ST HELENS is today mourning the passing of the town’s favourite adopted son and genuine sporting icon – Tom van Vollenhoven.

The former flying wingman passed away peacefully in his sleep in his native South Africa at the age of 82.

In an era when the term legend is often over-used, van Vollenhoven’s feats of 392 tries from 408 appearances in the red band and then vee are more than worthy of that description – and some.

In the years between 1957-68 the Flying Springbok, signed from Northern Transvaal rugby union, wove his name indelibly into the town’s folklore.

Blistering pace, swerve, the power of evasion and a deceptive strength marked him out as an elite player and crowd-pleaser.

He was a finisher without equal and no matter how skinny the space he was given on the outside, Voll would polish it off.

Defensively, too, Vollenhoven was strong and effective covering across to snuff out moves on his opposite wing.

But it was his prowess as a finisher which really lifted the crowds and penned his name in folklore.

Tales of those feats have been passed down through the generations, father to son, grandmother to grand-daughter to the extent that Saints fans who were not even born when Voll was gracing the touchline will know all about his exploits.

And to prove those memories have not been embellished, they are now backed up by YouTube clips – with Voll’s length of the field special, inter-passing with Ken Large, being crucial in the defeat of Wigan at Wembley in 1961.

Cameras did not capture another epic touchdown, one of a hat-trick, in the 1959 Championship Final win over Hunslet at Odsal.

In that run, Voll beat six players in a 75-metre run to the line.

It showed the mark of the man that Voll’s matchwinners that day came despite suffering from a torn hamstring.

The slightly built, crew-cutted wing arrived in 1957 – with Saints beating off competition from Wigan to secure his signature.

In a way it also started one of the most talked about head-to-heads in rugby league between Voll and Wigan’s Welsh powerhouse flankman Billy Boston.

And that argument has never shown signs of subsiding and probably never will.

Voll, then aged 22, arrived in St Helens in 1957 and started as he meant to go on, scoring on debut against Leeds in front of a 23,000 gate at Knowsley Road.

His second game, in the A team, pulled in an 8,500 crowd such was his magnetic appeal.

That fascination stuck and remained long after his departure, with generations of subsequent wingman being held up and judged against the incomparable Voll.

Voll was helped during his early settling in period by tough-as-teak centre Duggie Greenall.

Recruits from rugby union could often be hit and miss, but his team-mates knew that they had signed a good un after the first session in front of the old training pitch at Knowsley Road.

In the book, So Long, Our Home, full back Austin Rhodes recalled: ”I remember his first training session when Jim Sullivan introduced him to us. We started doing some sprints, and he was like lightning.

“We had a game of tick rugby and he scooted in for four tries in quick succession. I said to Sully, ‘Good God you have got a jewel here!’ He couldn’t stop laughing – just like he had won the pools!”

And those fans who had the privilege to witness him grace the touchlines in subsequent years probably felt the same – 11 years of jackpots.

He brightened many a day for townsfolk and his passing will be greeted with great sadness, particularly among that generation today.