Frank Whitcombe

ONE of Yorkshire rugby union's outstanding servants, Frank Whitcombe, has died at his home in East Morton, near Keighley. He was 73.

In his days as a prop forward with the Bradford and Keighley clubs, he was a formidable opponent. When his playing days ended his contribution to the game continued as he was a huge influence on generations of young players who grew up with the Keighley club.

Frank Whitcombe was born in Manchester where his rugby-playing father, also Frank and originally from Cardiff, had turned professional and when Whitcombe senior was signed by Bradford Northern in 1938 the family crossed the Pennines.

Frank Whitcombe senior, a huge man with a matching presence on the field retired in 1949.

Frank Whitcombe junior and his elder brother Brian began their rugby careers with Sedbergh Boys' Club near their home in the Wibsey area of Bradford before switching to Bradford RFC. Under second XV captain David Firth both settled quickly to the union game and were soon in the senior team.

Frank would become one of the outstanding front-row players of his generation, making 31 appearances for Yorkshire and representing the North Eastern Counties against Wilson Whineray's 1963 All Blacks at Harrogate. He was a member of Bradford's Yorkshire Cup-winning team of 1966 and also captained the club.

Mr Whitcombe was on National Service with the Royal Signals when his father died. Much of his subsequent working life was spent, with his wife Mollie, helping his mother run the Airedale Heifer, between Bingley and Keighley.

Propping for Bradford – who had fixtures in London and the Midlands – meant he was often away much of Saturday evening, the busiest time of the week at the Airedale Heifer, so he decided to play instead for Keighley, where he was to captain the first XV.

When his playing days were over, Mr Whitcombe kept his affection for the game and for many years helped coach the club's under-18 side.

When he finally stepped down from coaching Mr Whitcombe continued as a regular supporter and was on the touchline last Saturday.

Mr Whitcombe, who was predeceased by his younger son Simon, is survived by Mollie, his wife and soulmate over 48 years, Martin, who enjoyed a successful rugby career as a prop forward with Leicester, Yorkshire, the RAF and England A, daughters Sara and Emma and grandchildren Thomas, Holly, Natasha and James.