A personal tribute by Leigh Centurions’ Chairman, Mike Latham.

On this Saturday evening, we are all struggling to come to terms with the devastating news we have just heard. On behalf of Derek and us all at the Club, I have written this tribute predominantly from a personal viewpoint, as I was fortunate enough not only to see the whole of Des’s career but also to know him well.

I know that many more tributes will follow, from teammates, opponents, friends and everyone who knew him, and on this saddest of occasions just wished to portray as well as I could just what Des meant to us all.

Des Drummond will never be forgotten. Tomorrow’s home game against Whitehaven will be an especially poignant occasion and we will all be remembering Des Drummond and paying tribute to him. May he Rest in Peace.

Leigh Centurions are devastated to learn of the passing of Des Drummond at the age of 63 and pass on their sincere condolences to his family and friends at this incredibly sad time.

Des was a true superstar of Rugby League and one of Leigh’s all-time great sporting heroes. He lit up the rugby pitch with his explosive skills and off the field was a humble and caring person who perhaps never realised just how much of a hero he was to so many people.

Jamaican born, Des had an amazing career in his adopted sport, scoring 141 tries in 280 games for Leigh and being an integral part of the championship-winning side in 1981-82.

He later played with distinction for Warrington and Workington Town, where he was also extremely popular and loved by the supporters and had short stints with several other clubs.

He played 24 times for Great Britain and in 1983 achieved national fame with his amazing performances on the BBC programme Superstars, finishing second.

Des Drummond Superstars 1983

He reached the world final in Hong Kong and represented the sport of Rugby League outstandingly, in the company of some of the world’s leading athletes, impressing them all with his strength, pace, endurance and lighting up the television screens with his beautiful smile and engaging personality.

Des had come over from Jamaica with his family as a youngster and he lived in his adopted town of Bolton for the rest of his life. He formed a lifelong friendship with the highly respected former Leigh chairman and director Brian Bowman, the Leigh Centurions president. At this incredibly sad time, we are especially thinking of Brian, who will be devastated by the passing of his true friend.

Mr. Brian Bowman, Leigh Centurions President and former Chairman

Brian told me one day how he signed Des Drummond for Leigh. It’s an amazing story. Brian was on the board at Leigh, soon to become chairman. He had already made sure that Leigh had signed John Woods, at a time when other members of the board were hesitating, and it was through his foresight and rugby knowledge that Leigh also signed Derek Pyke and Steve Donlan, among others, who all became key members of the 1982 side.

But signing Des was quite possibly Brian’s greatest achievement, in a stellar contribution to the game as an administrator. Des’s elder brother Alva, who tragically passed away in 1994 after an accident on holiday in Cyprus, had played for Leigh and Des was to follow in his footsteps.

Brian took up the story: “We had an A-Team (reserve team) game at Barrow and Des came along on the bus to watch. The coach decided to give him a game and what a game it was! Up until then, he had played a handful of games in the Colts team.

“He was asked to play on the wing, he scored three tries and what tries they were! As a director of the club, I went to all the reserve games, and I did not have to think twice about what to do with this young player.

“I asked him if he would be interested in signing for Leigh and took him along to our board meeting on the following Tuesday night. I told the board, based on what I’d seen, that he was a future star of the game.”

But the board did not share Brian’s enthusiasm and the chairman, Jack Harding, pointed out that they had crossed Alva off the list.

Brian explained what happened: “Mr Harding said: ‘I do not feel like giving him any money for signing’ and asked Des if he would sign for nothing which Des agreed to. I felt embarrassed at the time, and I said I would give Des £50 and I thought that with there being seven other directors Des would get £50 off each of them and so get £400 for signing on. But to my disgust, none put their hands in their pockets.

“Des repaid me on the playing field, and I will never forget him as long as I live.”

So began a long friendship between the two men and Des was a regular weekly visitor to Brian’s home in Leigh.

Des was humble and caring, he could never really understand why so many people regarded him as a superstar, which he was.

In recent years he had started watching games at Leigh again and just before lockdown travelled with me to some away games. I took him to watch Oldham against Newcastle in a play-off game in 2019 and as we queued for a cup of tea and later stood on the terrace watching the game it was amazing how many supporters came up to say hello and tell him how much they had enjoyed watching him play, even though he had not played for either club and his career had ended over 20 years ago. Des also attended the 2019 Club Awards Evening as the guest of honour.

