Sky News presenter Kay Burley became emotional on air today as she had to announce the death of her close friend, the former rugby league executive Maurice Lindsay.
Lindsay, one of rugby league’s greatest visionaries, has passed away aged 81.
Burley was presenting from the school she used to attend in Wigan – where Lindsay played a huge part in the success of the Wigan Warriors team – when she announced the news.
On Sky News this morning, she said: ‘If you are watching us in Wigan we have some sad news for you. A very close friend of mine actually, sorry that’s why I wanted my girls with me, sadly Maurice Lindsay has died, he was 81, he was amazing.
‘He was basically the backbone of the town for a very long time.’
She added: ‘He basically should have had a house at Wembley he was there all the time, we were both very close in the town and he would often take me down to be in the royal box at Wembley and we saw Wigan Athletic win in 2013 when they beat Manchester City in the closing minutes of the game.
‘So I’m sure many people in Wigan will find it hard to comprehend, as I am, that Maurice has sadly left us. He was 81 years old and he was an absolute bloody legend.’
Maurice Lindsay, one of rugby league’s greatest visionaries has passed away at the age of 81
The news was broken by an emotional Kay Burley who became great friends with Lindsay due to their Wigan connections – with the presenter announcing the news at a school in the town
A pioneer, who transformed the way the sport was run, Lindsay joined Wigan in 1980 and his impact was pivotal to the club’s great success, recruiting such figures as Ellery Hanley, Dean Bell, Andrew Farrell, Denis Betts, Joe Lydon, Jason Robinson and Martin Offiah among others. The club went on to win eight successive Challenge Cups, multiple league titles plus the World Club Challenge and World Sevens.
‘The strength of his personality was critical in Wigan’s emergence as arguably the greatest club side of all-time in this country,’ said RFL chief executive Ralph Rimmer. ‘One which dominated domestically and flourished internationally, and whose impact extended well beyond rugby league.
‘He was a truly unique character,’ Rimmer added. ‘He will be remembered as one of the most significant leaders in the sport’s history.’
Lindsay (right) had a pivotal impact on the success of Wigan Warriors as the club’s chairman
Lindsay, who opened up on his rugby career and move into football during a 2010 chat with Sportsmail, also had a stint as team manager of Great Britain in the early 1990s but it was as chief executive of the new European Super League where the former bookmaker steered northern hemisphere rugby league into a new era.
Negotiating fearlessly with Australian media magnate Rupert Murdoch, he brokered a deal to deliver a lucrative TV contract and game-changing switch to summer rugby.
‘When he moved to the game’s central administration at the RFL, he was the leading figure in driving through the inception of the Super League in 1996, which genuinely transformed the sport,’ said Rimmer.
A colourful character, his passion for the sport and life in general endeared him not only to the many players he helped behind the scenes but to such high profile personalities as singer Diana Ross plus TV stars Bruce Forsyth and Michael Parkinson, who became a close friend.
Lindsay also served on the board of Wigan Athletic, at the time when they won the 2013 FA Cup
Lindsay (second from right) also had a stint as team manager of Great Britain in the early 90s
Lindsay was also chairman of Preston North End for a spell, working alongside another good friend Trevor Hemmings. The two shared a great love for football and horseracing but it will be his contribution to rugby league for which Lindsay will be best remembered.
Leeds Rhinos chief executive Gary Hetherington, often a rival, said: ‘It’s the end of an era for one of rugby league’s legendary and most charismatic characters.
‘Maurice had plenty of critics during his time in the game, anyone who has a vision and has a strong will to lead will always find people who believe they could do different or better.
Wigan Warriors went on to win eight successive challenge cups (Lindsay 2nd from left)
Leeds Rhinos chief Gary Hetherington said rugby league ‘would not be where it is today without’ Lindsay as he paid tribute to a ‘truly unique character’ and ‘wonderful raconteur’
‘But his record of success not just on the field with Wigan but the profile that side brought to the game should never be underestimated as their players and indeed the chairman himself became household names across the country.
‘I had many battles with Maurice but I always believed he had the best interest of the game at heart and he achieved a great deal. It was hard to fall out with him for long. He had no family, but rugby league was his family and we have lost one of our own today.’
‘He was a truly unique character, a wonderful raconteur, always had a twinkle in his eye – and he lived a remarkable life,’ added Ralph Rimmer. ‘Rugby league would not be where it is today without him.’