It is sad to relate the passing of one of Saints’ Southern African stars, Percy Landsberg, on February 13, aged 82, after a long illness.
He made 22 appearances overall for the club, scoring two tries and kicked 11 goals. He was also full-back in the 1960-61 Lancashire Cup final team that triumphed over Swinton at Central Park, Wigan, which included Tom van Vollenhoven and Jan Prinsloo in the line-up.
In the late 1950s the St. Helens club began to look at South African Rugby Union as a source of recruiting future talent. They hit pure gold with Tom van Vollenhoven and signed Jan Prinsloo shortly after. Their third venture was to snare Percy Landsberg to a professional contract at Knowsley Road.
It was a very cloak and dagger operation in those days. If a player was found to be dealing with the professional code, they were dealt with very harshly indeed by the union authorities. On September 29 1959, the Saints Secretary Basil Lowe received a letter from the South African ‘go between’ regarding Percy Landsberg.
In the opening paragraphs, Basil stated the club’s desire to sign him: “I have taken action straight away and I am able to inform you that we are interested in Percy Landsberg. I have had a word with Tom van Vollenhoven who more or less repeats all that you have said. He feels that Landsberg would be a success in Rugby League and he also thinks that Percy would be happy in this country and with this club.”
The die was duly cast and Percy became a Saint shortly after.
Born on June 18 1935 and a miner in the Rhodesian copper belt, Percy had played his club rugby for a team called Nchanga and had enjoyed representative selection for Rhodesia and the Transvaal Under 19s. At 5ft 10ins and 11st 5lbs he could play anywhere in the backs, with excellent handling skills and he was tough enough to compete in professional rugby league, for sure.
He was also a competent goal-kicker too. Percy made his debut against Liverpool City on November 7 1959 at right centre, with Tom van Vollenhoven outside him, who scored a hat-trick in Saints’ 40-17 win in front of more than 11,000 at Knowsley Road. Jan Prinsloo was the other centre. Percy played on eight occasions in the First Team that season, scoring two tries. Although he could play centre, he was, perhaps, most at home at full-back.
Percy took up the full-back position at the start of the 1960-61 campaign and wore the jersey in the Lancashire Cup final against Swinton at Wigan on October 29 1960, in front of more than 31,000 fans. The Saints lifted the famous trophy after a 15-9 success, part of their domination of the competition in the early 1960s. Percy played the following week against Whitehaven at Knowsley Road at full-back and it proved to be the last time he pulled on the First Team strip.
During his time at St. Helens he proved to be a popular player with the fans and team-mates alike. His brother, Chris, a winger, came over to play several games for Leigh in 1961.
Percy returned from St Helens to work on the Copper Belt in Nchanga. His eldest son, Tony tells us: “He was not allowed to play rugby on his return [due to having played pro rugby], so he went and played soccer, representing Northern Rhodesia. He played baseball as well while in Northern Rhodesia. He then moved to South Africa, Durban and then Pretoria where he started a baseball club for kids. It grew to being the top junior and senior club for 25 years. He retired from the club [Centurion Raiders] due to ill health.”
Clearly his sporting interests formed such a huge part in his life.
His granddaughter, Keri Stroebel, said that Percy was extremely proud of his rugby achievements and shared his fond memories of St. Helens rugby league right to the end.
A point emphasised by Tony: “His St. Helens jersey and other memorabilia was his greatest possession.” A touching sentiment, indeed.
At this sad time, we send our condolences to Sylvia, his wife of 60 years, together with sons Tony, Deon and Steve. Percy is survived by his brother, Chris. Another of his brothers, Jannie, pre-deceased him.
The funeral is set for this Saturday.
Written by Alex Service.