Rugby league stalwart. Geoff ‘Piggy’ Fletcher, passed away recently.
He was one of the great characters of Rugby League and is perhaps best remembered for his amazing efforts to keep alive the Huyton club and its later reincarnations as Runcorn Highfield, Highfield and Prescot Panthers.
The ball playing prop forward had few equals in the 1960s and 1970s.
He played for Leigh in three separate spells and in total made 154 appearances for the club. In his career he played an incredible 559 games and also represented Lancashire County. His other clubs included Oldham, Wigan and Workington Town.
The son of former Saints forward Bill, who played for his hometown club in the 1930s, Geoff took over the running of the family farm, Holme Farm which was situated just behind the Eddington End at Knowsley Road.
As a result Geoff was often referred to as ‘Piggy’ Fletcher in Rugby League circles.
Geoff played a starring role in the well known YTV documentary ‘Another Bloody Sunday’ in 1980 which focused on Doncaster’s struggles.
The game against Geoff’s Huyton side at Tattersfield formed a cornerstone of the documentary with hitherto unknown access to the dressing rooms and behind the scenes as Doncaster tried to end a long losing run against fellow strugglers Huyton.
Doncaster’s victory and the contribution of their prop forward, the late Tony Banham, was the highlight of the programme but Fletcher played a starring role as well with his passionate efforts to inspire his Huyton team. The documentary can still be viewed on YouTube and is required watching for any Rugby League fan.
Geoff started his professional career at Leigh in the early 1960s after playing for Thatto Heath and Pilikngton Recs and winning county and international honours in the amateur game. Former Saints and GB captain Alan Prescott was the Leigh coach at the time and saw the potential in the teenager who, at 6ft 2 and 16 stone was already an imposing physical figure.
Geoff made his debut against St Helens at Hilton Park in a Western Championship game in September 1962. Leigh had lost each of their opening seven games of the season but the game still attracted a crowd of 10,369 as Saints won 20-10.
In August 1965, Geoff was transferred to Oldham where he played 111 games over the course of the next four seasons, playing for the Roughyeds in two losing Lancashire Cup Finals. He also missed out on a Great Britain cap as Oldham were involved in a cup replay and he chose to play for his club instead.
He was then transferred to Wigan, making his debut against Blackpool in August 1969. During his time at Central Park he missed out on a Challenge Cup Final appearance due to a broken elbow, won a Lancashire Cup winner’s medal in 1971 and was a member of the Wigan side defeated by Saints in the 1971 Championship final. In all he made 140 appearances for Wigan.
By the time he came back to Leigh for a second spell in August 1972 he was an experienced and durable forward whose skills were undiminished. He played a leading role in Leigh’s Floodlit Trophy success over Widnes later that year, Aussie Graeme Lawson’s try from Derek Clarke’s grubber kick securing a hard-fought 5-0 win at Central Park.
His stay at Hilton Park this time was relatively brief and in November 1973 he went back to Wigan before returning to Leigh in January 1975. He played his final Leigh game against Castleford at Hilton Park in January 1977, nearly 15 years after his debut, having now combined his playing career with a stint as A team coach.
From there he went to Workington Town for a short spell before joining Huyton as player-coach in August 1977. At Alt Park he quickly assumed all the major roles, as player-coach, groundsman and club official including a long stint as Chairman alongside a few other stalwarts who fought a long and ultimately unavailing battle to keep Rugby League alive on Merseyside.
Huyton finally quit Alt Park in 1984, driven out by the vandals and spent several years at Canal Street Runcorn playing as Runcorn Highfield. They then became Highfield, playing at Houghton Road in St Helens, sharing with the town’s soccer team before the club’s long history (which had begun as Wigan Highfield who had entered the Rugby League in 1922) came to a close as Prescot Panthers at Hope Street. Throughout it all Geoff Fletcher was the driving force of the club, his spirit and love for the game indomitable.
Geoff played 133 games for Huyton and its successors, his last in November 1985 when he had come out of retirement, over 23 years after his professional debut. He stayed with the club until Prescot Panthers’ demise after the 1997 season.
Geoff’s dedication to the game was recognised by the Rugby League Writers Association and he won their inaugural merit award in 1981. Looking back on his career he described his greatest triumph as keeping Rugby League alive at Huyton. “I wouldn’t have changed them for the world,” he said. “I have been paid for doing something I love. I have enjoyed it very much and I still enjoy it.”
This obituary was written by Mike Latham at Leigh Centurions