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Burnham For Mayor

Monday, 18 January 2016

Tommy Sale - Simply The Best of Us

When you do my job, it's very rare to be able to stand up and speak and find everyone in complete agreement with what you say.
But I know that, for today at least, in paying this tribute, I speak for every man, woman and child in this town.
Tommy Sale was quite simply the best of us - the greatest Leyther of them all.
I first met him fifteen years ago.
Perhaps because of the teacher in him, Tommy liked to give me a bit of guidance in those early days.
He took a particular interest in the first live TV interview I did.
I was standing on the green in front of Big Ben, more than a little nervous, and, through my earpiece, I heard the Granada Reports presenter Lucy Meacock say: "We can now go over to Westminster and speak to the new MP for Wigan, Andy Burnham."
Well, to say that my life flashed before my eyes is an under-statement. But I recovered enough to correct her. I was in fact the new MP for Leigh, I said.
The weekend after, in the old boardroom at Hilton Park, Tommy beckoned me over.
"Andy, I was very glad you put that girl on the television straight. MP for Wigan. What a terrible thing to say."
When it came to local loyalties, there was never any doubt where Tommy's lay.
A couple of years later, we were sitting together in the same stand and I was proudly telling him about my dream of the Leigh Sports Village. I was a young man in a hurry.
In his typical under-stated way, Tommy told me that he has some knowledge of doing something similar. He then proceeded to look out on the pitch and paint the picture of he and his team of volunteers, straight after the war, working day and night, ferrying bricks, cement and coal slack, to build the very ground where we were both sitting.
It was a humbling moment. Talk about me needing to get some time in!
This was a man who built our club and our town with his own hands, his brain, his passion, his sheer ambition for Leigh and its people.
But he didn't stop at the ground; he then went on to build the team.
Arguably the single most important thing Tommy did to put Leigh on the map came in the late 1960s.
With Leigh second bottom, he went over to a golf club in St Helen's and talked a certain 27 year-old Saint into becoming Leigh's coach.
He succeeded - and I don't think Leigh has ever quite recovered!
We went on a journey that took us to Wembley and our moment of national glory.
Adopting the legendary Alex Murphy as a Leyther stands as one of - if not the - most inspired signing in the history of Rugby League.
Tommy achieved great things. Not for himself. But for Leigh.
A great man but, just like this town, no airs and graces, always on a level with people.
He was Leigh personified.
The army took Tommy away for a while. He achieved the rank of Second Lieutenant, a good wage of £20 per week and was playing Rugby Union - or the Game of the Establishment, as he called it.
But he swapped it all to come back home, earn £4 a week as a gardener, and do what he wanted to do - play Rugby League for Leigh.
And this is what sets Tommy apart.
Other great people have been born here, but made their name away from Leigh. Tommy was born near here and made his name here, by devoting himself to this place.
That's why he's the greatest Leyther of them all.
When I was first elected, I remember getting letters about all kinds of things that people wanted for the town.
But one came more than any other - could I help get an honour for Tommy Sale?
Together with Peter Smith and Trevor Barton, we tried. But it didn't happen straight away.
Yet the letters just kept on coming, year after year.
I know I am looking right now at many of the people who sent them.
You knew what was right, you never gave up and, thanks to you, the day finally came when Tommy got what was rightfully his.
That MBE was celebrated as much as a trophy for our beloved club. And that says so much about this town - one man's success celebrated as if it was everyone's.
I will never forget the day when I had the proud honour of welcoming Tommy and his family to Parliament on the proud occasion of his receiving the award at the Palace.
I gave him a tour of the corridors of power and, as I steered him around, he kept whispering to me: "Andy - all this fuss for me. Can you imagine that?"
I kept telling him how, yes, I could imagine it. It was because of everything he had done and the way he had done it.
A man of standards, dignity, discipline but with a care for people.
The complete gentleman at all times.
Someone who never wavered from his mother's advice: "in life, you must learn two things; to give a little and take a little; but give more than you take."
Leigh values through and through. Tommy embodied them. It's why he was the best of us, the best of Leigh.
It was the manner in which he accepted his MBE that speaks volumes about him.
I repeat Tommy's words today at the request of his family because they tell you more than I ever could about the man, his values, his outlook on life.
You can almost hear him saying them now, so typical they are of him.
"The town of Leigh owes me nothing; it is I that should be thanking them, as well as St Peter's Church, Leigh Rugby League Club and all of my family for the wonderful life they have given me."
Tommy loved Leigh. But Leigh loved him too.
Goodnight and God bless Tommy.
Forever the greatest Leyther of them all.