In Memory Of Tommy Grainey

Leigh Centurions are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of their much loved and respected former player and coach Tommy Grainey after a long illness at the age of 75.

Tommy had a long and distinguished career in the game, much of it spent in partnership with Kevin Ashcroft, who was one of his closest friends.

The pair first played together in the Leigh side under player-coach Alex Murphy in the 1960s and later formed a fine coaching team at Leigh, Salford and Warrington with Tommy invariably cast in the invaluable role as assistant coach. Tommy also acted as assistant coach to Murphy, such was the respect he also had for his knowledge of the game.

Tommy Grainey in 1967

Tommy played 164 games for Leigh between his debut on 16 December 1961 and his last game on 25 March 1973, retrospectively earning Heritage Number #702. He scored 16 tries and kicked 135 goals and received a well deserved testimonial in 1971.

During his spell as assistant coach at Warrington under Murphy he made a substitute appearance during an injury crisis at Barrow in October 1976, playing his part in a 38-13 victory.

Kevin Ashcroft said: “I was so sad to hear the news about my old mate. We were close and he was like a brother to me.

“Tommy came from a large family and was one of life’s characters and 100 percent loyal. You could trust him with the Crown Jewels. He loved Rugby League and being involved in the game.

“As a player he could play across the back line, fullback, either centre position and stand-off, but fullback was his favoured position. The only thing that let him down was pace. He had none. He was deceptively slow.

“Once, Murph got a contract with Norman Walsh, the famous boot maker from Bolton. He brought the boots into training. “Good boots these,” Alex said to Tommy, ”they’ll put yards on you.” Tommy replied: “I’ll have three pairs then.”

“Tommy was a great team player and he’d do anything to help out and play anywhere. But one day we played a joke on him. We’d had a few injuries and were struggling for a team so for a laugh, when the team sheet went up after training Murph put him at hooker. “I’m not playing bloody hooker,” Tommy raged when he saw the team. “I’m packing in!”

“We went along with it for a while and then told him he was playing fullback as usual. He saw the funny side. Fullback was good for him, he could read the game there and he had time to react. He had a brilliant knowledge of the game and a fantastic sidestep, even though it seemed to be done in slow motion at times.

“Tommy had a good pair of hands even though his fingers looked like talons as he must have broken every one of them. And he could tackle anyone. He showed no fear on a rugby field. He thought he was 16 stone when in fact he was considerably less than that and he was never intimidated by anyone. He was a very hard player and never took a backward step.

“He was a good goal-kicker, too, a real Steady Eddie, reliable, and just an all round good bloke, the ideal team mate. A coach’s dream, someone he could rely upon to give his best in every game.”

Tommy Grainey receiving his testimonial cheque in 1971

Tommy and John Lewis signed for Leigh from the Spinners Arms side during Jack Helme’s time as coach at Hilton Park. Tommy made his debut against Liverpool City at Hilton Park in December 1961 and kicked a goal in a 21-0 victory that ended a run of four straight defeats in front of a crowd of 3,500. Stan Owen and Derek Hurt were among the try-scorers while South African Ken Boonzaier kicked two goals.

Former Saints and GB forward legend Alan Prescott took over as Leigh coach and was then succeeded by former Warrington and GB scrum-half Gerry Helme before Murphy came in to lay the foundations for the ultimate Wembley triumph of 1971.

Tommy gained a regular place in the side in the 1965-66 season and two seasons later played in 37 of Leigh’s 43 games. He shared the goal-kicking duties with the likes of Colin Tyrer, Laurie Gilfedder, Tommy Warburton and then the Welsh signing Stuart Ferguson.

“Tommy began to struggle with injuries in his late 20s, particularly with his knees,” Ashcroft recalls. “By the Wembley season he played only a few first-team games but he was still heavily involved in training and as a valuable member of the squad.

“You had to watch him closely. He had an incredible sense of fun. One night at training we were going to a reception afterwards at the Town Hall for winning the Lancashire Cup. He asked Alex if he could leave training early as he had to do something. “Watch him, that mon, he’s up to something,” I said to Murph. Sure enough, when we got back in the changing room he’d taken all the laces from the players’ shoes and they then had to attend the reception struggling to walk .”

