St.Helens R.F.C. is sad to hear of the passing of one of its former Board Members, Tom Ellard.
Tributes have been paid to the former Saints chairman Tom, who passed away on 8 November aged 87. He was on the Board for more than two decades.
His tenure began in the early 1980s, in a time of transition on the playing front, with the end of the Dad’s Army team and re-building of the squad a necessity.
Initially, he made up a Board of twelve; Tom Ashcroft was Chairman and John Clegg was Vice-Chairman. Apart from Tom, other members included Harry Cook, Eric Ashton MBE, Eric Latham, Bill Lyon, Joe Pickavance, Lawrie Prescott, Bill Rigby and Joe Seddon. Geoff Sutcliffe was Secretary, with Billy Benyon as Coach.
By the time he had resigned his Directorship, in the early Noughties, he had witnessed great changes both on the field and off it, as the game had moved towards a Summer season and full-time professionalism.
He succeeded Eric Ashton as Chairman and was involved with the first projects to move away from Knowsley Road to a new purpose-built stadium provisionally sited on the M62 Linkway. He set up a Consultancy Committee, which included supporters, to look into the viability of the project.
During his tenure, Ellery Hanley was also appointed as Coach and his team triumphed in the 1999 Grand Final against Bradford Bulls on that memorable night at Old Trafford.
A Primary Headteacher in Widnes, at St Bedes, one of his – and the Board’s – most difficult assignments was to strengthen the playing squad in the early 1990s when the club was vying toe to toe with the likes of Wigan and Widnes in the race for major honours.
Former Saint Tony Barrow wrote on social media: “Tom had a big input in the signing of Chris Joynt, Tommy Martyn and many more of the players of the ‘90s.” Yet Tom’s particular interest was investment in local rugby talent.
“He was always on the A team bus, with Mal Kay,” remembers former Kitman Bill Bates, “and he would follow up reports from the club scouts like Harry Wellens and Jack Coatsworth to sign players for the Saints.”
Life could be quite dramatic for Board members and Roger Grime, of St Helens Schools Rugby League recalls that Tom was a fund of stories about his times at the club, especially when Sonny Nickle had to stay at his house overnight, such was the fear of him signing for one of Saints’ rivals.
Shades of one of his predecessors, Joe Harrison, who did the same with a teenaged prodigy called Alex Murphy!
Tom was a quiet and amiable man, who always had time for the supporters and could be seen regularly in the ‘Best Stand’ paddock watching the Academy or A teams, even before his time on the Board.
In fact, as Ian Cartwright recalls, he was a member of the Supporters’ Club in the 1970s, before he became involved at Boardroom level and obviously had a real affection for St Helens RFC.
He also devoted time for other aspects of club life, such as helping with player testimonials, such as Bernard Dwyer, in 1994.
He married his wife, Beryl in 1956 and they moved to the South East for family reasons some time ago.
Pictured: Tom signing one promising youngster, Andy Haigh in the mid 1990s.