Honour for soccer star after 70 years in the shadows

CENTRE back Tommy Boyle was the hero of thousands of football fans in the early years of the 20th century and made headlines when a Yorkshire club sold him for a record fee of £1,150.

But at the time of his death, Britain was in the grip of war against the Nazis, and as the early stages of the conflict unfolded Mr Boyle was buried in an unmarked grave in a Barnsley cemetery.

For 70 years, his resting place remained unknown but painstaking research by an amateur historian led to the spot being identified, and now a fitting tribute to a giant of the game is planned.

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Tommy Boyle was born in the village of Platts Common, Barnsley in 1886, and distinguished himself as a talented player in the town's junior leagues before joining Barnsley FC at the age of 20.

He was made skipper at Oakwell at just 23, and led his Second Division team to the 1910 FA Cup final, where they took soccer giants Newcastle United to a replay before being narrowly beaten.

Boyle's leadership attracted the attention of several other clubs, and in 1911, after 178 games and 19 goals for the Tykes, he made the record fee transfer over the Pennines to Burnley.

A fan of the Lancashire club, Mike Smith, eventually found the grave while he was carrying out research into Boyle's life and career and drew its existence to the attention of Burnley chiefs.

The Clarets' official historian Ray Simpson then began a campaign to secure funding for a lasting tribute to Boyle, which should be unveiled later in the spring – 70 years after he died.

Both Barnsley and Burnley football clubs have agreed to split the cost of the granite headstone for the grave in Hoyland, near Barnsley, and officials from both clubs will attend the dedication.

The general manager at Oakwell and a director of Barnsley FC, Don Rowing, said it was also hoped that some of Boyle's descendants, who may still live in Barnsley, could be traced to take part.

He added: "We are delighted to join with Burnley to fund a fitting tribute to a fine player who represented both clubs with such great distinction in the early part of the last century."

On his arrival at Burnley, Boyle was immediately appointed captain, and his direct style of play also caught the attention of the England team, leading to an international cap against Ireland in 1913.

A year later he led his Turf Moor side to FA Cup victory against Liverpool at Crystal Palace and, according to the club records, was the first captain to receive the trophy from a reigning monarch, King George V.

After the First World War, Boyle also took Burnley into the First Division, and in 1920-21 his team set a record for an unbeaten run of 30 games which stood for more than 80 years.

Local legend states he is already immortalised as the player on the sign of the Turf Hotel, which is just a short distance from Burnley's Turf Moor ground, in Yorkshire Street.

Burnley FC chairman Barry Kilby said: "When Ray Simpson first approached the Burnley FC board of directors with this wonderful idea, we were instantly in agreement that this is something we should be involved in.

"We approached Barnsley Football Club and they too agreed this was a very fitting tribute and our two clubs are delighted to come together in this unique fashion to honour such a footballing legend."

Boyle retired from Burnley at the end of the 1921-22 season at the age of 36 and went on to serve for a short time as a coach at Wrexham and also travelled to work with teams in Germany.

It is thought that he later became a publican in Blackpool but then began to suffer ill health and returned to Barnsley. Little appears to be officially known about his family life and who was left following his death.

[email protected] in the shadows