Researched and compiled by Mike Latham:
It started with a routine enquiry of the then Leigh Secretary in 1978, only to discover the Club had no records of past games and players; 36 years later it emerged in a tangible form. Heritage Numbers have become something of a rage.
It’s simple and effective: a list in debut order of all players to represent a club.
To compile every Leigh game since 1895 is a mammoth task, involving many hours spent poring over microfilms in libraries. There are frustrations; times (especially at Christmas and Easter when games came thick and fast) when only a brief report was given and no team line-ups stated.
There were others when the Leigh Journal and Leigh Chronicle reports contradict one another, the microfilm copy was not scanned properly or even worse occasions when the newspapers went on strike and no reports were given at all.
It became at times an obsession, it involved visits to over one hundred libraries- after all if the Leigh newspapers’ report were scanty those in their opponents’ local paper might be brimming with information. Sometimes it was. Then there were Eureka moments, interviewing past players- the oldest, looking back at my notes was born in 1898, and discovering a Christian name, finding the identity of un-named trialists or the like.
One such game was Leigh’s game at Featherstone in March 1974- the previous day the teams had contested a Challenge Cup semi-final. Leigh lost and took a threadbare side to Post Office Road. It was so threadbare that Leigh Journal reporter Brian Gomm, who had gone to cover the game on his motorbike, was drafted in as substitute.
Brian came on and played, 50-something then Leigh coach Les Pearce, the other substitute that day didn’t, so while Brian gets a Heritage Number, Les sadly doesn’t.
Two amateur players from Featherstone were hastily signed to make up the team; many years later a chance conversation with Rovers stalwart Keith Bell revealed them to be Paul Harrison and Duncan Broome, both of whom he knew well. In all there are over 1,400 players since 1895. I’ve decided to go back even further and allocated separate Founders’ Numbers to the players that played in the club’s rugby union days from 1878 to 1895- after all an important period in the Club’s history that is often overlooked.
Some details are lost in the mists of time- I wonder how some of the players of the 1890s got their nicknames that often accompanied a colourful match report- the likes of Whiffy, Soap, Bummer, Frosty, Catty, Cocky, Kelt and Sheep. And some great stories I’ve gathered along the way, stories that make the numbers and the statistics come alive.
One Leigh player went to play for Streatham & Mitcham in the ‘30s and supplemented his wages by appearing as a professional wrestler, under the name of The Russian Bear from Vladivostok. Another gave up rugby for a while and took up football, playing one League game for Bolton Wanderers at centre-forward against Liverpool at Anfield. He returned to Leigh and played in their 1921 Cup-winning side.
Then there are tragic tales- at least eight in the list perished in the First World War, another two in the Second World War. The range of occupations is vast, lots of colliers, iron-workers, publicans and
mill workers, but one Leigh player was a professional soldier, one a first-class cricketer, another (arguably the greatest ever player to play for the Club) began his working life as a rat-catcher.
There are just ten un-named trialists or AN Others in the list, including one said to be a South African rugby union international, while two were recalled by one player as ‘posh chaps’ from Sandal RU club in the 1930s.
There’s Albert Edward Worrall, a stalwart of 503 games in Leigh’s front row in the interwar period, and 167 (including Messrs Gomm, Broome and Harrison) who played just one single game.
There are players from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Jamaica, Scotland, Wales, one born in Poland, one in Ohio. There are many family links, several fathers and sons, one notable grandfather and grandson.
They have one thing in common. They Played for Leigh, and now they’ve each got their own, unique Heritage Number to prove it.