.
    To come across the website and the depressing news,well…speechless.I can only say that we are saddened and deeply shocked by the news.A massive consolation is the support they are receiving.If it will get to them I will send a recent photo.
    My heart goes out to my close friend and Frances,two very good and nice people.

  4. Philip Gregory

    I was at Marple Hall GS from 1963-65 and played centre for the first XV. Les was always inspirational and encouraging. Always trying to emulate him, I thought having a crew cut like his would allow me to match his speed on the pitch – it didn’t of course. During the off-season from rugby, Les taught athletics. My event in those days (now 75) was the 800 yards which I member winning. Les’s comment was that I could have trimmed a good five seconds of my finishing time if I wasn’t wearing a string vest ! He took a group of students for a weeks visit to the Lake District and recall returning with a blister the size of a small saucer. So lucky to have been under your tutelage Les, thought of you and Malcolm Arnold many times over the years and deeply saddened to hear of the dreadful illness affecting you and your wife Frances.

  5. Laurence Stevens

    I attended MHGS although I can’t say I particularly enjoyed the experience!
    Mr Bettinson was the Sports Teacher and married Miss Barret.
    He was an extremely fit and handsome man who was strict but fair.
    I always remember his disdain for anyone crying off sports lessons.
    Laurence Stevens

  6. Jen Williams

    Have some happy memories of Les and Frances when at Silecroft, Millom. Les was at school with my husband Lol) and they also use to to go cycling. Jen Williams

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