Tommy Martyn Senior – An Obituary

Leigh Centurions are extremely saddened to learn of the passing of Tommy Martyn Senior at the age of 69 after a short illness and pass on their sincere condolences to his family and friends at this time.

Tommy was part of the Martyn dynasty that produced three of the most charismatic and talented players of the post war years, all of whom served the Leigh club with distinction. Tommy’s elder brother Mick was a one club man who created the record of scoring the most tries ever by a Leigh player- 189 in 329 games between 1954 and 1967.

A damaging wide running back row forward, Mick toured Australia with the Great Britain touring team in 1958 and created a record for most tries by a GB forward on tour, 23 in total. He was a Leigh legend and is regarded as one of the greatest players ever to play for the Club.

So Tommy, 11 years Mick’s junior, had tough boots to step into when he too pursued a career in the professional game. He started off, like many Leigh born players did in the late 1960s at Batley – a legacy of Terry Gorman, a Leigh born halfback having a coaching spell at Mount Pleasant and recruiting many of his home town players to bolster the Gallant Youths’ ranks.

Tommy made 60 appearances for Batley, scoring 14 tries before he joined Leigh for the first time in October 1971, just after the club’s Wembley triumph. It was a period of transition for the club and though Tommy soon became a regular, playing 97 times over the course of the next three years it was hard to establish a reputation in a much changing side that suffered relegation in 1974, just three years after the magical Alex Murphy era ended, despite a Challenge Cup semi final defeat at the hands of Featherstone Rovers.

In January 1975, with Leigh languishing in the second division, Tommy followed Murphy and moved to Warrington. It was a transfer that ignited his career and set him on the road to cementing his reputation as one of the game’s greatest second row forwards. Like his brother Mick, Tommy was a damaging wide runner but he was also a brilliant passer of a ball, particularly in the tight confines of a game played under the old five yards rule. In exchange Leigh got £8,500 plus the Welsh forward Clive Jones.

“I think Warrington got the best of that deal,” recalls the former Leigh and Warrington international hooker Kevin Ashcroft, who played alongside Tommy at both clubs.

“Clive was a great bloke but Alex (Murphy) once said to him: ‘You can’t catch, you can’t pass. Can you sing?’

“Tommy’s brother Mick was a one club man and a legend in Leigh. Tommy flitted about a bit but once he got settled at Warrington he really showed what he could do. He revolutionised forward play, he would run at you, bang his shoulder down and he’d be off again. And passing? They used to say Tommy could squeeze the ball out of his backside- he was incredible, a magician.

“At Leigh and Warrington they’d always tell you to follow Tommy if he made a break, that was the golden rule. The tries he used to create were incredible. He was a hard player, really hard, in a tough Warrington pack. They might have invented the word ‘uncompromising’ after him. But off the field he was a gentleman, one of the nicest men you could ever meet. He never strutted about but could look after himself. He never started anything but you didn’t mess with Tommy.

“He was at his peak at Warrington. He developed an art of running with the ball, dropping his shoulder, releasing the ball. He was a nightmare to defend against. He was like a horse in a long distance hurdles race, he simply never stopped going, whatever the state of the ground. He had an incredibly economical style, he was like a thoroughbred in a field full of carthorses.

“He once complained to me of a shoulder injury after slipping the ball so much in the tackle and getting banged by the defender. ‘Mine’s the same after so much hooking,’ I replied. ‘Don’t be daft,’ he said. ‘You never put your arm over in the scrum, you’re always after the loose arm.’

“Tommy was a long distance lorry driver but never missed training or games. He was naturally fit. He hated going off the field and wanted to play every game. He was a delight to play alongside.”

Tommy played 220 times for Warrington, scoring 51 tries and kicking one goal, but his most memorable days in Rugby League were still to come.

“He’d played at Wembley in the losing Warrington side in 1975 and toured in 1979 with Great Britain only to have to return home early due to injury. He’d played for England, yet hadn’t won the honours his talents deserved,” Ashcroft adds.

Tommy re-joined Leigh in a straight swap deal for Tommy Gittins at the start of the 1981-82 season with Murphy back at the helm at Hilton Park alongside Colin Clarke as coach. It was arguably Leigh’s most memorable season- an early Lancashire Cup Final success over Widnes followed by a long, eventful and ultimately successful pursuit of the Holy Grail- the Championship that Leigh had only won once previously, back in 1906.

Tommy Martyn was at his absolute best in that wonderful season; often over-shadowed by the brilliant John Woods, Des Drummond, Phil Fox, Terry Bilsbury, Mick Hogan, Steve Donlan and the like in the backs but never under-rated by his team-mates. Together with the likes of fellow forwards Tony Cooke, Ray Tabern, Alf Wilkinson, Ian Potter and Mick McTigue and the brilliant scrum-half Kenny Green he formed the spine of arguably the finest Leigh team of all time.

Come the glorious evening at Whitehaven in April 1982 and the 13-4 victory that sealed Leigh’s championship that has gone down in Leigh folklore, the dream season was complete.

Murphy moved on, but Tommy Martyn remained and in the final game of the 1983-84 season, his last game, he left an enduring legacy.

Leigh against Warrington, Tommy’s final game, the last game of the season, against his former club. And at Hilton Park, a few hundred yards from his house. Tommy single-handedly destroyed Wire that day, in a quite outstanding display of ball-handling second row play. John Woods, Chris Johnson, Steve Donlan and Des Drummond profited and Leigh won 44-20 but the memory of Tommy’s display endures. If you could have a game to cut out and keep in your scrap book that would be the one; so fitting for a final game.

Tommy’s son Tommy Junior later lit up Rugby League in his own way- a brilliant outside half who played the game with a smile on his face, his skills honed by countless hours of practice on the terraced streets around his home in Leigh. Tommy’s daughter Samantha married Paul Anderson, another fine player, who has played a great part in Leigh’s rise to Super League in his role as assistant coach.

Tommy Martyn Senior played 165 games for Leigh, scoring 23 tries.

“He was one of the best players the town has ever produced and a gentleman,” Kevin Ashcroft concluded. “Shy, unobtrusive, unassuming but a genius on the Rugby League field. For all he achieved in the game that Championship season at Leigh was his proudest moment, without a doubt. Another legend of the game has gone, and I don’t use the word legend lightly.”

Leigh Centurions pass on their sincere condolences to the family and friends of a great player and great person.

By Mike Latham, with thanks to Kevin Ashcroft

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