HUNDREDS of townsfolk packed into Parish Church last night to celebrate the life of legendary Saints wing Tom van Vollenhoven.

They included former team-mates from Vollenhoven’s time between 1957-68, numerous past players, the current first team squad and coach and supporters of all ages.

Saints chairman Eamonn McManus led the tributes to the Flying Springbok, who passed away in his native South Africa in October at the age of 82.

And the gathering also listened intently to a witty, heart-felt and moving eulogy from former team-mate Ray French who played alongside the legendary wingman in the 1960s including that four cups winning season of 1966.

After the service was led off by club chaplain Paul Johnson followed by Wembley hymn, Abide with me, McManus described how the greatest privilege of his 16 years as club chairman has been meeting, befriending and getting to know his childhood hero Vollenhoven.

McManus said: “We invited Tom over from South Africa in 2006 to lead the team out at Twickenham. How could we not?

“Then in 2012, we asked him to come to open new stadium and place the match ball in the centre spot. How could we not?

“And in 2014 we arranged for him to present the jerseys ahead to the star-struck players the night before the 2014 Grand Final against Wigan. How could we not.

“And of those games we won them all.

“Next year, our first one of the season against Castleford will be dedicated to life of Tom van Vollenhoven. Will we win it? How can we not?”

McManus then read out a letter from Vollenhoven’s surviving son Keith, speaking highly of his father’s love and affinity with his adopted home of St Helens.

It read: “The St Helens people would have been proud of the service and we brought him in to an overflowing church to the tune of “Oh When the Saints”, with the coffin drained with the Saints flag, and led him out to the Calypso.

“Words cannot express how much the Saints the club and St Helens the people mean to the family and meant to my father.

“We will always be part of both – and rightly so and send our warmest regards to everyone associated with the club and to the people of St Helens.”

McManus noted that Vollenhoven’s obituary, penned by St Helens-born journalist Charles Nevin, had appeared in The Times this week and remarked that this reflected the iconic player’s national and international standing.

It concluded with the words of former team-mate Kel Coslett: “I was privileged to have played with such a try wonderful player as Tom van Vollenhoven, but remember him in equal measure as a true gentleman and a good friend. St Helens took Tom to its heart and Tom took St Helens to his. A true all-time great.”

Former teammate Ray French read the eulogy which spoke not simply about Vollenhoven’s prowess on a playing field but his personal traits of kindness, humility and loyalty.

French said: “Tom is remembered in statistics for his 392 tries in a career, his record 62 tries in a season in 1958/59. Or his scoring of six tries in a game twice – against Wakefield and Blackpool.

“And he is especially remembered for two tries in particular – two of the most famous ones in rugby league. One against Hunslet in the 1959 Championship Final at Odsal and the other against Wigan at Wembley in 1961.

“They were two tries where exhibited pace, balance, swerve – even a hand off and a strength with which he was so rightly famed. An inspirational and unique player.

“Despite his prowess he was a humble and an honest man. He was a friend to all those who played alongside him.”

French described how when he switched from union – following the same path as Vollenhoven – he was welcomed warmly by the flank flier and invited him to train with him during those nervous early days of transition to the new code.

“He was a gentleman and a loyal friend who became a St Helenser,” French added.

“He never really left the town. He was always coming back. And if anyone went to South Africa he would be there.”

French recalled taking a rugby squad from Cowley to Johannesburg and Vollenhoven traveling down to see them, staying a couple of hours to sign autographs and chat to the pupils and pose for photographs with them.

He added: “He cared for people and enjoyed the company of his friends.

“He was a true gentleman.

“And he was a player the like of which we will probably never see again and one who many of us here will certainly never forget.

“Tom van Vollenhoven.”