In Memory Of Derek Day, 1927-2018

Leigh Centurions are deeply saddened to learn of the death of their former player Derek Day, aged 90 and pass on their sincere condolences to his family.

A Cumbrian by birth, Derek caught the eye playing on the wing for Millom Rugby Union club and turned professional with Leigh after trials in August 1951. At 5ft8 and eleven and a half stone he was a slightly built athlete with pace to burn off the mark.

He was quickly given his opportunity in the first team, making his Leigh debut on the left wing against the New Zealand tourists at Kirkhall Lane in October 1951. Captain/coach Joe Egan had the forthcoming Lancashire Cup Final against Wigan on his mind and rested several players in readiness for that big game, so Derek was given his big chance.

Though the Kiwis won 31-5 and played some outstanding football in front of a crowd of 8,168 it was a memorable day for Derek and three other players on debut, Tom Freeman, John Geraghty and Jack Hayes. The depleted Leigh side fought bravely and had the consolation of scoring the game’s final try.

Derek retrospectively and proudly earned Heritage Number 613 when the Club’s heritage project was unveiled in 2014.

Leigh lost the final 14-6 and the following week Derek was back in first team action, scoring a hat-trick in a 22-15 home win over newcomers Cardiff. On a sodden field and in pouring rain he showed his finishing ability to win the game for Leigh after the plucky visitors had fought back to trail only 16-15. Derek scored his second try just after the hour-mark and went in for his third, and the match clinching try seven minutes from the end.

Despite that notable performance competition for places was intense and Derek was competing for a wing spot against some fine players in Bill Kindon, Frank Kitchen and Frank Morgan while the Australian Owen Bevan, brother of Warrington star Brian and Oliver Teggin were also in contention. As a result his opportunities were limited but he also scored a try in the final game of the season, a 45-17 home win over Liverpool City, in which Bevan scored four tries before leaving for home.

Derek played five first team games for Leigh, scoring those four tries, his final game being in a 21-9 home win over Belle Vue Rangers on 27 August 1952. His performance that day must have impressed the Rangers officials as he soon followed a well trodden path of Leigh players moving to Hyde Road later in the season, initially on loan.

 Rangers officials quickly made the move a permanent one and in 1953-54 Derek became a firm favourite with the Hyde Road faithful as he finished top try-scorer with 21 tries. The following year he was again to the fore, topping the Rangers scoring charts with 17 tries in a side that was now struggling and which finished next to bottom of the league.

Derek had plenty of former Leigh team-mates for company with the likes of Nebby Cleworth, Maurice Gallagher, Yendle Pugsley, Harry Dagnan, Paddy Lannon and the New Zealander George Beatty among the contingent of Leythers helping out the Rangers.

By now Derek’s tally of 39 tries in 85 games had established himself as a respected finisher but sadly that proved to be Rangers’ final season and they failed to start the 1955-56 campaign. By then he had been snapped up by Warrington but his time at Wilderspool was not particularly fruitful and he made only two first team appearances for the Wire.

Derek’s son Sean, also a winger, had a meteoric rise when plucked by St Helens out of the amateur ranks after playing for Culcheth Eagles. In a glorious debut season partnering the great Australian centre Mal Meninga in 1984-85 Sean played a major part in Saints winning the Lancashire Cup and the Premiership Trophy while also finishing runners-up in the league. He scored 14 tries and kicked 191 goals in a brief but memorable 47-game Saints career and no one would have been prouder than his dad.

Derek’s funeral is at Howe Bridge Crematorium, Lovers Lane on Friday 12th October at 10am.

John Derek Day, b 24 Oct 1927; d 28 Sep 2018.

An obituary by Mike Latham.

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