The Derek Beaumont Column: Rugby league looks pretty good from up here!

Derek Beaumont arrived at Leigh Sports Village in a helicopter on Saturday
Derek Beaumont arrived at Leigh Sports Village in a helicopter on Saturday

Thank you Leythers! What a day Saturday was! Simply outstanding.

As most people know, I arrived at the stadium by helicopter, not to be a show pony (although I loved every minute of it). But it was the only realistic way in which I could do it and attend club sponsor Park Leisure’s charity ball in York that same evening, and also not impact on my business commitments down south.

The anticipation had been building all week and I had read with interest some of the varied comments and issues which really did justify the saying, you can not please all of the people all of the time.

Although our future was secure I was becoming quite nervous about the day. Not because we were changing the team so much to ensure everyone had taken part and staked a claim for a place against Leeds, as I had every confidence in their ability. It was more to do with the day being a success.

I had feared that lots of people who had taken free tickets may not turn up or, as was widely discussed, that people had taken four without the need and we would end up with egg on our faces declaring a lock-out with loads of stands empty.

My brother Brian and I discussed this during the flight whilst Richo (Sean Richardson) slumbered away quietly at the side of us. Well, I say quietly, but one of the downsides to travelling in a helicopter is the noise inside it, although I was able to catch up on emails as there was 3G all the way which I found rather amazing!

The North Stand at LSV

The North Stand at LSV

As we flew over the LSV I could see people already in all four stands and I managed to get a picture of the North Stand which was already filling up nicely. Outside the ground was bustling too and all of a sudden I felt quite relaxed that we were going to pull it off and have a really big crowd.

As I left the aircraft I was greeted by Rugby AM for a bit of banter. I really like the way Alex Simmons conducts his interviews. He is fun and it is infectious and you can have the craic with him. I was then met by the BBC for a more serious interview that took five minutes for a three second snip on what was a fantastic feature on our great club at prime time, 5.25pm on a Saturday evening! It was rather apt that more time was spent discussing lobby with the landlord of the Centurion pub so I know where I am in the food chain - lol!

The LSV had kindly arranged for me to land on the Harriers field and I was greeted by a supervisor who escorted me, Richo and my two brothers into the ground via the East Stand corner.

It was amazing to see people queuing to get into that area of the ground at 2.30pm. As I passed the dug outs Tony Lewis came out singing his Robbie songs and there was a real atmosphere about the place. As I took my seat in the directors’ box I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction. The stadium was fuller than I had anticipated and whilst there were some empty seats I was really pleased and found it encouraging that we could achieve this in Super League on a regular basis. I would like to thank the LSV and their staff as well as our own staff for putting on such an event in such a short period of time; it demonstrates how good the facility is and how diverse the organisation can be. No doubt anyone needing a last minute change of venue can now be encouraged that the LSV can put it on at the drop of a hat!

As I took my seat in the directors’ box I felt an overwhelming sense of satisfaction

Derek Beaumont

I was aware that pre match the club, through Mike Latham, had instigated a presentation to John Kear in recognition of his last away game as a head coach. John has been a fantastic coach and a great ambassador of the game and our club showed its class in this presentation, which was made by club captain Micky Higham and the great John Woods.

Woody and his family and friends had a fantastic day at the unveiling of his statue and then when his former chairman, Brian Bowman, inducted him as a life member of the club. Brian told the capacity audience that it had cost £200 to sign John on professional forms 40 years ago. I think it’s fair to say that they got their money’s worth. It was amazing that John’s big day coincided with the club having already achieved Super League status and only three days after his 60th birthday. A day to treasure for everyone fortunate enough to be present. As I have often said, good things happen to good people and they don’t come any better than John.

What I wasn’t expecting was what came next, which showed the class of John Kear and Batley Bulldogs themselves as a club, when they formed a guard of honour for our lads. That’s what makes rugby league the greatest game of all. Batley got off to a good start and rightly so as they were potentially playing for £250k. You could see why they have had the season they have had, as they were competitive and had some good shape, scoring 24 points against us. In the end we had too much and rightly took the two points before celebrating our success in front of the North Stand.

At half-time there was an emotional presentation to my good friend Gareth Haggerty and his wife from the profits of the sale of the Team Isaac shirts in memory of their late son. It was fitting that Leigh Centurions wore the special jersey on this special day. A wonderfully brave boy who left a massive gap that will never be replaced and will be remembered forever. Angels indeed. The Leigh Centurions supported this fantastic charity from their hearts and showed again what a family club we are. It was a special moment for a wonderful family.

The view of Headingley from Derek Beaumonts helicopter ride

The view of Headingley from Derek Beaumonts helicopter ride

Back to the game and it was a fitting end for Tom Spencer, who has been a fantastic servant for the club and it was great to see the crowd show their appreciation. Travis Burns went out at LSV in style, showing just how tough and competitive he is. Whilst he hasn’t had the opportunity to do a lot on the field, he has been great off it and a great advocate for the club. Greg Worthington and Andrew Dixon got a deserved send-off from the fans. Despite all four players knowing they were heading for pastures new they remained committed to the club and played their best right until the end and for that they will always be welcome back.

Perhaps the most emotional of them all was the one I save to last. Never have I seen a player embraced so quickly within one season at a club and that is testament to his great character and ability. Reni Maitua has been awesome for this club on and off the field, in particular in the times of trouble. To see the likes of Jonathan Thurston wishing Leigh Centurions well in their quest for Super League of the back of Reni is just amazing. The crowd made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck as they sang his name and bellowed out “one more year.”

