THE funeral of a swimming teacher who conquered the English Channel as part of a team four times will take place tomorrow, Thursday.

Thomas Clifford Kelleher, from Leigh, known as Cliff, led four teams of six based at Howe Bridge Leisure Centre in Atherton that swam the 21-mile distance in the 1980s.

The members, who worked at the Eckersley Fold Lane centre, first made it to the shores of France in 1984 when they took turns at freestyle stroke.

Leigh Journal:

A team training event at a former facility in Belmont near Rivington in 1984. From left; Yvonne France, Les France, Elaine Shalcross, Hazel Dawson, Gary Brownrig, Greg Pearson, Peter Todd, Elaine Bent, Julie Rigby and Thomas Clifford Kelleher. Picture: Martin Birchall

Cliff's teams then followed that by crossing the border by doing the harder discipline of breast stroke in 1986 and 1987.

He then led a team in 1988 that swam the Channel by breast stroke in both directions.

Greg Pearson, 59, was one of the members of the team in 1984 and worked with Cliff at Howe Bridge Leisure Centre.

He said: "Cliff was a fantastic and very inspirational type of guy when he was swimming and training.

"Breast stroke was his favourite.

"We were all elated when we swam the Channel in 1984 as none of us had ever been there before.

"It was quite an achievement.

"When Cliff's team swam both ways in 1988 it was the quickest time a team had ever done it before."

Leigh Journal:

Cliff, right, with his swimming teammates

Leigh Journal:

Cliff stands at the top of a podium at Llandudno Swimming Centre after winning a gold medal in an event

Cliff worked as a swimming teacher at Leigh Baths on Silk Street before he was employed in the same role in the Atherton centre for 15 years.

The grandad-of-two died from heart disease at the age of 69 on April 23.

He leaves behind two daughters, Lisa Marie and Jane.

Mum-of-two Lisa Marie, 46, said: "My dad was very passionate about swimming- he loved it.

"He swam at DW Gym in Leigh regularly and was in the process of putting together a team to swim the Channel again in August.

"He qualified for Great Britain Masters teams as well.

"When he was a teacher he used to make sure it was important that babies got used to being underwater.

"Babies can breathe underwater up until a certain age and he used to say adults need to smile when they are in the pool when they come back up to the surface to make them not panic.

"My dad was quite family-orientated and lived with his mum, my grandmother, who is 96 and was already planning her 100th birthday."

Cliff was also fanatical about Elvis Presley, which inspired him to name Lisa Marie after Elvis' daughter.

Anyone wanting to pay their respects to Cliff are welcome to go to his funeral service at Howe Bridge Crematorium at 2.30pm on Thursday.

A celebration of his life will then take place at Leigh Miners Welfare Institute.