Former Leigh forward Milton Huddart dies aged 54

Milton Huddart in action for Leigh at Warrington.
Milton Huddart in action for Leigh at Warrington.

FORMER Leigh forward Milton Huddart has died suddenly at the age of 54.

It is believed Milton died suddenly of a heart attack over the weekend. Described as a fitness fanatic, he worked at Sellafield on the West Cumbrian coast close to his hometown of Whitehaven.

Milton was a talented back row forward who joined Leigh for a reported £20,000 fee from Carlisle in October 1986. He only played 25 games for the club, scoring one try and kicking one drop-goal but took part in a memorable season in which Leigh came close to getting to Wembley and then achieved a remarkable escape from relegation. He was remembered fondly by his former team-mates who have already paid tribute to him.

The son of the Great Britain international Dick Huddart, regarded as one of the finest forwards in the history of the game who achieved cult status at three clubs- Whitehaven, St Helens and St George in Australia, Milton signed professional forms for his native Whitehaven from Kells ARL. He made his first-team debut for ‘Haven against Fulham in January 1981 and soon became a first-team regular.

In October 1984 he was chosen to play for England in an international against Wales at Ebbw Vale. Captained by Leigh’s Steve Donlan the star-studded England team, which included Des Drummond, Garry Schofield, Ellery Hanley and Andy Goodway won 28-9. Two years later he captained Cumbria against the 1986 Kangaroos at Barrow, the tourists winning 48-12.

After a fall-out with a team-mate Milton vowed never to play for Whitehaven again and he was transferred to Carlisle for £25,000 in February 1985 before joining up with Tommy Dickens’ Leigh side as they attempted to consolidate in the first division following their record-breaking romp through the second division when they won 33 of 34 league games. He made his Leigh debut against Hull KR alongside the New Zealand international centre James Leuluai.

With Leigh facing a relegation battle Dickens was replaced mid-season by Billy Benyon and their fortunes improved markedly. They reached the semi-final of the Challenge Cup, suffering a heart-breaking 14-8 defeat against St Helens at Central Park after defeating Runcorn, Carlisle and Hull in previous rounds. Undaunted, they enjoyed a remarkable finish to their league campaign, winning eight of their last 10 games and finally staving off relegation with a dramatic last-day victory over Warrington at Wilderspool.

Huddart kicked a drop-goal in that memorable 17-10 success and had established himself as a Leigh favourite. A clever ball player and excellent kicker, he was a talented all-round footballer whose easy-going nature made him popular with fans and players alike. He usually had his socks rolled down by his ankles and though not the most physically imposing of forwards more than held his own against some tough first division packs.

“I remember Milton coming down for his first training session,” recalls Andy Collier, who played alongside him in the Leigh back row. “He was a down-to-earth, honest lad with a great sense of humour. He just got on with everybody and had time for everyone. Billy Benyon was a very tough trainer and I remember one day he set the players off on a six-mile run from the ground. Milton soon disappeared - he popped into a local house where he knew someone and had a cup of tea before using a short cut and joining us for the last lap.

“He was a talented player and could certainly kick a ball. We all knew he had a famous father but he never once mentioned his dad. He got on with the game. I remember one game against Castleford when we lined up at Wheldon Road for kick-off. Milton and me set off running full pelt until we suddenly realised the ball was still on the centre spot. It had been Milton’s job to kick-off, but he’d forgotten in all the excitement.

“I don’t know why he never played again after that season. He just seemed not to be there one day and that was that. We never got chance to say our farewells. I did meet up with him nearly 10 years later when I was playing for Widnes up at Workington and we had a good chat. He was a great lad was Milton and his sudden passing is very sad.”

Milton Huddart died on March 14 2015, aged 54.