The news of his passing, which came through this Saturday evening, is especially poignant as only this morning we held a reunion of the 1982 team, alongside players from the 1971 Wembley team at Leigh Sports Village when the current players each received their playing shirt from a former player. Des had been invited only a few days ago, but politely declined, saying he had a prior engagement and was unable to attend.

It was amazing how many times his name cropped up during the morning as we looked back to that great season and the championship-clinching game at Whitehaven when Des scored one of the tries in Leigh’s 13-4 victory.

Tony Barrow, representing the 1971 team, was at the function and spoke movingly to the players about what playing for Leigh meant to him. After Tony’s career was finished by injury he went into coaching and coached Des’s older brother, the late Alva Drummond in the A team, before signing Des from Leigh in 1987 when he was coach at Warrington. I rang an emotional Tony this evening and he paid this tribute.

“It’s tragic news,” Tony said. “I can’t believe it. I thought the world of him, as so many people did. The Warrington fans idolised Des, just as the Leigh fans did. But then everyone loved Dessie, everywhere we went. I’ve never heard a bad word about him.

“For me as his coach, he was brilliant, one of my lads. He’d do anything for the team and was never an ounce of trouble. He had such an engaging personality and used to make us all laugh. He was so laid back and nothing bothered him. You’d highlight a star playing in the other team and Des would just say, ‘Don’t worry Tony, leave it to me,’ and he did. The way he crash-tackled people was unbelievable, he was fearless.

“With the ball, as well, he would just run into people and often leave them sprawled on the floor. He wasn’t a big man, but his strength was unbelievable. He’d do weights, but not heavy ones, light ones, and he was ripped to hell. He’s a background in martial arts as a kid and those skills helped him in Rugby League. He had that knack of tackling players to the floor.

“Des had explosive pace and when he got the ball it electrified the crowd, like a big buzz around the ground. Everyone knew something was about to happen and so often it did, a spectacular try or a run as Des would hurl himself headlong into an opponent. Alva, his brother if anything was even quicker. He had blistering pace too, and although he played for the first team at Leigh and Swinton, he never quite made it. It was through Alva that Des got into rugby, and he became a great, great player. There’ll never be another Des Drummond.

“Des, as we know, came into Rugby League by accident and as he didn’t know anything about the game before he started playing it, he was no respecter of reputations because, no matter how great the player, he’d never heard of them. He was one of those blokes that come up occasionally, who try the game, get signed up quickly and find they enjoy it.

“Before you know it, he was playing at the international level. He owed so much to Brian Bowman and Brian will be absolutely devastated by this news.  My thoughts are with him and all Des’s family and friends. Everyone who played with or against him, anyone who watched him play will be so greatly saddened to hear this news.”

During his time at Warrington, Des ran a pub in Moss Side and he later was engaged in community work with Bolton Council and was a regular cyclist around the Bolton area.

The statistics of Des’s career, though hugely impressive, still do not do justice to the superstar he was, or the impact he made on the game.

Des was born in Savanna-la-Mar, Jamaica on 17 June 1958 but raised in Bolton. He signed for Leigh, after that A-Team game at Barrow, and followed in the footsteps of brother Alva in representing the club.

Alva (HN#836) had made his Leigh debut on 10 April 1974 v Hull KR (home) and made 11 first-team appearances for Leigh, scoring 5 tries.

Des made his Leigh debut on 27 December 1976 in an away game at Hull KR (lost 9-23). He retrospectively earned Heritage Number 862 at the club’s Heritage Day in 2014.

Kevin Ashcroft, another big friend of Des’s, was the coach but resigned in January 1977 and Bill Kindon took over as caretaker until the end of the season as Leigh were relegated.  Des scored his first try in the last game of the season, a 7-26 defeat at Bradford, his 11th senior game. It was a spectacular individual effort, the first of many.

The great John Woods

Des came to the fore in the 1977-78 season under player-coach, the late John Mantle as Leigh were division two champions. He played in 33 of 34 games and scored 19 tries. John Woods played and scored in every game with 16 tries and 140 goals. The pair became new Leigh heroes. ‘Drummond and Woods,’ was how Leigh was known. Fans knew in their bones they were watching two special players, the sort that comes along so rarely, if ever again. Both were sensational Rugby League players.

The late Tommy Grainey took over as coach during the 1978-79 season as Leigh escaped relegation by winning their last eight games, and Des was again top try-scorer with 13 in 23 games. In 1979-80 he won Great Britain Under 24s honours, then made his England and GB debut in 1980-81 as the great Alex Murphy returned to Hilton Park to take over, Colin Clarke assisting in a coaching role.

