In Memory Of Mick Martyn

Leigh Centurions are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Mick Martyn, the Club’s all-time record try-scorer, after a short illness at the age of 81.

Mick Martyn ranked amongst the greatest players ever to play for Leigh and together with his late younger brother Tommy and Tommy’s son Tommy junior the Martyn family has made an incredible contribution to their home town Club.

Such was the enduring respect and affection held in the town for ‘Mighty Mick Martyn’ that when, twenty years after he had retired, a poll was held among supporters to name the refurbished bar under the Supporters’ Club stand after a Leigh player, his name was the one selected.

The Mick Martyn Bar remained a central feature of the Hilton Park ground up until the time came to leave the much loved home of Leigh Rugby League Club and move to Leigh Sports Village nearly a decade ago.

Mick Martyn was a superb second row forward who served his home town club loyally for fourteen seasons. He scored 189 tries in 329 games, figures which give some indication of his ability and durability.

When representative appearances are taken into account, including a starring role of Great Britain’s 1958 tour of Australia and New Zealand Mick scored well over 200 tries, an amazing strike rate for a back row forward. His rampaging running style and great strength and power made him the idol of Leigh supporters and won him many admirers from other clubs and the enduring respect of team mates and opponents alike.

Above all, Mick Martyn was a gentleman. Quiet and unassuming, he was reluctant to talk about his career. He remained great friends with many of his former teammates, sadly many of whom have now passed away, and played a leading role in the formation of a Past Players’ Association at the club. He was immensely proud to represent Leigh at the Centenary celebrations at Huddersfield in 1995 when he met up again with many of his contemporaries.

Leigh Centurions ambassador Alex Murphy OBE said: “I went on tour with Mick in 1958 and he was one of the best second row forwards I’ve ever played with or against. That was probably the best Great Britain side that has ever toured and everyone had to play in nearly every match, including midweek games to be in contention for the Test side.

“Mick had pace, a good pair of hands and he could read a game. Put him through a gap and he could pass most wing-men.

“For most of his club career Leigh weren’t the greatest club side at that time but he stayed loyal to them and played all of his career there. He was part of an Ashes winning tour and he was very proud of that.

“I rate him up there with the very, very best. I would have him in any of my sides without question. And above all he was a very, very nice guy.”

Leigh Centurions owner Derek Beaumont said: “As people we often loosely use the word ‘legend’ but where Mick is concerned and Leigh Centurions it is probably a word that doesn’t even serve him justice for his contributions and achievements within it. The history of our Club is a vital part of it and indeed provides the very foundations upon which it is built and Mick is a massive part of that.

“I wasn’t fortunate to see him play but I was fortunate to meet him on a number of occasions and a truer, gentler, more humble man you could not possibly meet. You would not think for one minute he had been a warrior on a Rugby League field.

“It will be very difficult to pay our respects to Mick as he is up there as our greatest ever player but we will do our best to do that at our first home friendly of the season in January where we will remember him and respect him as close as possible to the manner in which he respected and performed for our great Club.

“My thoughts and prayers are with his loving family some of whom are close personal friends of mine. This is a very sad day in the history of our Club.”

One of seven children born to Tommy and Mary Martyn at the family home in Thomas Street, Leigh Mick played his early rugby with Leigh St Joseph’s and also played for Bickershaw Collieries and for the Wigan Road WMC side. He was in the Open Age League as a loose forward and second row forward when he was 15. Mick signed for Leigh on 20 November 1952 and continued to play for his junior side for the rest of that season.

He had his first game with the A team in August 1953 in a friendly against Warrington A, scoring a first-half try in a 20-13 victory. He spent all the 1953-54 season learning his trade in the successful A team coached by Jack Helme, winning the Lancashire Shield.

Mick had a few matches at wing or centre but played mostly at loose forward, from where he had a great scoring partnership with the diminutive scrum-half Johnny Bowker, who was a shade over five feet tall.

Even in those early days it was forecast that he would become an international and after making his first team debut for Leigh in the following season, retrospectively earning heritage number 640 at the Club’s Heritage Day in 2014, his reputation grew rapidly.

