Leigh Centurions are greatly saddened to learn of the passing of the club’s former player Kevin Taylor, aged 73, and pass on sincere condolences to his family at this time.
Kevin enjoyed a long and distinguished playing career, cast in the unenviable position of hooker- an unglamorous but vital role, especially when possession in the days of contested scrums often meant the difference between winning and losing games.
After a 14-year career at his hometown club of Oldham he came to Hilton Park towards the end of the 1976-77 season, helping the Leigh club through some difficult times.
Early season optimism after promotion and a strong start to the campaign which included reaching the final of the BBC2 Floodlit Trophy disappeared, seemingly after the fall-out from a disastrous and shock defeat at Blackpool Borough in the semi-final of the John Player Trophy just before Christmas.
Player-coach Kevin Ashcroft left soon afterwards, heralding a mass exodus of players and caretaker coach Bill Kindon manned the defences and helped Leigh to rebuild, though relegation became an inevitability.
Kevin Taylor was a shrewd £3,000 buy from Oldham in February 1977, bringing experience and know-how to an inexperienced side. Though at the veteran stage of a career that had seen him chalk up no less than 429 first team appearances in the Roughyeds ranks, he still had plenty to offer to the game.
Sure enough, he was a wise head in a predominantly young side headlined by the fast-emerging talents of John Woods and Des Drummond in 1977-78 when new player-coach John Mantle helped inspire a promotion season. Leigh were one of the ‘yo-yo’ clubs in that era of four-up and four down, relegated twice, promoted twice in the 1970s.
Taylor was ever-present in that campaign and then proved he could still mix it in the best of company, playing 38 out of 40 games in 1978-79. Mantle was sacked with another relegation looming, but Tommy Grainey stepped in to inspire a remarkable revival, nine wins in the last ten games leading to a great escape, Taylor a pivotal figure. He played a further 27 games the following season as Leigh consolidated in the top-flight ahead of their amazing push to championship success two years later.
Highly respected and professional, he was an ideal man to have around as the likes of Alf Wilkinson, Steve Donlan, Terry Bilsbury, Mal Yates, Tommy Gittins and Mick Hogan matured into first teamers who would serve Leigh well.
He left Leigh for Swinton, playing one game for the Lions and wound up his distinguished career with a short stint at St Helens, answering their hooker crisis by playing seven games in the Red Vee, the last at Blackpool Borough in August 1981, over 18 years on from his Oldham debut.
He’d signed Oldham soon after his 16th birthday having captained Oldham schoolboys to win the Lancashire Cup and learnt his junior rugby with the Werneth club. He understudied the vastly experienced Len McIntyre before making his first team debut at Castleford in April 1963, former Leigh star halfback Brian Fallon a team member that day.
Showing patience by learning his trade in the A team, he gained a regular place in the 1965-66 season, past or future Leigh players including Tommy Warburton, Tommy Canning, Peter Smethurst and Geoff Fletcher among his team-mates. Thereafter he never looked back, displaying remarkable consistency and durability, surely one of the best hookers never to earn a full Great Britain cap.
As well as being an excellent ball-getter and sharp around the play-the-ball he was a great support player in the loose and was Oldham’s top try-scorer in successive seasons, 1966-67 and 1967-68.
Though best remembered for that service at Watersheddings, during which time he won Great Britain Under-24s, England and Lancashire honours, Kevin Taylor did great work for Leigh, the best £3,000 they could ever have spent.
He played 108 games for Leigh, scoring ten tries and retrospectively earned heritage number #863 when the club’s Heritage Numbers were revealed in 2014.
Not many players make over 500 senior appearances in a senior career, but Kevin Taylor was a member of that select club.
Kevin Taylor, b Oldham 1 August 1947, d Oldham March 2020. An obituary by Mike Latham.