Former Oldham, England and Lancashire rugby league star Kevin Taylor has been found dead at his home in Garden Suburb, Oldham, where he lived alone.
Police and paramedics made the discovery after being alerted by neighbours, who hadn’t seen the 73-year-old former hooker for more than a fortnight.
A lifelong pal, Bob Henthorn, said: “Everyone who knew Kevin well has been stunned by this. It’s knocked me for six.
“I was close to him since we were kids at junior school together and I always thought he was in the best of health.
“I last saw him about a month ago and he was his usual larger-than-life self. I can’t believe what’s happened.
“The paramedics found him dead in a chair. They couldn’t put a time on when he died, but they said whatever had happened had happened very quickly.”
News of Kevin’s death was broken by the club’s Ex-Players’ Association late on Tuesday night.
Said secretary Joe Warburton: “Our thoughts and prayers are with Kevin’s family and friends. He was an Oldham RLFC legend. It is with great regret and sadness that we report his death.”
Those sentiments were echoed by current club chairman Chris Hamilton on behalf of the present-day club, its players, backroom staff and supporters, many of whom will remember the era when Kevin Taylor was the Roughyeds’ hooker back in the days of contested scrums when players with a No 9 on their back were ‘real’ hookers of the ball.
They worked closely with their open-side props in fiercely-contested battles to win possession of the ball at the scrum and Kevin’s partnership with the late Ken Wilson became part of Watersheddings folklore.
Kevin was one of only seven Watersheddings players in 125 years of rugby league in Oldham to appear in more than 400 games for the club and, with 429 games, he and Harry Ogden were joint third behind Martin Murphy (462) and Mike Elliott (446) in the list of post-war appearances.
Roger Halstead, who covered Oldham RLFC for the long-gone Oldham Evening Chronicle for more than 40 years, and is now the club’s volunteer media manager, said:
“I was privileged to report on Roughyeds when Murph, Mike and Kevin were each at their pomp.
“Kevin came up against many of the big-name hookers who were around at that time, but he very rarely came off second best.
“Every time we bumped into each other in recent years — and the last time was at the Law Cup game at Spotland in January — he wanted to know why hookers were still called that when the ball in the modern game was fed to the feet of the loose-forward.”
Born and brought up in the St Mary’s district of the town — an area that has produced numerous rugby league players of repute over the years — Kevin signed for Oldham shortly after his 16th birthday from the then Werneth club.
He made his senior debut at Castleford in the 1962-3 season and went on to be a mainstay of the Oldham front-row for the next 14 years.
He saw his job as more than winning the ball in scrum battles that were often fiercely-fought wars of attrition in the front-rows of scrums that could regularly be described as battle grounds.
He was quick in the loose and his anticipation of a team mate’s break was such that he scored 60 tries in his Oldham career and twice topped the club’s try chart in 1966-7 and in 1967-8.
He had the honour of making his debut for England under-24s against France on his home ground at Watersheddings which marked the first game under floodlights there in October, 1965.
Michael Turner, of the Oldham RL Heritate Trust, sums him up like this: “A model of consistency, a great servant of the club and definitely one of the best hookers never to play for Great Britain.”
His last game for his home-town team was at Salford on January 2, 1977 after which he left to end his career at Leigh.
When he pulled off the Oldham shirt for the last time at The Willows it was, without doubt, the end of an era.