Trib­utes paid to a ‘great bloke’, af­ter for­mer Lion Sle­men dies

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport | Rugby Union - By Mick Cleary Dur­ban Daily News,

There may have been more forth­right men of the North in the side who top­pled the mighty All Blacks at Ot­ley in 1979, but there were none more skil­ful or ac­com­plished in his typ­i­cally un­der­stated way than wing Mike Sle­men, who has passed away at the age of 69.

Sle­men was a throw­back with his neat ways, all bal­ance and clev­er­ness, tidy of ap­pear­ance, but dev­as­tat­ingly ef­fec­tive with ball in hand and the try-line in his sights. There have been many trib­utes paid to the foot­balling he­roes of Liver­pool in re­cent weeks and Sle­men be­longs in the broader sport­ing pan­theon as a na­tive and long-term res­i­dent of those north-west parts. Sle­men scores on so many counts, for his skill, but also for his good grace.

He was England’s most capped wing when his in­ter­na­tional ca­reer ended at Mur­ray­field in 1984, 31

Tests af­ter his de­but against Ire­land at Twick­en­ham eight years ear­lier. But Sle­men was no one-trick sports­man. A tal­ented school­boy crick­eter at St Ed­ward’s in Liver­pool, he was also a de­cent foot­baller. Small won­der he be­came the revered head of sport at Mer­chant Tay­lors’ School in Crosby.

All that tal­ent, yet no ego. Sle­men was uni­ver­sally pop­u­lar, for his em­pa­thy as much as for his prow­ess. Si­mon Co­hen, the for­mer Le­ices­ter chief ex­ec­u­tive, tweeted, “A great player, a great coach and, more im­por­tantly, great bloke”, to which Austin Healey, who also hails from that area, echoed those sen­ti­ments when say­ing: “I couldn’t have said it any bet­ter. So sad.” Sle­men was a vir­tual ever-present in the na­tional side, very much part of a strong north­ern con­tin­gent led by cap­tain Bill Beau­mont that caused such an up­set in beat­ing New Zealand, England go­ing on to claim their first Grand Slam in 23 years in 1980, and then get­ting due recog­ni­tion with a place on the Li­ons tour to South Africa the same year.

Ten of the Grand Slam side went to South Africa with the Li­ons in 1980, un­der the cap­taincy of Beau­mont, the first English­man to lead the tourists for 50 years. Sle­men started in the first Test in Cape Town which was lost 26-22. He was to be de­scribed by Reg Sweet, of the as “un­ques­tion­ably the most tal­ented all­rounder of all”. An­other South African scribe, Dan Retief, mined his mem­ory vault to re­call that “Sle­men was on the end of one of the finest se­quences on that tour for the Li­ons against a SA in­vi­ta­tional XV at Olen Park in Potchef­stroom, touch­ing down af­ter 32 passes”.

Sle­men re­mained in­volved in the game through his school work, his time coach­ing at Or­rell RFC, as well as, briefly, with England in the 1990s. He played his fi­nal first-class match in May 1986, cap­tain­ing

Liver­pool against Pre­ston Grasshop­pers in the last game be­fore the club merged with St He­lens. He went on to coach at the club be­fore, in 1994, coach­ing the England backs as part of Ge­off Cooke’s man­age­ment team.

Beau­mont led the trib­utes to his friend and for­mer team-mate, de­scrib­ing him as “a great player and a great all-round sports­man”.

Beau­mont added: “He gave so much to the game in his play­ing days, as a club and England coach and as direc­tor of sport at Mer­chant Tay­lors’ School. He will be very much missed as some­one whose gen­er­ous spirit and out­stand­ing ath­leti­cism graced our sport. Our thoughts are with his wife, Eileen, and his fam­ily.”

Or­rell’s pres­i­dent, Bill Lyon, ex­pressed the views of many when say­ing: “It is with great sad­ness that we hear about the pass­ing of Mike.”

Tough: Mike Sle­men in ac­tion against Scot­land in 1980 and in his later days coach­ing (left)

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