Mick was only 18 when coach Joe Egan selected him for his Leigh debut at Dewsbury on 25 September 1954. The Leigh team was: Ledgard; Kitchen, Lowe, Holden, M Davies; Chadwick, Bradshaw; Robinson, Tabern, Owen, P Davies, W McFarlane, Martyn. Leigh won 13-11 at Crown Flatt in front of 3,000 spectators.

In his first season as a senior player Mick scored three tries in ten games, his first Leigh try coming in a 33-8 win at Widnes in March 1955. In 1955-56 Mick started the season with two tries in an opening day 28-25 win over Leeds at Kirkhall Lane in front of a 10,000 crowd and he went on to score 21 tries in 29 games and played a leading part in the Leigh side that lifted the Lancashire Cup. Leigh beat Widnes 26-9 in the final at Central Park in front of a crowd of 26,509. The Leigh side was: Ledgard; Kindon, Gullick, Moore, M Davies; Fleming, Chadwick; Barton, Tabern, Owen, Hurt, Martyn, Foster. He was selected in the Great Britain ‘shadow’ squad for the game against New Zealand in November 1955 at Odsal.

With 16 tries in 35 games in 1956-57 Mick cemented his growing reputation as his great friend Bill Kindon, a flying winger, scored a then club record 36 tries. But despite all the talent in the side Leigh finished 17th in the league. By now he had become one of the best known players in the game and in 1957-58 he scored 24 tries in 35 games as Leigh moved up to seventh, earning that coveted tour place.

In an era when there was immense competition for places in the international team he earned only two Great Britain caps, both against Australia, a fact which seems unbelievable in retrospect.

In the lead-up to the 1958 tour Mick impressed in the tour trial games and virtually booked his passage after impressing in the trial at Swinton in a back row that also included two of the greats of the game, Dick Huddart and Vince Karalius.

But on that 1958 tour he scored 23 tries- an all-time record for a forward on tour which remains to this day. Even the Australians were impressed: “Martyn must rate as one of the fastest forwards ever to appear in a touring side. He is probably faster than any back in the Australian team outside winger Ian Moir.” So wrote George Crawford in one of the leading Australian newspapers.

Mick was the third post war Leigh player to be selected for a Great Britain tour, following in the footsteps of Jimmy Ledgard in 1950 and Charlie Pawsey four years later. Billy Winstanley had been the club’s first tourist in 1910 and was followed by Joe Cartwright in 1920 and the famous duo of Walter Mooney and Joe Darwell in 1924.

While on tour he met up with former Kangaroo tourist Mick Bolewski, who had become Leigh’s first Australian player back in 1909. Bolewski, who lived in Bundaberg was thrilled to meet up with Mick and passed on his best wishes to his old friends in Leigh, which Mick was happy to convey on his return.

Mick proved his versatility on tour, playing prop, second row, loose forward, wing and centre. He scored four tries against Far North Queensland, repeating the feat with four tries against North Island on the New Zealand leg of the tour.

Injuries sustained playing on the hard grounds of Australia cost Mick the chance of more international honours. He had two shoulder dislocations but bravely fought back to playing the game he loved, fighting back to full fitness.

In 1958-59 he again topped Leigh’s try charts, scoring 28 tries in 27 games and in one glorious spell just after the turn of the year he achieved the remarkable feat of scoring at least one try in eleven consecutive Leigh games, 15 tries in all, a club record that still stands. He again led the club’s try-scoring table in 1960-61 (22 tries), 1962-63 (19 tries) and 1963-64 (22 tries).

Leigh reached the Lancashire Cup Final again in 1963 but were defeated 15-4 by St Helens at Station Road in front of 21,321 spectators. The Leigh side was: Risman; Tyrer, G Lewis, Collins, Leadbeater; Rhodes, Entwistle; Robinson, Lewis, Owen, M Murphy, Martyn, Hurt.

He was far more than a wide-running try-scoring back row forward. He had a rugby brain, was brave and fearless, a pack leader, full of speed, moves and excellent midfield work. There were times when he made the game look deceptively simple, many of his tries the result of timing, the eye for a gap and the angle of running as well as anticipating the approach work of his team-mates.

