In Memory Of Stan Owen

Leigh Centurions are greatly saddened to learn of the passing of one of the club’s all-time greats, Stan Owen, at the age of 90 and pass on sincere condolences to his family for their loss.

Stan came from South Wales to play for Leigh in 1951 and went on to make 415 appearances for the club, forming arguably the club’s greatest front row partnership alongside fellow prop Bill Robinson and hooker Walt Tabern. He was transferred to St Helens in 1963 and later played for both Rochdale Hornets and Blackpool Borough before retiring at the end of the 1968-69 season. He represented Great Britain against France in 1958 and played twice for Wales, making 546 career appearances and scoring 56 tries.

Only fellow prop Albert Worrall, whose 503 games for Leigh came during the inter-war period, has made more appearances for Leigh than Stan, who retrospectively earned Heritage Number #617 at the Club’s Heritage Day in 2014.

Kevin Ashcroft played alongside Stan for Rochdale in the mid-1960s before coming to Leigh and the pair became lifelong friends. “I owe my career to Stan,” Ashcroft said. “When I went to Rochdale from Dewsbury I was only 21 which was very young for a hooker in those days.

“Don’t forget those were the days of contested scrums and there were a lot more scrums in a game than in the present day. The role of the front row was vital as possession from the scrums made the difference between winning and losing. These days you could have Lobby Lud as hooker and he’d get the ball.

“Stan was my number ten and he looked after me straight away. He taught me the dark arts of scrummaging and with him alongside me I feared no-one. I packed down with him, fought with him, boozed with him.

“Stan was fearless, as strong as an ox and didn’t back down to anyone. We used to travel to training and games together and he was the most jovial man ever put on this earth with a great sense of humour. But when he took to the field, he became one hard man, hard as granite, feared and respected by opponents. Opposing coaches would say to their players: ‘If Stan’s in front of you, don’t run at him.’

“In the scrum he taught me how to position myself and I’d pretend to bind round him, then drop my arm, looking for a loose arm when the ball was fed in. He used to hook my arm for me when going across the scrum. He had it down to an art form. One day an opposing hooker was causing us problems and Stan decided to take him out. ‘Next scrum let him have the head,’ he said to me. I did and the next thing I knew I was waking up in Warrington Infirmary with Stan looking down at me. ‘Sorry, Ash,’ he said, ‘I forgot we’d given him the head and I hit you instead of him.’

“You look at the number of games he played, how long he played and he was a phenomenal Rugby League player. He adapted so quickly after coming north from rugby union and he was a good footballer with some good ball-playing skills.

“I never saw him take a backward step on the field and no-one ever got the better of him. The only one I remember who ever got close was Wally Hurstfield of Widnes, another hard man. One day they had a real set-to on the field. It was so fearsome no-one else got involved, they just let them get on with it. But after the game Stan and Wally were in the bar together, buying one another a pint.

“Stan continued to live in Leigh with his wife Joan, a lovely person and, bizarrely for someone who was such a fearsome character on the field he bred budgies but we used to joke that as soon as he walked in the room they’d stop chirping. In retirement he’d meet up with old players on Leigh Market for a coffee and he never lost his sense of humour.”

Leigh Centurions President and long-serving former Club Chairman and director Brian Bowman saw all of Stan’s Leigh career and knew him well. “Stan was a terrific player and a hard man,” Brian says. “They don’t make them like that anymore. He played in the best pack Leigh ever had- (Bill) Robinson, (Walt) Tabern, Owen, (Derek) Hurt, (Mick) Martyn and (Peter) Foster.

“Bill Robinson used to tell me that before a game Stan would say: ‘Let’s give them a rough ten minutes’ and he’d think ‘here we go again.’

“For all he was a hard man on the field, off the field Stan was a lovely man with a lovely family. He had a great sense of humour. I remember going to see him a few years ago while he was in Wigan Infirmary after a small operation. While I was there the consultant came around. ‘Are you alright Mr Owen?’ he asked Stan. Stan replied: ‘No, I’m not, sir. I don’t like being in bloody Wigan!’

“From signing for Leigh he never moved from Leigh. He worked as a plant fitter for many years for a firm in Astley and later kept the Bridge Inn.”

Stan was in line for a Wales RU international trial when he signed for Leigh from Pontypridd RU club in November 1951. He was stationed at Burscough while on National Service. He made his Leigh debut against Bradford Northern on 1 December 1951 and the following season became a regular in the side, playing in 38 games. Over the course of the next twelve seasons he was a fixture in a great Leigh pack. Together with Tabern, the hooker and fellow prop Robinson the trio clocked up an incredible 1,180 senior games for the club. Stan was an integral part of Leigh’s Lancashire Cup-winning sides in 1952 and 1955 and during his long time at Leigh played under six coaches: Joe Egan, Jack Helme, Peter Foster, Don Gullick, Alan Prescott and Gerry Helme.

His Great Britain debut was in March 1958 against France, a 23-9 win in Grenoble in a front row alongside Saints great (and future Leigh coach) Alan Prescott and Hull hooker Tommy Harris.

Stan’s Leigh career came to an end when he was transferred to Saints for £2,000 in February 1964. His stay at Knowsley Road was brief (12 games, 1 try) and the following season he joined Hornets (95 games, 9 tries) before winding up his distinguished career at Blackpool Borough in 1968-69 (21 games, 2 tries) where he also served as coach. Stan’s son Ivor followed in his father’s footsteps in playing for Leigh in the late 1980s, becoming part of an elite group of fathers and sons to play for Leigh and retrospectively earning Heritage Number #961.

Stan leaves wife Joan, three sons, Kevin, Gareth and Ivor and daughter Linda and our sincere condolences are extended to the family.

Stanley Gordon Owen, b Pontypridd 7 Mar 1929, d Wigan Infirmary 12 Sep 2019.

An obituary by Mike Latham, with thanks to Kevin Ashcroft and Brian Bowman.

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