Leigh v Castleford, Challenge Cup 4 Feb 1967. Tommy is front row extreme right. Team back row (left to right) Rod Tickle, Colin Tyrer, Tony Davies, John McVay, Mick Murphy, Bob Welding, Derek Higgs; Front row: Joe Walsh, Mick Collins, Wilf Briggs, Gordon Lewis, Charlie Winslade, Tommy Grainey.

Tommy’s knowledge of the game made him an ideal candidate to go into coaching and spells as A team coach at Leigh and working with both Ashcroft and Murphy at Salford, Warrington and Leigh saw him extend his long involvement in the game.

“Any coach wants an assistant you can trust and you could trust Tommy with your life,” Ashcroft said. “All the players knew him and respected him and he had a good tactical appreciation of the game. He was always looking at ways to do things differently and trying new things. He could read a game as well as when he was a player and though he always had his say and his opinion he always backed your judgement.”

Tommy had a spell as Leigh head coach during the late 1970s, stepping up from his previous role as assistant to take over from John Mantle midway through the 1978-79 season with the newly promoted club struggling against relegation.

In those days four of the 16 teams in Division One went down but Tommy inspired a marvellous revival as Leigh won each of their last eight games to climb up to eleventh and safety. The brilliant Jamaican born winger Des Drummond was particularly inspired during this spell and scored 11 tries in the last two months of the season while a young John Woods’ outstanding form earned him a place on the Great Britain tour down under at the end of the campaign.

The 1979 Leigh team. Tommy Grainey – Back Row, far left.

In 1979-80 Tommy was in sole charge for the season as Leigh finished sixth in division one. Woods scored 22 tries and kicked 82 goals to spearhead the team while Terry Bilsbury finally fulfilled his tremendous potential with 19 tries, Steve Donlan blossomed as a top centre, Drummond continued his progress and won England honours while Tony Cooke was signed from Rochdale and became a key forward alongside the returning Alan Rathbone. Ray Tabern and Derek Pyke were key signings from rugby union and went on to become cornerstones of the pack.

After a poor start to the 1980-81 season Tommy left the head coaching position, resigning before the Featherstone Rovers game just before Christmas as Alex Murphy came back to Leigh as team manager. Tommy’s assistants Colin Clarke and Bill Kindon stayed on and Murphy led the club to the championship the season later, using many of the players he had inherited.

“Character wise Tommy was probably best suited as a number two but he did a great job for Leigh at that time,” Ashcroft recalled.

“One of my best memories is of us at Salford on a bitterly cold night at The Willows. He persuaded the chairman, John Wilkinson, to lend him his sheepskin coat and stood there in front of the dug out on the popular side, warm as toast, while the rest of us were freezing. His face was a picture.

“Tommy worked in the building trade and just as with his rugby you could trust him to do anything- brickying, plastering and the like. He always did a great job and put his heart and soul into it.”

Tommy was appointed head coach of Swinton during the summer of 1981, eight months after leaving Leigh and did a sterling job at Station Road working alongside his trusted assistant Stan Gittins. The Lions reached the semi-final of the John Player Trophy after a memorable 6-0 win over Salford in the quarter-final at The Willows, and gave another great display before losing 23-14 to Hull KR at Headingley.

Working under severe financial constraints the pair pressed ahead with a youth policy that bore fruit with the emergence of the likes of Paul Mellor, Ken Jones, Les Holliday and Martin Lee who all went on to forge good careers in the game. Later they signed Derek Bate from Leigh Miners, a winger who went on to give the Lions tremendous service. But in October 1983 Tommy resigned as coach, parting on the best of terms with the club..

Also a keen local cricketer, Tommy had a venture into the licensed trade and kept the Glass Barrel at Hindsford for a while. While there he entered a team in the local pub league when the competitive nature he displayed on the rugby field again rose to the surface.

Tommy Grainey is survived by his wife Pat and two daughters and everyone at Leigh Centurions passes on their condolences at this sad time.

Tommy Grainey (1942-2018), an obituary by Mike Latham with thanks to Kevin Ashcroft.

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