John Blair passes away

Date published: Sunday, October 30, 2011

IT is with deep sadness that we record the passing, after a four-year battle to beat cancer, of Oldham Community Radio’s Oldham RL match commentator and former Oldham and Halifax stand-off half John Blair.

John, who was 59, died in Dr Kershaw’s on Saturday morning after being admitted the previous afternoon. Details of his funeral etc will be given on the website as soon as they are available.

John played for Fitton Hill amateurs as a boy and later fulfilled an ambition to play professionally for his home town when he signed for Oldham during the 1969-70 season after successfully graduating to that level with his performances in the club’s ‘A’ and ‘B’ teams.

In an accomplished Watersheddings career spanning the years 1970 to 1979 — he narrowly missed out on a ten-year benefit — he played in 115 senior games, amassing 292 points with 15 tries (worth three points in those days), 119 goals and nine drop goals.

He made his senior debut as a substitute against St Helens at the end of the 1969-70 season and it was against that same Saints opposition some six years later that he enjoyed one of the many magical moments of his career.

On February 8, 1976 he came off the bench for Oldham at Knowsley Road to land a towering, angled drop goal near the end of the game which gave Roughyeds an 8-7 win —- their first at Knowsley Road for many years.

For the record, the Oldham team that day was: Murphy; Elliott, Barton, Bottom, O’Brien; Treasure, McCone; Ramshaw, Taylor, Kear, Hall, K Flanagan, Peters. Subs: Blair, Reynolds.

Three years earlier, on October 19, 1973, John gave another performance to remember when he scored a long-range try against the Australian touring team. The Kangaroos won 44-10 at Watersheddings, Peter Astbury and John Blair scoring the tries and Terry Clawson kicking two goals.

Oldham: Murphy; Munro, Elliott, Wainwright, O’Brien; Gaitley, Astbury; Clawson, Taylor, Wilson, Hall, McCracken, Reynolds. Subs: Blair, Daley.

The Aussies were warming up for a Test series which they won 2-1, losing 21-12 at Wembley, but going on to to win the second Test 14-6 at Headingley and the third 15-5 at Warrington.

 

They fielded many of their world-class stars at Watersheddings and John’s try in the pavilion corner provided him with a lifelong memory and one that he was to joke about for years afterwards.

 

“I never ran as fast in my life,” he would recall, “but then that was hardly surprising with Artie Beetson chasing me and Bob O’Reilly, the other Aussie prop, ready to smash me to pulp if he had got hold of me.”

His Watersheddings days over, John returned to his roots for one season, playing and coaching at Fitton Hill, before the then Halifax boss and legendary Great Britain coach Maurice Bamford persuaded him back into the pro game at the old Thrum Hall ground.

John’s educated kicking and astute attacking play from out-half, helped Halifax to win promotion from the second division and also earned the Oldhamer a place in Thrum Hall folklore on the day he scored no fewer than four drop goals in one match to equal a world record.

When his playing days were over he became involved in the coaching set-up with Great Britain under-19s before taking up refereeing as a member of the Oldham RL Referees’ Society and attaining grade 2 status.

In his later years John retained his passion for the sport and his desire to see the Oldham club flourish and he put his vast experience to good use as Oldham Community Radio’s rugby league expert.