THE great Frank Stirrup, one of Oldham Rugby League Club’s best-ever players, has died in a Leigh care home at the age of 88.
A member of the illustrious few to be honoured in the Oldham RL Heritage Trust’s Hall of Fame, this slight of build yet multi-talented rugby player played a huge part in laying down the foundations for the success of the great Watersheddings side of the mid and late 1950s.
It was often said of Stirrup, a half-back of sublime skill, that he could “make a rugby ball talk”, such was his dexterity and speed of thought with ball in hand.
He played in 224 senior games for Oldham between 1951 and 1960, a period in which the club appeared in two Championship finals at Maine Road and Odsal; won the Lancashire Cup three years in a row; and built a reputation as one of the most entertaining teams ever to grace what was then a purely northern sport.
There can be no finer tribute to Stirrup than that penned by Michael Turner in his book ‘Oldham RLFC, the Complete History’, published in 1997.
He wrote: “In his first match for Oldham Frank played at scrum-half, but whether it be at the base of the scrum, stand-off, wing or full-back, Frank would always give 100 per cent effort.
“He could play scrum-half to Daley, then stand-off to Pitchford, then deputise at full-back for Ganley, embracing each role with enthusiasm and the natural Stirrup flair.
“He became known as ‘Mr Football’ and his sleight of hand exchanges, especially with Daley, became legendary at Watersheddings.
“He provided short passes to put the likes of Little and Turner through a gap; long passes to open up the way for Cracknell or Etty to fly down the wing; no passes, leaving defenders tackling shadows as he dummied his way over for a try.
“These were all part of the Stirrup armoury that would regularly thrill the Watersheddings crowd.
“Considered desperately unlucky never to represent his country, Frank did play for Lancashire and was a popular club caption in the championship-winning season of 1956-7, having been the first Oldham skipper for more than 20 years to lift a major trophy after the Lancashire Cup final success over St Helens at Swinton in 1956.
“As an entertainer, there were few, if any, who left such a lasting impression as Frank Stirrup.”
His funeral service will be on Thursday, February 14 (12pm) at St Joseph’s RC Church, Chapel Street, Leigh, then at Howebridge Crematorium, Lovers Lane, Atherton M46 0PZ. The funeral directors are Sankey and Monks (01942 673171).
Another ex-Oldham player, full-back Gordon Pollard, has died in Weymouth, Dorset, aged 58.
Signed from St Joseph’s amateur club in Huddersfield, he played 23 senior games in two spells at Watersheddings between 1976 and 1981.
Team mates in his debut season at Oldham included Martin Murphy, Mike Elliott, Fred Hall, Tony Wainwright, Kevin Taylor, Steve Herbert, Ray Hicks, John Blair, Kevin Flanagan and Eddie Barton.
His funeral is on Monday, February 11 (2.30pm) at Weymouth Crematorium. The funeral directors are Cotton and Son, Weymouth (tel: 01305 767676).