Eyes of the world on Leigh as Leigh Sports Village celebrates the biggest year in its history

Leigh Journal: Cook Islands and Tonga line up for the Rugby League World Cup game at Leigh Sports Village on November 5 Cook Islands and Tonga line up for the Rugby League World Cup game at Leigh Sports Village on November 5

AS 2013 comes to an end, Leigh Sports Village is celebrating its most memorable year since opening for business in 2008.

With record attendances, incredible games of rugby league - including the unforgettable World Cup match between Tonga and Cook Islands - and appearances from the likes of Manchester United, this was the year that LSV brought the people of Leigh more top sporting entertainment than ever before.

• Stadium record attendance of 10,544 at Rugby League World Cup match

• Record-breaking Tetley’s Challenge Cup Semi-Final

• Leigh Centurions march to Northern Rail Cup glory

• Kingstone Press Championships Final Day comes to Leigh for first time

• Series of international football friendlies featuring Manchester United, Dynamo Bucharest, FC Bruges, Hearts and Wigan

• Blackburn Rovers U21s play in front of biggest crowd in 18 months

• Record attendance for Manchester United UEFA Youth League game

• Elton John announced as first major concert at LSV

The year began with a bang: Leigh Centurions beating Wigan Warriors in a pre-season friendly in front of nearly 3000 fans.

And Centurions built on that form with a magical run to Northern Rail Cup glory, overcoming Whitehaven and Batley in quarter-final and semi-final ties at LSV before beating Sheffield Eagles on a glorious night in July.

As Leigh Sports Village Chief Executive Simon Toon said just before the final: “We’re proud to be Leigh’s home ground and proud of their success this season."

The rugby league drama continued in July when Leigh Sports Village hosted the Tetley’s Challenge Cup semi-final for the very first time.

It was another record-breaking event: Wigan Warriors beating London Broncos 70-0, the biggest margin in Challenge Cup semi-final history.

And the major occasions kept coming at LSV.

In September, there was a full day of quite extraordinary rugby league as the Kingstone Press Championships Finals Day came to town, with Sheffield Eagles, Rochdale Hornets and Leigh Miners Rangers taking home the silverware.

“It was an absolutely fabulous day for Leigh Sports Village,” says Toon.

“We were delighted to host the finals day, and showcase the stadium. The atmosphere in and around LSV was fantastic, with extremely positive feedback from the fans, who were telling us they were really enjoying their day.”

But the rugby league fireworks didn’t stop there.

On November 5, Leigh Sports Village was full to the rafters for the Rugby League World Cup match between Tonga and Cook Islands.

With the people of Leigh taking the Tongan team to their hearts as they trained at LSV and visited schools and young rugby teams, a staggering 10,544 fans flocked to see the game... and the hakas: a stadium record attendance, and the biggest midweek crowd for a RLWC game in the entire tournament.

As the Tongan team themselves said: “Just wanted to say a big thank you for the wonderful warmth and hospitality shown to us all by the people of Leigh over the past few weeks.

"The boys were made to feel very welcome both at training and in the community, and greatly appreciated your excellent facilities and accommodating staff.”

Of course, it’s not all rugby league at Leigh Sports Village.

Blackburn Rovers U21s returned for another season of fixtures at LSV - including a marquee game against Manchester United in early December.

With £15m man Wilfried Zaha, Darren Fletcher and Raphael Da Silva turning out for United, this was a special occasion, matched the following week when Manchester United returned - this time as the home team.

Taking on Shakhtar Donetsk in the UEFA Youth Cup, United needed to win to progress to the knockout stages, but in front of a record crowd for the Red Devils at this level, they could only manage a draw.

Still, with Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt on the touchline, it was another fantastic night for LSV.

And, in fact, not the only European tie at the stadium this year, after Dynamo Bucharest, FC Bruges and Hearts played a series of friendlies in the summer.

“We’ve got so many fantastic memories from this year,” said Toon.

“Leigh Sports Village has genuinely established itself as a world class venue this year, attracting massive crowds to see some of the greatest sporting teams in the world and we’re really delighted with the feedback we’ve received from the local community.

"They tell us that because of hosting the Rugby League World Cup - and our announcement of the Elton John concert next year - they now feel proud to be from Leigh, that the events here in 2013 and 2014 are putting the town on the map. And that’s what we’re all about. We can’t wait for another 12 months of top class action.”

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