Joe Egan: 'I'm not so bad for a 90-year-old'

A day in the life of former Wigan rugby league legend Joe Egan can be as hectic now as in his playing days.

Last Thursday was his 90th birthday. Another busy day. And on Saturday he was out and about celebrating and still going strong at his birthday party at midnight.

And on Sunday, this sporting hero with an enviable zest for life, who signed for Wigan RL Club for 25 in 1938, admitted: "I'm not so bad for a 90 year old."

It is a time for memories – and with a crystal clear mind, Joe Egan remembers his childhood.

"I was born in Anderton Street in Hardybutts in 1919 and we had one cold water tap in the kitchen" he mused. "But we never went short.

"Nobody had any more in those days, but children never appreciate they are poor. It just never strikes them."

Joe's wife Elizabeth (Bessie) died 31 years ago, and he has lived for some years with his son Barrie, first in Warrington and now in Lowton, spending his days following rugby league and indulging in his passion for gardening.

The man who was the first ever rugby league captain to receive the challenge cup from royalty, says: "Yes, a very proud moment. In the joy of that win back in 1948, I can't say I recall too much about the presentation. I was too excited. But I do cherish the photograph that captured one of the big moments in my life."

This former Wigan St Pat's lad played rugby from the age of 11 and recalls how the local players came into their own during the wartime.

"The local lads were such a success we were kept on after

hostilities finished," he said.

In addition to playing rugby, Joe held down a full-time job as a brass moulder at Naylor's in Millgate, explaining that his job was a "reserved occupation" which kept him out of the


But, he said, there was a down side because folks thought he and some of his mates were dodging the war. "They used to frown on us" he remembered. "It was something we had to put up with.

"But I was in the home guard and on Saturdays we used to march through Wigan and by this time, folks recognised me. Kids would run alongside asking if Wigan would win on Saturday. I had to tell them to buzz off.

"I also used to be a wartime fire watcher at the top of Rushton's store. One night, the chief said I should keep my eye on the Wigan scene in general, and not just on Central Park!"

After his days playing for Wigan he went to Leigh as player coach. Then, he said, Billy Boston was the best and in his view, remains so. "By having Billy we were quids in.

"In the early days, we players received 25 if we won and 15 if we lost. It was a good sum in those days, but we didn't push for money. We were just happy and proud to be playing for Wigan. Players and clubs started dealing in big money after I left the scene.

"It's a different world now."

In addition to rugby, Joe had another passion … dancing. He met Bessie at the Wigan Empress Hall and said it was sometimes a

nuisance training on Saturday because it prevented them from taking the dance floor.

Joe laughed: "We seemed to spend half our life at the Empress or some church dance hall. Life seemed a lot simpler."

A leg injury put paid to this rugby league legend's playing career and that's when he went to coach Wigan … a haven for great players.

Of the Wigan RL team today, Joe said: "They seem to be slipping away a bit at present but no doubt things will swing back in their favour. It just needs time."

For years, he reported on rugby league for the Wigan Evening Post and the Daily Express, and today, he loves gardening which he says keeps him fit.

Each year, Joe spends a couple of months in the winter with

daughter Pat who lives in the Bahamas. He also has a second son Chris who lives in Halifax and a third. Joseph resident in Spain.

Sadly, this rugby league legend has seen so many players go to the big rugby field in the sky. But by his own admission he still lives life to the full and is never happier than when he's recalling rugby league's great days.

"I've been lucky, very lucky." he said.