HUNDREDS turned out to pay their respects to much-loved former Leigh player Geoff Fletcher.

The world of rugby league was heavily represented among those paying respects to the 74-year-old, who was affectionately known as Piggy due to his job of running a family farm, with teammates from all the clubs he represented over the years.

And ironically, for a man who often struggled to get 13 fit players whilst coach at Huyton, the church had enough talent to make up half a dozen teams, plus subs and the odd referee on top.

At the beginning of a moving service that celebrated the life of the hard-grafting former player, fitter, farmer and newsagent his daughter Sara encapsulated what a loving and compassionate family man lay beneath that big, rough, tough exterior when she movingly read out a poem entitled Dad.

And the loss will be felt greatest among the family, with his passing leaving behind wife Yvonne, son Wayne and daughter Sara and grand-children Molly, Emma and Scarlett.

Having played the game professionally from 1962-84 - a career encompassing three stints at Leigh, plus spells at Oldham, Wigan, Workington and Huyton - there was a broad range of past players in attendance – too many to list all of them.

He won a BBC Floodlit trophy with Leigh in 1972 and in total made 154 appearances for the club.

There was a strong Leigh presence – including former skipper John Woods who developed at Hilton park while Fletcher was assistant coach in the mid 70s.

Brian Hogan, Bill Ashurst, Doug Laughton and former Lance Todd winners Ray Ashby and Eddie Cunningham were among former Wigan team mates paying respects at St Luke's Church, St Helens.

Members of the old Huyton team were also strongly represented in the congregation, with Eric Prescott and Chris Arkwright – players who elongated their own careers to play under Fletcher at Runcorn and Prescot respectively – also paying their respects.

And there were also adversaries from the front row, with Big Jim Mills in attendance as well as former whistler Stan Wall.

Ray French spoke of knowing Geoff as a youngster, the special times playing out in the fields at old Eccleston.

He shared a story of the time he had turned up at Alt Park in the early 80s to report on Huyton’s game for BBC Merseyside, but ended up being cajoled into sitting on the bench to make up the subs to stop the club being fined.

French said: “He spent 20 years with the Liverpool club, in all of its forms – player, groundsman, kit washer, manager, gateman, chairman, programme seller and resident policeman chasing off the vandals.

“That was Geoff.

“But he was more than just a player and a character, and we loved him for that. We loved his humour and being in his company as a lad and as an adult.

“But I remember Geoff as the man he was. He was warm; he had good friends, he made friends and he kept friends and if he was a friend of yours he was there for life.

“Geoff was a real character, he was a real friend and he was a man’s man.

“Geoff Fletcher was a man the likes of which we will never see again.”