Former Leigh player Stan Walmsley has died in hospital in Spain at the age of 76.
Walmsley, a former Leigh Grammar School pupil turned professional with his hometown club from Tyldesley RU in 1959 for the princely sum of £300 despite offers from several other clubs.
He had trials with Wigan but had no second thoughts about signing for Leigh when the opportunity arose. “It was my home town club and I was always proud to play for Leigh,” he once said.
Born and raised in Selwyn Street, close to the Leigh ground, Walmsley had always watched the club but only took up playing rugby when there was a change at Leigh GS. “I first played Union at Leigh Grammar School when it was introduced by Ken Bruce, the new headmaster in 1956,” he said.
“They only played football before that.”
Walmsley’s elder brother Brian played with Westleigh Recs and the Robin Hood amateur clubs and did a lot of voluntary work preparing Hilton Park in the late 1940s.
After learning his trade in the A team, coach Jack Helme handed Walmsley his debut in the first team against Swinton in August 1961.
Danny Harris, an expensive capture from Welsh rugby union also made his Leigh debut that day alongside Walmsley as a penalty goal from South African born fullback Piet Botha gave Leigh a 2-0 win in front of 11,000 spectators at Hilton Park.
Walmsley made 23 appearances in his breakthrough season, scoring three tries and making his name as a talented back row forward as ex-Great Britain captain Alan Prescott stepped into Leigh’s coaching hot seat.
He enjoyed what he later said was his best rugby memory that season as Leigh drew 7-7 at home to Leeds in the Challenge Cup in front of a massive crowd of 16,203. “I was in the second row with Derek Higgs,” he recalled. “We both tackled everything that day and then we were only reserves for the replay which Leigh won.”
Tommy Dickens, who later became first team coach at Leigh in the record-breaking second division championship winning 1985-86 season, played alongside Walmsley after joining the club in 1964.
“Stan was a great forward,” Dickens recalled.
“He had everything, pace and size. He was tough and uncomplaining and never moaned if anyone got in the team ahead of him. Stan had a very placid personality and I used to wonder sometimes where he got his toughness from to play Rugby League.
“But on the field he could dish it out when he had to and with his size had the versatility to play up front or in the back three.
“He wasn’t a Mick Martyn in terms of speed but he had big legs and forwards at that time had to be big and mobile. He was a big lump of a lad and a good player to have alongside. He was a good all rounder and he could kick goals, too, if needed.”
Walmsley then missed two full seasons as he trained to be a teacher at Padgate as he was not allowed to play as a professional during his training. He decided not to continue his teaching career and returned to Hilton Park, playing 32 games in the 1965-66 season with former Great Britain halfback Gerry Helme now the coach.
He formed an instant rapport with Helme and later reflected that he was the biggest influence on his career. “Gerry always used to tell us: ‘You only get out of the game what you put in.’ That was true, not just in Rugby, but in life in general,” he recalled. “I would always tell young players coming through to follow that advice and to work hard and do what they were told.”
Late in the season he proved his versatility by taking on the goal-kicking responsibility, landing two goals each in narrow home wins over Blackpool Borough and Warrington and another brace in the cauldron of a Wigan-Leigh derby at Central Park which Leigh lost 17-7.
When Alex Murphy joined Leigh as coach Walmsley’s career was hampered by knee injuries which required several operations. He got back to fitness by playing rugby union again under an assumed name for a local club. In those unenlightened days professional Rugby League players were forbidden to play rugby union having crossed the ‘great divide.’
Murphy persuaded Walmsley to have another crack at the game and he returned to first team action before injuries took their toll and necessitated him calling it a day. He played his final game against Widnes in October 1970. Two tries by Tony Barrow helped Leigh to an 18-7 win at Hilton Park at the early stages of what proved to be a momentous season in the club’s history.
Walmsley scored seven tries and kicked six goals in 82 first-team games for Leigh and was very proud to be retrospectively handed heritage Number 699 at the club’s heritage day in 2014.
The best player he ever played alongside for Leigh, he said, was Gwyn Davies, younger brother of Oldham and Great Britain centre Alan. “He wasn’t famous like Alan but he was the player with the most ability and talent, unfortunately wasted,” Walmsley said. “He could do anything and everything if he put his mind to it.”
The best player he ever played against was the brilliant Welshman, Lewis Jones of Leeds.
Well known around town, Walmsley was the landlord of the Colliers Rest between 1973 and 1988 and helped his wife Betty when she was steward at Leigh Cricket Club. He also worked for local government for 25 years. He was a highly proficient crown green bowler.
A keen Leigh supporter and member of the Past Players association, he was a regular spectator at Leigh Sports Village where he enjoyed meeting up with his old teammates.
A memorial service will be held at St Joseph’s, Leigh in due course. Walmsley is survived by his wife Betty and his son and daughter.