THE recent snow flurries have stirred memories of the time when an army of volunteers and some old school ingenuity helped Leigh get their game with Widnes played despite the near Arctic Hilton Park conditions.

It was a top of the table encounter in the December of Leigh’s 1981-82 Championship winning campaign.

The victory over the Chemics that afternoon would go a long way to securing a first ever title for the Leythers

But how on earth did they get that game played – with snow falling and sticking, and banked up higher than the goalposts at the Railway End?

Leigh’s then long-serving secretary John Stringer remembers the day well, and he explained: “Chairman Brian Bowman and myself spoke at length the night before the game and we arranged to meet at the ground at 8am on the Sunday morning to make a decision.

“We contacted Brian Kitchen, a Leigh fan who owned Clarefarm – a garden centre on Nel Pan Lane, which is no longer there.

“He had loads of machinery that would help us if we decided to move the snow to get the match on.

“The two Brians and me met as arranged on the Sunday. It had stopped snowing, apparently around 6am, but with the scale of the drift at the Railway End, it was hopeless.

“To our surprise Brian said. ‘I’ll shift it! I’ll get me lads here and we will do our best.’”

Within the hour Hilton Park was a hive of activity with men and machinery shifting the snow and dumping it over the wall at the two ends of the ground.

They were joined by a mass of volunteers, who turned up to clear the terracing on the two sides of the ground which would house spectators.

John continued: “I had been in constant touch with Ronnie Close, the General Manager at Widnes.

“He said, ‘You must be barmy! You’ve no chance of getting it on’.

“Then Leigh kitman Tony O’Neill arrived, pointing out that the white ball would cause a problem in the snow.

“Tony went to a car spares shop on Railway Road and bought a few cans of orange touch up spray paint, and got on with the job of ‘painting’ the white Mitre balls in a bright orange colour.

“The referee Greg Hartley arrived just before 12 and was seeing snow for the first time.

“He was from Australia but was spending a season in the English game

“He was impressed with the effort and was happy with the pitch, providing of course, we could get the deep snow off.

“Having cleared 75 per cent of the pitch it was decided ‘Match on’, but it was still touch and go.”

Brian Kitchen’s team continued to shove the snow over the boundary wall and the army of volunteers carried on sweeping and gritting the terracing.

But then there was another twist – and at 2pm – an hour before kick off – it began to snow again.

John recalls: “The Manchester weather centre had told us it wouldn’t return until 6pm, but it came with a vengeance.

“But the referee was happy, so we opened the turnstiles at 2.15pm.

“The eighty or so volunteers got a free match ticket and Brian and his guys were entertained in the boardroom and had the best seats in the house.”

However, not everyone was happy – particularly as the Chemics were without a couple of their players who had not been able to make it because of the snow.

“Widnes claimed the pitch wasn’t playable, but the referee disagreed and the game went ahead,” John said.

That was not the end of the effort – with prop Derek Pyke, hooker Gary Ainsworth and the other reserve players from that day brushing the touch lines as the snow continued to fall.

It was all worth it, with Leigh winning 18-5 in front of 2,553 brave souls.

“The victory for Leigh that day certainly had a big say in the Club winning the League Championship,” concluded John.

And he is not wrong – with Alex Murphy’s team finishing the season two points clear of Hull FC and Widnes.

To make matters worse for Widnes, the team coach and a number of travelling fans struggled getting home due to the numbers of road closures caused by the wintry downfall.