JACK Kelly, a fearless and strong running Wakefield amateur rugby league player in the 1950s, has died aged 85.
When his own career was over he became the driving force behind local amateur rugby league, but was always a reluctant hero who would not take credit for the teams he helped to build, and the players he helped coach.
He was a keen all-round sportsman, but his great passion was rugby. He was a talented centre in his playing days with Wakefield Loco and Brook House, amateur teams who in the fifties were more than capable of competing with the professionals, and was good enough to have trials with Wakefield Trinity.
After retiring from the rugby field he became involved with the administration and training at Brook House, one of Wakefield’s top amateur clubs, where he was the driving force behind its success and helped to develop many players who went onto be amateur internationals, including Leeds winger Alan Smith.
But he was a modest man who refused to accept praise for what the players did on the field.
In a 1974 interview with sports columnist John Morgan in The Yorkshire Post’s sister paper, the Yorkshire Evening Post, he said: “I do not want any praise for what the lads have accomplished. They have the ability and the spirit. I can only act in an advisory capacity.”
But many of the players saw it differently with the skipper of the day, Brain Frost, crediting him with keeping the club going.
“Without him the club would fold,” he said. “Jack has done more for the amateur game than any other enthusiast could do.”
He was born John Kelly in Agbrigg, near Wakefield, one of three children of James the local bookmaker who was known as Big Pat, and Nora and had a poor but happy childhood.
At 11, he gained a scholarship to Queen Elizabeth Grammar School – QEGS – which was rare in those days for a child from his background.
He seized the opportunity and developed a love of learning which never deserted him, later teaching his own children that education was one of the most important things in life.
After leaving school, he did three years National Service in the RAF, then travelled round Europe with two friends.
When he returned he did a variety of jobs including several years in an administrative post at Wakefield Council, and later as a site manager with building firm Costains.
At the age of 40 he made a complete change and decided to study for a degree in French at James Graham College, in Leeds. It was a hard time financially and to make ends meet he worked in local factories during the holidays.
After qualifying he went to Kettlethorpe Middle School, Wakefield, where he spent his whole teaching career. He was very popular and children clamoured to be in his class. He retired in his early sixties.
Mr Kelly met his wife, Betty Windmill, at a dance in Featherstone in 1953 marrying the following year and moving to Sandal where he lived in the same house until 2000.
In 1977 his wife died aged 44 leaving him with four children, two of them still very young and at school.
He adjusted from a typical Yorkshire husband of his day to domestication, never complaining about the hand he had been dealt and always putting his family first.
He followed closely the careers of his three nephews Andrew, Neil and Richard Kelly who all played for Wakefield Trinity in the 1980s and 1990s, two of whom are still heavily involved in the game.
Mr Kelly is survived by his daughters Sharon, Linda and, Louise, son Jonathan, 10 grandchildren and two great grandchildren. His siblings Tony and Eileen predeceased him.