Pensioner died hours after grandson earned Saints call

Harold Swift with his MBE award
Harold Swift with his MBE award

AMATEUR rugby league stalwart Harold Swift MBE passed away just hours after discovering that his grandson was set to make his Saints debut.

The Blackbrook ARLFC chairman was “over the moon” at learning that his 19-year-old grandson, Adam, had been picked to face Widnes in the Challenge Cup fourth round.

But, sadly, the father-of-five and grandfather-of-nine succumbed to a chest infection in the early hours of Saturday (April 14) before he got the chance to see Adam pull on the red vee.

Mr Swift’s eldest son, Alan, said: “Dad was in good spirits and was shouting at the TV on Good Friday. But he just deteriorated throughout the following week.

“It was his 79th birthday on Friday (April 13) and he was just glad to have all his grandchildren around him. He was over the moon about Adam’s selection for Saints too. It’s such a shame he didn’t get the chance to see him play.”

Mr Swift’s association with Blackbrook ARLFC and the wider amateur game dates back more than 50 years.

He started out at Brook as a player in his early 20s, before a short illness opened his eyes to the administrative side of the club.

He returned to playing, in his preferred position of hooker, shortly afterwards before combining his playing role with acting as club secretary.

Turning out for the Saints B team on occasion, he retired from playing at the age of 38 - but remained determined to help make Brook a major force in the amateur game.

A key player in the formation of BARLA, even donating his own cash to help get the ball rolling, he helped turn Brook into a conveyor-belt of junior talent – which has so far produced three subsequent Man Of Steel winners.

In the current Saints squad, the likes of Paul Wellens, James Roby, Jamie Foster, Paul Clough, Shaun Magennis and Gary Wheeler – as well as Adam Swift – have all come through the Blackbrook ranks.

Dave Hunt, the current Blackbrook secretary, confirmed that a minute’s silence was planned before last night’s match and that a further mark of respect would be planned ahead of this Saturday’s game.

He said: “Harold’s death came as a shock to everyone involved at the club. He was just one of those characters you thought would go on forever.”

Mr Swift’s unswerving dedication to the game he loved also saw him awarded an MBE by HM The Queen in 2004.

Alan Swift added: “If my dad had put the same effort into running a business he would have been a millionaire twice over.

“He was one of those rare people who could walk with kings and talk with paupers. Nobody is prouder than us, his family, at all the tributes he is getting.”

No firm plans have yet been made for Harold Swift’s funeral, although, to accommodate all the well-wishers, it could take place at St Helens Parish Church towards the end of next week - at the earliest.