A True Mark of the ‘Van’

IN July 2010, the Great Britain Community Lions undertook a tour to South Africa, which coincided with the 75th birthday of the one-and-only Tom van Vollenhoven, writes Alex Service.

In honour of the Great Man, the tour was named “The Tom van Vollenhoven 75th anniversary tour”.

The opening game, on July 24 saw South Africa ‘A’ play against the Lions at the Isak Steyl Stadium – Tom’s local ground.

The Lions won quite comfortably, but there was another magnificent tribute to South Africa’s greatest rugby league player. The home team wore special jerseys in the Saints’ ‘red vee’ design, complete with images of Tom in action on the front.

A jersey swap was not viable, but Lions’ physio Len McMain managed to obtain a ‘spare’ by exchanging it with a GB jersey he had in his own kitbag. Just over five years later, Len, with wife Mary, made their first visit to Langtree Park from their Luton home to hand the jersey over to the Saints.

Len was left in no doubt as to the high regard rugby people in South Africa have for Tom.

“To name the tour after him was fantastic”, he adds. “They also had special bottles of wine made with his image on. Given that he is obviously such an icon in St. Helens, too, it seemed appropriate that the jersey should have a final resting place at Langtree Park.”

Sports-mad Len began as a goalkeeper at semi-pro level for Bedford and Darlington RA before becoming an in-demand physiotherapist. He has worked with the GB Community Lions, England Lionhearts, St. Albans Centurions, Hemel Stags, Bedford Blues, Luton Town AFC, London Broncos, together with stints with the Jamaican and Serbian international RL teams. Both Len and Mary are qualified Paramedics.

As part of their visit, they had a tour of the stadium and finished, quite appropriately, by being photographed with the special jersey in front of the Tom van Vollenhoven 1959 Championship mural.

The jersey now resides in the Heritage Alcove at the rear of the store area.

Our thanks to Len for providing us with such a unique piece of memorabilia!

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