Des Drummond lifting the Lancashire Cup, 1981.

In 1981-82 Leigh won the Championship and the Lancashire Cup. Des scored a second-half try in the 13-4 win at Whitehaven that clinched the title on a memorable Wednesday night in Whitehaven as over 5,000 Leigh fans trekked to West Cumbria to see their heroes. It was only Leigh’s second championship success, the first back in 1906. The Lancashire Cup final win was a hard-fought 8-3 win over Widnes at Central Park. There’s a wonderful photo accompanying this tribute of a joyful Des holding up the trophy.

Des scored the BBC TV Try of the Season in a John Player Trophy semi-final defeat against Leeds at Fartown in December 1983 and by now, with Rugby League regularly covered on television and an international star for Great Britain, he was known throughout the country.

In 1984-85 Leigh was relegated and Des broke his ankle, ironically in a game at Barrow.

He played for Leigh until the end of the 1985-86 season when they won promotion from division two under Tommy Dickens, winning 33 out of 34 league games- Steve Halliwell scored 49 tries, John Henderson 31, Phil Fox 29 and Des 21. Chris Johnson kicked 171 goals and two drop goals and scored 14 tries for 400pts. It was an amazing record-breaking season, but it proved Des’s last in a Leigh jersey.

Ryan Brierley, Milestone Award, with Des Drummond, 2019.

He scored 141 tries and kicked two goals in 280 games for the club. Only four players have scored more tries for Leigh- Mick Martyn (189), Ryan Brierley (154), John Woods (152) and Bill Kindon (149). Quite how many he’d have scored had he stayed at Leigh throughout his career is hard to say, but seeing he played the professional game for another decade he could well have doubled that tally.

In the summer of 1986, Des went over to play for Western Suburbs in Australia, scoring two tries in six games but then on his return did not play for Leigh and announced his retirement.

After a spell out of the game, he joined Warrington for a £40,000 fee under Tony Barrow and made his debut in a 31-10 win v Bradford on 8 February 1987. He scored 69 tries in 182 games for Warrington to 1991-92, playing in the 1990 Challenge Cup Final defeat (36-14) against Wigan at Wembley.

In 1992-93 he joined Bramley on loan making four appearances and then moved to Workington Town and scored 32 tries in 71 games to end of 1994-95 season as Town, under Australian coach Peter Walsh won promotion from the Third Division and ultimately reached Super League in 1996. They lost to Featherstone Rovers in the divisional play-off final at Old Trafford in 1993, but Town beat London Crusaders in the 1994 final at the same venue.

Town also won promotion to Division One for the 1994-95 season when Des scored eight tries in 29 games at the top level at the age of 36. Des was every bit as popular at Workington as he had been at Hilton Park and Wilderspool and he told me that he enjoyed his time there.

Des opened the scoring in Workington’s 94-4 Challenge Cup win over Leigh in 1994, Leigh’s record defeat, an occasion he told me many years later he found bitter-sweet.

In 1996 he scored three tries in 11 games for Chorley and in 1997 he scored four tries in 11 games for Barrow, one try in four games for Prescot Panthers.

His last professional game was on 31 August 1997 for Barrow against Lancashire Lynx, an 8-20 defeat in front of 540 spectators at Craven Park.

On the representative front, Des scored eight tries in 24 tests for GB between 1980 and 1988, seven in five games for GB Under 24s, one in five games for England, three in four games for Lancashire and nine in 10 GB tour games.

He made his GB debut against New Zealand in the second test at Odsal in 1980 (lost 12-8) but scored two tries in the third test win (10-2) at Headingley which made the series drawn. These two tries cemented his reputation on the international stage.

He played in all three tests against the 1982 Australians, known as the ‘Invincibles’, the only GB player to do so. He also played in a promotional game in Venice, for Great Britain against France.

His GB U24s debut v France was at Hilton Park, Leigh on 24 November 1979 (Won 14-2) when he scored a try.

He toured Australia and New Zealand with the Great Britain Lions in 1984 but was controversially withdrawn from the 1988 tour after an alleged incident with a spectator at Widnes, something about which Des still felt very aggrieved many years later.

His last game for GB was against France at Avignon on 24 January 1988, scoring a try in a 28-14 win.

He scored 285 tries and kicked two goals in 617 career games.

He was formerly British Amateur Champion at Judo also.

Des lit up our lives and right now, it feels like a light has just been turned off. He will be remembered in the highest regard and tales of his career will be handed down through generations. He truly was one of the all-time greats. But above all else, a lovely person.