Content to play out his career at Hilton Park, he played his final game for the club on 2 September 1967 when Alex Murphy was player-coach. Leigh won 15-6 at Widnes in front of a 3,500 crowd. The Leigh side was: Grainey; Tickle, G Lewis, Collins, Walsh; A Murphy, Entwistle; Chisnall, Ashcroft, Higgs, Highcock, Martyn, McVay. There had been several big money offers for his services but Leigh chairman Jack Harding turned them down. “We wouldn’t take £20,000 for him,” he once said, that being a huge sum at the time.

He earned a testimonial with Leigh in 1963 and some of the comments in his souvenir brochure sum up what a great player he was and how highly he was respected.

The Leigh Chairman Jack Harding wrote: “It cannot be denied that Mick has not only brought fame to himself but has helped in no small way to establish his own town’s club.

“It is unusual for a local boy to make good in this Rugby game but Mick, by his splendid efforts resulting in many spectacular tries, has endeared himself to his club’s supporters.

“I know a lot about Mick that has nothing to do with his ability as a footballer. He is a most kind-hearted, generous person with close family ties and I am aware of a number of people he has helped directly and indirectly without saying a word to anyone about it.

“Rugby League football is called all kinds of names to make it appear to be a brutal, savage kind of sport in which only toughs will participate. Mick is the perfect example to discount these reflections on a wonderful game. He is a gentleman who plays with other gentlemen at a man’s game.”

The great Joe Egan, former Wigan and GB international hooker and the Leigh coach when he started his professional career told how he had signed Mick. He had gone to watch a schoolboys final with the late Leigh chairman James Hilton to look at another player. But Mick Martyn stood out. “Shortly after that he became a Leigh player and he soon began to make his mark,” Egan wrote. “As he gained the necessary weight it became obvious he would soon be in the first team. His vigorous type of attack brought him many injuries and no doubt kept him below the standard of consistent international. His try scoring phenomena for a forward, however, brought him the satisfaction of being an Australian tourist, the major goal for all Rugby League players.”

His first A team coach, Jack Helme wrote: “During my ten years of coaching at Leigh I never met a player who gave me greater pleasure than Mick. As a player of 16 it was soon apparent that he was a player out of the ordinary, his dedication to training and his wholehearted response to every command made you feel proud that here was a player who deserved to succeed. Mick soon became the greatest match-winning forward there has ever been. His try scoring record proves this. To see Mick in full flight for the line must be a great thrill for any spectator. I always feel proud of Mick for his capacity in helping others, no one ever calls on Mick in vain and as he has grown in stature as a footballer he has also grown in stature as a citizen. A citizen Leigh can be proud of.”

Mick represented a Rugby League XIII in Paris in May 1966 and scored 23 tries in 24 representative games, bringing his career totals to 212 tries in 353 games.

The great John Woods, with 152 tries is second to Mick’s 189 in the all-time Leigh try-scoring list. Bill Kindon is third with 149, Des Drummond fourth with 141 and Neil Turley fifth on 132.

Younger brother Tommy, over ten years his junior, played with distinction for Batley, Warrington and Leigh and was a member of Leigh’s 1981-82 Championship-winning side. In 1979 he emulated Mick in being selected for a Great Britain tour of Australia and New Zealand and also represented England in the 1975 World Cup and Lancashire.

Tommy’s son Tommy junior, who now works for the St Helens club, was an outstanding halfback for Oldham and St Helens and finished his career by playing a big part in the club gaining promotion to Super League in 2004. He represented Ireland and won four Championship-winners medals, three Challenge Cups and the Lance Todd Trophy in 1997. Between the three of them the Martyns played over 1,100 senior games, including 530 for Leigh.

Off the field Mick built his own mixed grocery business since 1959, worked on various jobs for the Coal Board and had a spell in the local parks department. He was a great believer that Rugby League players should have a manual job during the week to keep them fit. He was also employed on the Club’s ground staff and later developed an interest in property.

Widowed last year, Mick Martyn is survived by his son Stuart and daughter Sue and everyone at Leigh Centurions passes on their sincere condolences to his family and friends at this sad time.

Mick Martyn, b Leigh 13 Jan 1936, d Warrington 26 Nov 2017.

An obituary by Mike Latham, with thanks to Alex Murphy OBE.

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