I think Reni has made the right choice to retire on such a high, achieving something with us that has not been achieved before under this new structure. He will go down in history for a lot of things, but one of them will be being a part of the team that elevated Leigh into Super League. He has done the lot and has nothing to prove. He knows his body and it takes a smart man to respect his body over his urge, as in the long run it can be a big decision as we only get one to use in our life.

Hopefully Reni will get to go out in style, playing on the left alongside Willie Tonga live on Sky against current champions Leeds Rhinos in his last ever game of rugby league and for me that’s the perfect way for him to seal an amazing career.

As the chants died down and the stadium emptied I drew a deep breath and thought of all those who were there in spirit cheering us on in the stand of Angels. We worked hard for this but we got some air of good fortune along the way and I am sure many a person reading this will have their own cherished person they think that could be.

One of mine was the late, great Tommy Sale MBE, who passed away in January. It was fitting that his daughter Jean and grandson Stefan were there to present the LCTV award for player of the year in Tommy’s memory after the game.

Reni and Greg Worthington were nominated alongside Dayne Weston and it was Dayne who received the award to complete a hat-trick, having already been nominated Coaches’ Player and Players’ Player of the Year, just reward for a great player who has embraced the club and the town. I made my way upstairs for a quick pint before taking to the air with my son Rocky waving me off as we headed to York at pace! The place was empty, barring two of the LSV safety team waving from the tunnel. It was a weird kind of surreal feeling and I still wasn’t sure it had sunk in. As we made our way across to York over Yorkshire we passed over the Halifax ground which then had us start to look around for others. It was rather apt that we should then pass over the home of Bradford Bulls.

I reached for my phone and took a picture. It just looked like a hole in the ground.

I have to be honest, I spared a thought of sympathy towards their situation. My brother Brian’s girlfriend is a Bradford fan so I think that has made me soft towards them, although he assures me he is working on her. I also have a sneaky feeling he is trying to change her to a Leigh fan! As the fields passed without a sheep in sight, Headingley was right below us and it was then that I kind of realised where we had come to. “Wait until Thursday bro’ that will be packed,” claimed my brother as I leaned to take a photo. The thought of a cherry and white army travelling in numbers, like we did a couple of years ago in the Challenge Cup, set the conversation for the remainder of the journey as we discussed our chances.

Last time we came very close in a very tough game. Thursday will have us see if we can go one better and I hope as many of you as possible take advantage of Sky’s generous hospitality of free transport to support the boys in their quest to top the group and become the inaugural winners of the Bev Risman Trophy. Who knows maybe those angels in the stand will guide us through it? It is interesting to see us being linked with so many players, especially those that are still at clubs fighting for survival. We have not and I would not be in discussions with any player from any of our 8s competitors that are still under contract next year. It would be inappropriate for a player to do so and, whilst there must be many nervous players out there with agents trying to see what options there will be, it is about treating people how you would want to be treated.

I would hate to think that our club was in that situation and players were agreeing deals for the worst case scenario as once that security is found elsewhere the desire goes and it does beckon the question, seeing the performance of Salford on Saturday, if one or two have given up.

I don’t wish that to take any deserved credit from Hendo and his London team but in the circumstances you just kind of expect a little different and I feel for my mate Marwan as the emotion of the MPG is something he will now need to endure and I don’t envy him that.

As for me, I will be watching the game in the sun with the lads and off field team as I promised them I would for their achievement.

I was hoping it would be a game where I would have no real concern and could watch it as a neural.

However, that is now not possible as I will be hoping Salford can maintain their status on the day. Who they will face will be a big call as the game at Hull KR will be massive, with the winner being safe.

It’s tough to go to KR as all Super League sides know, but it’s also tough to go to Leeds and win and putting my neck on the line I don’t think Huddersfield will throw away the chance they have afforded themselves.

But KR can draw comfort that this prediction comes from a man that predicted his side would go unbeaten all season only to lose their first game!

Before I close I must pay tribute to our friends from Leigh Cricket Club who have been crowned as Champions of the ECB Premier League Liverpool & District Cricket Competition.

My good friend Mike Latham, who knows far more about cricket than me, has told me just what a fantastic effort this is, achieved by many players who have come through the junior ranks at Beech Walk. The Liverpool Comp is respected as the best league in Lancashire and Leigh have beaten off the challenge of many top clubs including Ormskirk, Northern and Formby.

Mike and I spent a happy evening at the club’s sportsman’s dinner last year, on the eve of our Challenge Cup-tie at Warrington, when Jeff Stelling was the guest speaker. The facilities at the club are first-class and it would be good to think we could have a joint celebration as Leigh is now truly on the sporting map, with Leigh Miners also achieving their BARLA triumph last autumn.

Mattie McKiernan has been Leigh’s star player in a great team effort and I am confident that he will follow Steve Mullaney, Karl Brown and Luis Reece into County Cricket as he is a huge talent and also a also very nice lad who is extremely dedicated to his sport. Mattie is currently taking advice from the physio team at Leigh Centurions over a long-standing shoulder problem that has hampered his bowling. Not that you would have known as, week after week he has produced some outstanding performances. There are no better leg-spin bowlers in England than Mattie McKiernan.

Before I close I must also pay tribute to Rochdale Hornets who achieved what we failed to do- win at Toulouse. In doing so they have achieved promotion to the Championship, a wonderful effort. We have a good relationship with Hornets and have invited their captain Paul Crook to be a guest at one of our Super League games next year to mark his team’s achievements and also his own in equalling the club points-scoring record set by the great Walter Gowers 80 years ago. Paul has kindly accepted our offer for the game against St Helens, his home town club. Paul and his Hornets team-mates are heroes and I salute them all.