In Memory Of Tom Boardman

Leigh Centurions are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of the Club’s oldest regular attending supporter, Tom Boardman at the age of 99.

Tom passed away in hospital last Friday after a short illness. He had bought his season ticket and had been looking forward to cheering on Leigh Centurions in 2018 and celebrating his 100th birthday in May with his son Ron.

Tom had a remarkable life and after his traumatic experiences during the war years viewed each day as a bonus. After serving in the RAOC in Singapore where reached the rank of sergeant he was taken prisoner of war by the Japanese and survived three and a half years in a concentration camp while working on the infamous Burma-Thailand Railway that claimed many lives and was known as ‘death railway.’.

He recounted those times two years ago at Armed Forces Day at Leigh Sports Village and also appeared on BBC Two’s Britain at War: Imperial War Museums at 100 to reveal the brutal treatment he was subjected to at the hands of his Japanese captors.

During his time as a prisoner he contracted malaria 32 times and his weight plummeted to six stones, but he kept the spirits up and those of his fellow captured soldiers by entertaining them with a ukelele he made himself.

The ukelele he played during the war is now housed at the Imperial War Museum North in Trafford.

Tom told the BBC: “You had to have willpower to survive. If you couldn’t overcome the desperate situation you would die. I had to do something and I wanted to give the lads something to lift their morale, if only fleetingly.

“We needed something to take our minds away from the reality of war. I had always loved music and played the ukulele, so I set about making one out of the old Red Cross boxes and used telegraph wires for string.”

Tom supported the Leigh Centurions and Leigh Community Trust’s work with the veterans in the Borough from its inception in 2015 and with his friend the late Mr Tommy Sale MBE witnessed the Club and charity signing the armed forces covenant at Leigh Sports Village

He supported the breakfast club for ex-forces personnel which became a flagship event in Leigh Community Trust LCT forces programme and recounted his war experiences for posterity on camera to David Drury, Lead Armed Forces Officer for LCT Forces.

Returning to Leigh on 8 October 1945 he set about rebuilding his life. He had married Irene in 1940 and they had nearly 70 years together until her passing in 2009. He also resumed his job as a traffic manager at Lancashire United Transport at Howe Bridge.

Tom was a Howe Bridger from Greenough Street and was proud of father Ernie, a coal-miner, who was a member of Leigh’s 1921 Challenge Cup-winning side.

On that famous day Leigh defeated Halifax 13-0 to lift the Challenge Cup for the first time. The final was played at Broughton Rangers’ ground at The Cliff. At the time the coal miners and mill workers were on strike and many of the Leigh supporters that attended in the crowd of 25,000 had walked all the way from Leigh and back to cheer on their heroes in the cherry and white jerseys.

A dashing loose forward Ernie made his debut for Leigh against Leeds in March 1913 and went on to play 223 times for the club, scoring 48 tries.

He played for Lancashire against Yorkshire in 1918 but was only awarded his county cap in 1956 due to an administrative error.

Two of Tom’s proudest possessions were his dad’s cup-winning medal and his county cap. And in 2014, when Leigh revealed their heritage numbers at the Heritage Day against Workington Town he was proud to pick up a scroll to mark his dad’s number of 226.

Though keen on many sports and a former captain of Leigh Golf Club, Leigh Rugby League Club remained his passion with an enthusiasm that was undimmed.

Son Ron said: “Dad had seen Leigh play at Mather Lane, Charles Street and Hilton Park and remained an avid supporter on their move to Leigh Sports Village. On cold days he would watch from the life members’ box after (club owner) Derek Beaumont learned of his tremendous support. That was something he appreciated very much.

“He was made of stern stuff was dad and he was a remarkable man.

“He’d seen all the great Leigh players and used to speak of Walter Mooney, the famous scrum half who was also a member of the 1921 cup-winning team. He loved watching Jimmy Ledgard, the great fullback and the great forward Charlie Pawsey.

“But his favourite Leigh player, like so many Leigh supporters was undoubtedly John Woods.”

Leigh Centurions owner Derek Beaumont said: ” It is always sad to learn of the passing of a member of our Famileigh but this is even more so when Tom was so close to reaching the incredible milestone of 100.

“It was amazing that Tom was so passionate about the Club that even at 99 he attended the games. I have fond memories of inviting Tom into the life members’ box for one of our games when it was very cold, something he made sure I knew he was really grateful for and greatly enjoyed.

“He had already purchased his season ticket for this season and it is such a shame he won’t get to see us battle to regain our place in Super League.

“But as our oldest fan I have no doubt he will be welcomed with open arms with his angel wings by our heavenly Famileigh, where I am sure he will cheer us every step of the way.

“My thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”

Tom Boardman, b 10 May 1918, d 5 Jan 2018. An obituary by Mike Latham with thanks to Derek Beaumont and Ron Boardman.


Mike Latham also wrote this article about Tom’s father Ernie which first appeared in Forty 20 Magazine.

An ageing newspaper report in my loft was uncovered during an ultimately fruitless search for something else. It’s October 1918 and the horrors of the First World War are slowly receding. Soon the Armistice will be signed and the slow path towards some sort of normality will be trodden. The local newspapers are still packed full with the ever-rising death toll of local soldiers from the front and news of Allied Forces pushing onwards in Belgium and France and beyond.

There’s a weary and sombre note to all the reports, a sense that four years of constant bombardment of war has affected everyone in one way or another. After all that’s gone on, the battle for points on a football field hardly seems important, but at least it has proved a distraction from the grim realities of war.

