Remembering Chris Wardlow one of Leamington's best-loved sporting sons - The Leamington Observer

Remembering Chris Wardlow one of Leamington's best-loved sporting sons

Leamington Editorial 28th Feb, 2024   0

LEAMINGTON has lost one of its best-loved sporting sons with the passing of former Northampton, Coventry and England rugby star Chris Wardlow who was a long-time resident of the town, writes Paul Smith.

The Cumbrian-born, England international centre died at the age of 81 in his native Carlisle following a lengthy battle with Alzheimer’s Disease.

After winning six caps during a spell with Northampton, Wardlow arrived at Cov’s Coundon Road home in 1972 and over the course of the next three seasons went on to represent the blue-and-whites 46 times.

He was very much part of a golden era which culminated in Cov winning the newly-launched RFU Cup competition in 1973 and 1974.

Wardlow and centre partner Geoff Evans plus half-backs Bill Gittings and Alan Cowman and outside backs David Duckham, Peter Preece and Peter Rossborough were all capped by England during this period as were six of the club’s forwards.

Cov’s early-70s England contingent with Chris Wardlow back left. s

Wardlow maintained his northern rugby connections throughout his time in the midlands, travelling back to play in representative games.

Famously, one of these occasions saw him named man-of-the-match when North West Counties became the first English county to beat a touring All Blacks side on a day when the legendary Colin Meads captained an opposing line-up crammed with superstars.

These proud Cumbrian roots indirectly cost the midfielder a place on perhaps the most historic British & Irish Lions tour of them all when New Zealand had their colours lowered by a 1971 squad containing many of the game’s all-time greats.

Wardlow withdrew from the squad after breaking his jaw playing for Northern Counties – ironically in a collision with Coventry’s Maurice Campton.

Winger Simon Maisey who went on to play 252 Cov games and score more than 100 tries has a special reason for remembering his former teammate.

He said: “Chris was in the centre when I made my Cov debut and before the game as a nervous schoolboy in the changing room he put his arm around me and with a big smile said ‘Don’t worry I will look after you.’

“I scored five tries that day with every scoring pass coming from Chris – no-one even laid a hand on me because of the gaps he created.”

In addition to being a talented and skillful player, Wardlow – or as his Cov teammates christened him ‘Waddles’ – is remembered as being great company off the field where he was also rarely far from the action.

Maisey remembers: “As a party piece Chris used to eat the whole of a pork chop – bones and all – and also light bulbs.

“He would also take on anybody in an arm wrestle and I never saw him lose. Even Brian ‘the Butcher’ Hodder, an enormous tight head at Pontypool, who was a real-life butcher, couldn’t beat him.

“When Chris was selected to play for the Barbarians against a French XV in Toulouse during and Easter tour he travelled a day late (due to work commitments) alongside legendary Wales centre Ray Gravell.

“Chris and Ray got at the sauce in the airport and on the plane. The following day they trained with a monster hangover and after about 20 minutes Chris claimed he was having hallucinations and was experiencing a sense of déjà vu about their training venue despite it being his first trip to France.

“Ray took him to one side and explained to him that he had indeed been at the stadium before, the previous day, when they visited!”

Away from rugby Wardlow worked in the commercial vehicle sector as an account manager. He leaves son Mark plus two grandchildren.

His funeral takes place on Friday, March 1 at Carlisle Crematorium.


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