RL players who played for Leigh just once but left their mark

Frank Castle in full flow
Frank Castle in full flow
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Local historian Alf Ridyard takes a look at some Leigh players who played for the club just once...

Today we look a few players who came to Leigh to play for our team, some from afar plus a couple of locals, all with a little interesting twist in their one game.

READ MORE: Heroines of the Great War who kept our country going https://www.leighobserver.co.uk/lifestyle/heroines-of-the-great-war-kept-our-county-going-1-9053353

One thing they all have in common is the coveted heritage number. We start in 1937 when Albert Falwasser joined the club.

Falwasser was a Maori winger with explosive pace who had toured England and France with the Maori Rugby Union side in 1926/27, on the tour he played in 30 of the 31 games scoring 23 tries, a great achievement in the days when many R/U games were won by a penalty kick or two.

Albert joined Wigan in 1930, heritage number 341. His debut was February 1, 1930, against Leeds. His resume stated he had been a professional sprinter in New Zealand which may be the reason he changed codes, having possibly transgressed his amateur status.

He played 31 games for Wigan, scoring 14 tries, he later moved to Rochdale as player coach and then to Bordeaux where he played in the fledgling French Rugby League.

He helped Bordeaux to the first two championship finals, both against Catalans, losing one and winning the other. He returned to our shores in 1937 and joined Leigh. He made his debut vs Salford 28/8/38 earning heritage number 429.

The Leigh club were once again struggling on the field and financially, off it. Wages paid to the players were cut from £2 to £1 - win, lose or draw. I would imagine it was Albert’s choice to disappear rather than the club not being satisfied, as they were at the time, picking up junior players and loanees from other clubs.

The A team was scrapped and the board resigned en bloc. Albert returned to his home shores and became an integral part of the development of RL in Taranaki as a coach of some quality. His name is still held in some esteem with the Maori Challenge Cup being the Albert Falwasser cup.

We move on to 1948, the Leigh club having now re-established themselves after the war. The club had just paid a record £2,650 to Dewsbury for Jimmy Ledgard which in my opinion stated the club’s intentions of becoming a major force in the game.

It would seem Leigh were in the market for more players. Frank Castle was a Coventry R/U flying winger who had run trials as a sprinter for the 1948 Olympic games held at Wembley and was unfortunate to just miss out.

He came north and signed at Leigh as a trialist, making his debut 23/10/48 vs Oldham earning heritage number 581. The circumstances of just one game are unclear but Frank Castle signed for Barrow for £1, 000 (£25,000/30,000 in today’s money) shortly after.

The ironic part of Frank Castle’s loss to Leigh is that he really was a flyer, on his Barrow debut vs Bradford he scooted in for a try untouched from fifty yards.

He is still currently second in the Barrow all-time scoring charts with 281 tries, more than 140 more than any Leigh winger. He also went on to play in three Challenge Cup finals, won one, lost two; and a Lancashire Cup final, win. He played five times for England and four times for Great Britain in the 1954 tour of Australia, it seems Leigh missed out on another star.

Moving on again to 1963 and a young local lad who had been having great notices in the Shaw Cup playing for the Crown pub on the corner of Bond Street and Hope Street, now long gone. He was my good mate and ex-footballing team-mate, Harry Hall.

Harry signed and was progressing through the A team when he was selected to play centre against the touring Australians, a fabulous introduction to first team rugby.

This game took place on 12/10/63 and Harry’s heritage number is 723, incidentally in the same game Jim Hoffman was the other center earning heritage number 722.

Jim went on to play 52 games for Leigh, Harry’s real claim to fame is that his opposite centre was none other than the great Reg Gasnier, rated by many to be the best to ever play the game, nicknamed the prince of centres. Harry’s proud achievement is that Gasnier never scored in the game which Australia won 33-7, Gasnier’s next game was against Great Britain at Wembley four days later and he scored a hat-trick, Eric Aston the GB captain was his opposition centre.

Harry continued for some time in the A team but was never selected again, bear in mind Leigh had Gordon Lewis and Mick Collins (386 games and 408 games respectively) in the side at that time. However, the tale is still told in the bars around Leigh that Gasnier did not score against Harry.

In 1966 and an Aussie arrived in town, Ken Flannagan from Eastern Suburbs, the great Sydney team. And 1966 was a year to forget for the Roosters as they lost every game under English coach Bert Holcroft, so Flannagan’s credentials had to be a little suspect, still he attained his Leigh heritage number 738 and made his one and only appearance against Blackpool Borough on 4/4/66 and returned very quickly to Australia where he became captain/coach of Balina in the tough country of New South Wales before moving back to Sydney to coach Bondi United, the Roosters feeder club.

His greatest achievement was to be the founder of ‘The Golden Oldies’, now the Masters Rugby League, this he did in the unusual city of Adelaide not known for RL.

His team were affectionately known as the crippled crows and as we now know the Masters has spiralled into a worldwide concept with former internationals and top class ex-professionals taking part.

In Australia large crowds turn out to watch these guys and raise mega bucks for The men of League charity that looks after ex-players and their families who have fallen on hard times physically or mentally.

Jumping on the time travel bus we arrive at 1974 and one of the great local characters of our town, Brian Gomm, now retired reporter for the Leigh Journal, who obtained most of his local news from his many informants in local hostelries around Tyldesley, Atherton and Leigh.

Brian was a successful schoolboy RU player, unfortunately it wasn’t his undoubted ability as a hooker that kept him out of the England schoolboy teams but his Tyldesley accent, much to his disappointment.

From this point RU was ditched and Brian turned to Rugby League, his game for Leigh was one of the most remarkable debuts in the game’s history, Brian was doing his job as a reporter, Leigh were playing Featherstone away on Sunday March 31, just 24 hours after being beaten 21-14 by Featherstone in the Challenge Cup semi-final at Leeds and sustained a few injuries and could not put out a team.

Duncan Broome and Paul Harrison, two Fev juniors, quickly signed for Leigh which of course gained them a heritage number 833 and 834.

Brian in his capacity as a reporter went to the dressing room and to his great surprise he found his own name at No.14.

Gommy was hurriedly signed and in a pair of borrowed boots donned the Leigh kit, whilst on the subs bench he was jotting his report for the Journal.

When called into action Gommy never took a backward step and did his job admirably, the result of the game was never in doubt. Fev being on top for most of the game.

As is usual against a forward dominated Fev team a few skirmishes erupted and Gommy , not the shy retiring flower of a guy, gave his ten penuth, one incident when trying to defend a fallen team-mate and administer justice his reporter’s arm was in full swing for the head of Sammy Windmill.

The unfortunate referee Ronnie Campbell in his haste to keep the brawlers apart walked straight into the exocet that was Gommy’s right cross, which caught him a glancing blow.

This was confirmed to me some time ago by Ronnie himself. Ronnie regained his composure and as Gommy was thinking one game and banned for life Ronnie acknowledged that it was accidental and took no further action.

Brian never played for Leigh again but gained a Swinton heritage number 646 1978-79, he also went on to play for Rochdale and Huyton whilst still reporting on Leigh matches.

The last twist in Brian’s tale was he had gone on his motorcycle on that fateful day and still comments of the horrendous journey home full of bumps and bruises.

You are more likely to see Brian moving a church organ to another destination, propping the bar up in one of the many hostelries that have a guest beer on, or feeding his horses.

He still has many tales to tell should any of you bump into him...