Bernard Ganley: Record-breaking rugby league player for Oldham and Great Britain
Saturday 11 July 2009
Bernard Ganley was one of the most prolific goal-kicking full-backs the game of rugby league has seen. Known as The Maestro because of his nerveless expertise and astonishing accuracy, Ganley set a series of records in the great Oldham team of the 1950s. The most memorable of them came in 1957-58, when his 219 goals made him the first player to kick a double century in a season and earned him an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. Little wonder that many of his contemporaries described him as the best goal-kicker they ever saw.
Bernard Ganley, whose father Bert had played for Leigh, Huddersfield and Leeds, signed for Oldham, his only professional side, from the Spinners amateur club in his native Leigh – for whom he had mainly played scrum-half – in 1950. It was a relatively late start in the pro ranks, delayed by his serving four years in military intelligence in Austria after the War.
He made his first-team debut the following year, kicking two goals against Liverpool City, and over the next decade he was a fixture as the first name on the team-sheet for a side that was continually in the running for all the major trophies. Strong as they were in all departments, his metronomic marksmanship was as often as not the difference between the Roughyeds, as they were known, and their opposition.
Ganley played in all Oldham's big games of the 1950s, including the hat-trick of Lancashire Cup final victories in 1956, 1957 and 1958. In the 1957 final he contributed a rare try as well as his usual goals; that year the Roughyeds also won the end-of-season Championship, beating Hull in the final at Bradford, although it was and remains a source of frustration that Oldham's finest side never reached a Challenge Cup final at Wembley.
That could not be blamed on any lack of top-class goal-kicking. In 1951-52, he became the first Oldham player to kick 100 goals in a season, finishing with 106. After his double century in 1957-58, he created another club record the next season, landing 14 goals in one match against Liverpool City. In all, he topped the century for a season seven times during the decade and, over the course of his career, kicked 1,358 goals in 341 appearances – a club record that still stands.
In general play, Ganley was not considered to be a truly exceptional full-back in attack or defence, but his goal-kicking was a priceless asset to any side. He was a perfectionist who is remembered for practising at Watersheddings, Oldham's home ground, by kicking from the corner of the pitch, aiming at the one visible post and often hitting it. The family story is that he used to hone his action, using the then dominant toe-end style, by launching kicks over terraced houses in Leigh.
Apart from his club career, he won caps for Lancashire and, at a time when there were plenty of top-class alternatives, three for Great Britain, all of them against France. In one of them, he kicked a then record-equalling 10 goals at Wigan's Central Park.
After his retirement in 1961, Ganley was heavily involved in broadcasting on rugby league for radio and television. He also had a successful accountancy practice, specialising in insolvency work. He was badly affected when the younger of his two sons, James, died suddenly and inexplicably in 1998 at the age of 22. In 2001, Bernard Ganley was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease. He died after a stroke in his adopted home town of Macclesfield.
William Bernard Ganley, rugby league player, broadcaster and accountant: Born Leigh, Lancashire 27 January 1927; married Maxine (marriage dissolved, one son, and one son deceased); died Macclesfield, Cheshire 26 June 2009.
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