A tearful goodbye to “the greatest Leyther”

Leigh Centurions players and supporters attend the funeral of life president Tommy Sale MBE, at Leigh Parish Church

Leigh Centurions players and supporters attend the funeral of life president Tommy Sale MBE, at Leigh Parish Church

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LEIGH today said a tearful goodbye to the man Leigh MP Andy Burnham described as “the greatest Leyther.”

Tommy Sale MBE died aged 97 on January 3, sparking a tidal wave of tributes from friends, family and fans.

At a packed Leigh Parish Church, a service which lasted more than 90 minutes, saw people queueing to remember a man who devoted his life to Leigh Rugby League Club. Many fans listened to the service on speakers outside despite the bitterly cold conditions.

As an eight year old, Tommy began his long association with the club as a scoreboard operator but he went on to serve the club as an administrator, coach and player.

Former Leigh players including the great Mick Martyn were in attendance along with past coaches such as Steve Simms and Tommy Dickens.

The majority of Leigh’s current squad were in attendance along with coaches, directors and office workers. Some of the legends of the game including former Leigh player and coach Alex Murphy and Wigan great Billy Boston were also there to remember Tommy along with the Mayor Councillor Sue Loudon.

Leigh MP Andy Burnham spoke passionately about Tommy, even referring to him as “the greatest Leyther”. Burnham revealed how, as a young MP, he used to receive tips from Tommy on his interview techniques. He also remembered some of the stories Tommy shared with him at the old Hilton Park ground.

Lord Smith of Leigh, the leader of Wigan Council also delivered a eulogy as did club historian and director Mike Latham who detailed Tommy’s remarkable involvement with the club. He told of how Tommy had persuaded Alex Murphy to come to Leigh from St Helens as a 27-year-old and inspire the club to their greatest day - a Challenge Cup Final win over Leeds in 1971.

The congregation were held spellbound by a poem dedicated to Tommy by his grandson Stefan and an emotive reading from his great grandaughter Skye Garnett. Other tributes came from Tommy’s daughter Jean and son Ronnie.

The traditional rugby league hymn Abide With Me was sung while the coffin left the church to the strains of March of the Gladiators, the famous tune which used to blast from the PA when Leigh took to the field at Hilton Park.