The Bolton Evening News produced a Saturday evening sports paper, the Buff and the fortunes of the Wanderers were still being followed as closely as ever.

The Wanderers started the 1918-19 season in promising fashion, playing in the North Section of the War Emergency League, and after the first few games were unbeaten. “The success of Wanderers is proving a source of gratification to those who follow the team week in week out, since war managed to upset the old scheme of things,” the Buff reported.

“All they want now is a centre-forward in which position they have been experimenting since Geddes discovered that it was more convenient to play with Southport.

“The directors have been driven to pursue their investigations amongst the rank of local junior clubs. They have under observation promising forwards engaged in the Lancashire Combination and the newly-formed Westhoughton League. The Wanderers officials do not need to be reminded that centre-forwards are born not made.”

Into this situation was introduced Ernie Boardman, described as a “Leigh Rugby forward who has been attracted to the soccer code in the absence of the Northern Union game.” Boardman, the report continued “is a ‘loose’ forward in parlance- this is a player who stands on the fringe of the pack and waits until the ball comes out. Then he’s off like the wind. He is specially chosen for the job because of his speed, so Boardman can be expected to be a traveller.

“He has another credential- he stands 5ft10 and weighs 13st and should take some shifting. He has been playing with Atherton Colliery at centre-forward and his five goals last week made 18 out of 30 in three weeks. He is quickly familiarising himself with Soccer and likes it, though he naturally feels a strangeness in the contrast.”

Ernie Boardman, born in 1892 had established himself in the Leigh side after making his debut in 1913. During the first three seasons of the war Leigh carried on playing friendly matches and Boardman, having a reserved occupation in the colliery was one of their best players. Leigh decided to close down after the 1917-18 season, until the war was over. “It was palpable at the close of last season that many Northern Union clubs were tired of the struggle to keep going under such difficulties and adversity as beset them,” the Buff reported.
Boardman decided to try his hand at soccer. It was remarkable that after only a few matches playing for Atherton Colliery that he should find himself playing for Bolton Wanderers at Anfield.

Boardman lined-up in a Wanderers side that was as follows: Hodgkiss; Nuttall, Hodson; Buchan, A Davies, Rutter; Pickup, Heathcote, Boardman, W Davies, Winterburn. The Liverpool side was: Scott; Speakman, Jenkinson; Bamber, W Wadsworth, M’Kinlay; H Wadsworth, Metcalf, Green, Lewis, Schofield.

The Buff reported: “Boardman is indeed a big one and he started the game.” The game attracted what

was described as an old-time crowd of 22,000. Liverpool went a goal to the good early on when Green scored after five minutes. Boardman then lost a chance after Davies rolled the ball across the goal. “Elisha Scott in the Liverpool goal was having a rest cure,” the Buff commented.

But just after the half-hour-mark, Heathcote equalised for Wanderers with a vicious low drive and the teams went in level at the break. “Boardman could not head but he showed he had a jolly good idea of dribbling,” the report continued.

The visitors started the second half well and Winterburn’s cross just eluded Boardman in a good position. Boardman then dashed through and turned the ball for Davies whose drive brought a good save from Scott.

Liverpool regained the lead, however, after 69 minutes when Bamber’s shot went past the unsighted Hodgkiss. Metcalf and Lewis added further goals and worse was to follow when Boardman damaged his arm and went off injured. He broke a bone in his left hand and was ruled out of action for the next six weeks. Liverpool added further goals through Harold Wadsworth and Green and recorded a 6-1 victory.

In the inquest on the game in Monday’s Bolton Evening News under the headline of ‘Trotters’ Tragedy at Anfield’ an un-named correspondent reflected on Boardman’s debut:

“Wanderers’ experiment of playing Ernie Boardman, a Northern Union forward with Leigh, attracted a lot of interest. It was soon obvious he was lost with the ball in the air and that was where his colleagues too often placed it for him.

“He is a big, broad-chested chap and showed plenty of vigour, but he never troubled Scott for a moment and parted too soon, although he showed he could dribble when he had gathered the ball. It was not a very momentous debut.”

The following Saturday edition of the Buff had more. Describing the events as a “bombshell result” for Wanderers, the summary continued: “The most serious aspect was the comparative failure of Ernest Boardman to justify the good things that have been said about him. With a really good centre-forward the story might have been a different one.

“It was surprising how many minds jumped back to the fact that Sutcliffe started at centre-forward when he first came into Soccer by the very mention of the Leigh NU forward. The latter attracted quite a lot of interest- he is a well built young fellow with a striking chest development, so big that he loomed over the rest of the players. Consequently the crowd began to expect some Hackenschmidt tactics. (George Hackenschmidt was the first free-style heavyweight wrestling champion of the world, believed to be the creator of the professional wrestling version of the bear hug, known for his impressive strength, fitness and flexibility.)

“But Boardman was strikingly gentle- he did charge once or twice, or else Reds bounced him off, but on the whole he gave one the impression of a fish out of water and there was speculation whether this was stage-fright or merely inexperience of the Association code.

“He didn’t attempt to head the ball and if he intends to take up Soccer seriously he will have to practice.”
When his injury healed the war was over, the Armistice signed and Leigh reverted back to playing. In no time Boardman was back at loose forward and he played a prominent part in the club’s path to the 1921 Challenge Cup Final, featuring in their 13-0 final victory over Halifax at The Cliff. Including the war-time friendlies Boardman played nearly 300 games for Leigh and scored 76 tries. He was also a prominent cricketer with Atherton Collieries. He was what you may call an all-round sportsman.

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