Under grey skies grim-faced mourners mark the passing of a Leigh rugby hero. Hundreds of people descended on a town centre church to say their last goodbyes to John Westhead. His children left the simple message, "We love you loads forever." The dad-of-three died after severing a main artery in his arm when it smashed through a pane of glass at his home in Thorneycroft, Leigh.

On Tuesday rugby stars of the past and present joined family and friends at St Joseph's RC Church in Mather Lane for his funeral.

More than 800 people crowded into the church while other mourners braved torrential rain to stand outside as the ceremony began.

Just before midday the 34-year-old former Great Britain under-21 international's widow, Jane, and his parents William and Carol arrived at the church.

Jane, wearing dark sunglasses and a black hair band, was led to the front pew before the introductory chords of The Old Rugged Cross rang round the building.

Leigh players Heath Cruckshank, Adam Bristow, Paul Anderson, Simon Baldwin and Tim Street joined team coach Paul Terzis to sing the traditional hymn.

Former Leigh greats Roy Lester, Kevin Ashcroft and Alex Murphy also made up the congregation along with Mr Westhead's ex-team-mates and opponents.


ather John Murphy, who led the Requiem mass, told mourners of lessons that should be learned from the "tragic accident."

He added: "We hope the service here will give us some understanding of the sad circumstances of this death."

But it was an emotional speech by Mr Westhead's brother Paul, a professional singer currently on tour in the Phantom of the Opera, which brought tears to many eyes.

The 30-year-old man - his voice cracking with emotion - read W H Auden's Funeral Blues.

Paul read: "He was my north, my south, my east my west, my working week and my Sunday rest.

"My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song, I thought that love would last forever. I was wrong."

And in a touching tribute Paul told the gathering how he had kissed his brother goodbye twice.

He added: "Today is the hardest day of my entire life and for my entire family. John was a handsome and compassionate man and a responsible and respected adult.

"He was a lot of people's favourite person. The other day I kissed him goodbye twice. The first was for the compassionate man I knew and the second was to say goodbye to the man I loved so much."

He then paid further tribute to his brother, reciting a poem When Tomorrow Starts Without Me, before telling his brother: "We love you. We forgive you for leaving us so early. Rest in peace."


econds later the tearful congregation led into Abide With Me, the hymn and sporting anthem which would have meant so much to the man who made 136 appearances for Leigh.

His rugby playing career was cut short early in 1990 after he suffered a serious shoulder injury.

Earlier congregation members had stopped to read messages on the dozens of floral tributes which lay just inside the church.

One white wreath, which spelled out 'Dad' bore the message: "To Dad, We love you loads forever. Roya, Jilly and Katie XXXX".

Another wreath was bedecked with a ribbon bearing the name 'Johnny', and yet more white flowers formed the words 'Son' and 'Husband'.

Just minutes before the funeral service began, mourners had dashed into the church as thunder rumbled and torrents of rain lashed down.

When they left the building - many dabbing tears from their eyes - they were greeted by bright sunshine.


nly the sound of children's laughter from a nearby primary school playground broke the silence as mourners lined the church's driveway and the cortege drove away.

Mr Westhead was laid to rest in Leigh cemetery before mourners headed back to the Mick Martin bar at Leigh Centurion's ground.

Speaking minutes after leaving the church rugby league Alex Murphy - the man who signed Mr Westhead up as a teenager - spoke of his sadness. He said: "I have never seen a church so full before. He was a man who everyone liked and who will be sadly missed. He was one of the most genuine lads you will ever come across."