RL stars remember legend of the game

Billy Boston and his wife Joan among the mourners
Billy Boston and his wife Joan among the mourners

RUGBY league stars past and present were among the mourners who gathered to pay their respects to one of Wigan’s best-loved sporting sons.

Joe Egan, who was the last surviving member of the 1946 touring party to Australia known as The Indomitables after the aircraft carrier on which they travelled Down Under, was remembered at St Patrick’s RC Church in Scholes on Tuesday.

Mourners lined the street outside the church waiting for the flower-covered coffin to arrive in the hearse.

Young rugby players from the junior set-up of Wigan St Patricks, the club where Joe’s playing career began, escorted the coffin into the church, which processed to the altar to the strains of Abide With Me.

Among the past greats who turned out to pay their respects to former Great Britain and England hooker Joe, who lived most of his life in Beech Hill and passed away aged 93, were Wigan legend Billy Boston, Widnes player Frank Myler and former Great Britain international Jim Mills.

Current Wigan Warriors coach Shaun Wane also took his place inside the church to remember Joe who remained closely involved with his hometown club throughout his life.

Leading the service, Father Ron McGivern paid tribute to Joe both as a sportsman and a family man who loved his four children, five grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren.

He described how Joe started out as a sportsman by kicking a tin can around the streets near where he lived before progressing through the ranks at St Patrick’s into the Wigan team.

He also talked about his wartime service in the Home Guard, which he joined because he was in a reservist occupation, and how the guard’s processions through Wigan would be trailed by a large group of youngsters asking Joe how the Wigan team would fare that weekend.

BBC’s veteran commentator Ray French, who crossed paths with Joe early in his own playing career, gave a warm tribute to him in his eulogy, remembering how he first watched him from the Kop stand at St Helens’s old ground Knowsley Road when Wigan came to play their arch rivals on Boxing Day, 1946.

He said: “The pitch that day was a sea of mud, and what stands in my mind was a hooker who was different from most of the others, who could spray out a beautiful pass, give a short pass or a dance and a dart at the line. That was Joe.

“When I first came over from rugby union he encouraged me and said I would be all right and pick it up, because he just loved the game and its personalities. Whether he was in the Bahamas or Spain or Scholes he would always be trying to pass on the gospel of rugby league.

“He was a great friend to all of us, very helpful as a player and coach and a true gentleman off the pitch.”

Among the mourners paying their respects was Bill Foster, 86, who started watching Wigan in 1936 and attended with his daughter Ann Bridge.

Mr Foster said: “I travelled with my dad to watch them play Bradford in the cup final at Wembley, and I could feel every tackle he put in.

“Joe stands out among all the players I remember from that era, and I’ve never forgotten watching him play. I can’t really express it but he was brilliant.”