A night of heroes

Saints Chairman Eamonn McManus
Saints Chairman Eamonn McManus

LANGTREE Park was awash with emotion on Friday night when living legend Tom van Vollenhoven made his way to the centre spot to kick-off the Saints v Salford City Reds match – the first Super League fixture at the club’s new stadium.

There was no shortage of tears as 76-year-old Voll, who thrilled crowds at Knowsley Road with his try scoring exploits during the 1950s and 1960s, milked the applause of the 15,547-strong crowd.

Tom Van Vollenhoven

Tom Van Vollenhoven

The sense of occasion was heightened by the famous sporting hymn Abide with Me being played over the loudspeakers, and the presence of more than 40 ex-Saints’ greats who formed a guard of honour as the former South African winger entered the area .

They included players from different era such as Chris Joynt, Harry Pinner, Paul Loughlin, Bill Benyon, Paul Sculthorpe, Neil Holding, Barrie Ledger, Steve Prescott, Andy Northey, Tommy Martyn, and Jeff Heaton.

Earlier, club life president and former skipper Kel Coslett had cut a special ribbon to mark the opening of the stadium flanked by two famous sporting sons of St Helens, Alex Murphy and Keiron Cunningham.

Tom van Vollenhoven said: “I enjoyed many magical moments during my playing career at Saints, but this was right up there with the best.

Tom Van Vollenhoven

Tom Van Vollenhoven

“It’s something I will never forget.”

Head coach Royce Simmons said: “I’ve been involved in Grand Finals both here and at home, but never experienced the kind of atmosphere that was out there tonight.

“It didn’t matter who you were, the hairs on the back of your neck stood up.”

n CHAIRMAN Eammon McManus (pictured right), has dedicated all his efforts in masterminding the building of Saints’ new stadium to his late father, Thomas.

Writing in Friday ‘s programme, Mr McManus said: “My father was a Japanese prisoner of war and a survivor of Changi Prison in Singapore and the Burma Death Railway.

“He refused ever to be cowed or beaten, and instilled in me the value of perseverance with anything that is truly worthwhile.

“For him it was his own life, for me it has been a new life for the Saints.

“I am sure that he would have appreciated my journey as I most certainly did his.”