Tom van Vollenhoven
|Full name||Karel Thomas Van Vollenhoven|
29 April 1935 |
Bethlehem, Free State, South Africa
Tom van Vollenhoven (born 29 April 1935) is a South African former rugby union and rugby league footballer of the 1950s, and 1960s. He enjoyed a prolific rugby league career with English club St. Helens after switching codes from rugby union in the 1950s. Vollenhoven became a rugby league sensation with the club in a career spanning ten seasons from the 1957 to the 1967–68 season. During this time he amassed a club record 392 tries in 408 appearances. This includes a record 62 in the 1958–59 Northern Rugby Football League season. In 2000, he was inducted into the Rugby League Hall of Fame.
Vollenhoven was born 29 April 1935 in Bethlehem, Free State, South Africa.
He played rugby union for Northern Transvaal, and scored a hat-trick for the Springboks against the British Lions, and then toured Australasia the following year with the national team before going to England to play professionally in 1957. Tom van Vollenhoven had been scouted by the 13-a-side code in 1955 in a 'cloak and dagger' style operation which saw English club St. Helens vie off the competition of Wigan for his services, and the attention of the South African RFU.
Move to England
Vollenhoven was brought into a Saints side to add a scoring threat out wide, in a side that at the time, was more noted for its forward prowess. His rugby league début was against Leeds at Knowsley Road, and his first experience of the code was a negative one as he was responsible for a blunder which gifted the Yorkshire side a try. However such disappointment was short lived as Vollenhoven produced a harbinger with a well taken try later in the same match much to the excitement of the Knowsley Road faithful. His centre, Duggie Greenall was given strict orders to nurse and protect Vollenhoven whilst he found his way in his new game. Greenall was noted as something of a hardman, notably involved in a scandal with the Australians who claimed Greenall's ruthless tackling had more to do with him using a plaster cast as to his tackling itself. Regardless, Greenall proved to be a fine centre for Vollenhoven in his early days, ensuring that the wingman received little risky ball and that adequate defensive cover was provided when necessary.
Vollenhoven equalled St. Helens' club record for most tries in a match with 6 against Wakefield Trinity in 1957. The crew cut wingman would prove over the years what an extraordinary talent he was, with arguably his finest moment coming in the 1958–59 Championship Final at Odsal, where his hat trick of tries helped Saints overcome a valiant Hunslet side. His first try is noted in rugby league folklore as one of the greatest tries in the history of the game. Vollenhoven beat a series of defenders in a blistering run down the touchline culminating in a try under the sticks. Regrettably, there is no video footage of this achievement as the cameras were not filming for this short period of the game. Many contend that until Vollenhoven's intervention, there was every chance that the Yorkshiremen could have overturned the favourites.
Tom van Vollenhoven played Right-Wing, i.e. number 2, and scored a memorable length-of-the-field try in St. Helens' 12-6 victory over Wigan in the 1961 Challenge Cup Final during the 1960–61 season at Wembley Stadium, London on Saturday 13 May 1961, in front of a crowd of 94,672, and played Right-Wing in the 21-2 victory over Wigan in the 1966 Challenge Cup Final during the 1965–66 season at Wembley Stadium, London on Saturday 21 May 1966, in front of a crowd of 98,536.
Tom van Vollenhoven played Right-Wing, i.e. number 2, in St. Helens' 2-12 defeat by Oldham in the 1958 Lancashire County Cup Final during the 1958–59 season at Station Road, Swinton on Saturday 25 October 1958, played Right-Wing in the 4-5 defeat by Warrington in the 1959 Lancashire County Cup Final during the 1959–60 season at Central Park, Wigan on Saturday 31 October 1959, played Right-Wing, and scored a try in the 15-9 victory over Swinton in the 1960 Lancashire County Cup Final during the 1960–61 season at Central Park, Wigan on Saturday 29 October 1960, played Right-Wing, and scored a try in the 25-9 victory over Swinton in the 1961 Lancashire County Cup Final during the 1961–62 season at Central Park, Wigan on Saturday 11 November 1961, played Right-Wing, and scored a try in the 7-4 victory over Swinton in the 1962 Lancashire County Cup Final during the 1962–63 season at Central Park, Wigan on Saturday 27 October 1962, played Centre, i.e. number 3, and scored a try in the 15-4 victory over Leigh in the 1963 Lancashire County Cup Final during the 1963–64 season at Station Road, Swinton on Saturday 26 October 1963, played Right-Wing in the 2-2 draw with Warrington in the 1967 Lancashire County Cup Final during the 1967–68 season at Central Park, Wigan on Saturday 7 October 1967, and played Right-Wing in the 13-10 victory over Warrington in the 1967 Lancashire County Cup Final replay during the 1967–68 season at Station Road, Swinton on Saturday 2 December 1967.
Tom van Vollenhoven played Right-Wing, i.e. number 2, in St. Helens's 0-4 defeat by Castleford in the 1965 BBC2 Floodlit Trophy Final during the 1965–66 season at Knowsley Road, St. Helens on Tuesday 14 December 1965.
Over the years Van Vollenhoven matured into a fine all round athlete, honing the other areas of the game that a modern-day winger is required to fulfil. This is supported by the fact that Van Vollenhoven had occasionally appeared at centre and even played one game at full-back. He established himself as a strong defensive wingman, capable of rushing over to the other flank to pull off try-saving cover tackles, whilst he was a stronger player than looks would suggest. The 1960s were a golden era for wingers in the British league, and debate continues to this day over who can lay claim to be the premier winger of the generation. Commentators are split over whether Vollenhoven's searing speed, or the sheer power of Billy Boston marked them as the finest winger of their era.
Tom Van Vollenhoven's final Saints match was against Hull Kingston Rovers in April 1968 and his final game of rugby league was guesting for Great Britain in a trial match for the 1968 World Cup, at Thrum Hall, Halifax. Many former players would testify that rugby league was a brutal and vicious game in the 1950s, and 1960s. The game was not as sanitised as it is in the Super League era and matches could be attritional affairs. Inevitably, injury took its toll by the mid 1960s. With Van Vollenhoven etching out a reputation as a prolific scorer, opponents would employ unscrupulous tactics to counter his threat, such as the vicious stiff-arm unleashed by Huddersfield's Peter Ramsden, at Knowsley Road in 1963, which saw Vollenhoven lying prostrate on the turf, unable to continue. In his final season in 1967–68, Vollenhoven was a shadow of himself although he was regarded as a good player and underlined this by tallying three tries in his last appearance against Wigan at Knowsley Road.
- A 7 inch vinyl called "The Greatest of Them All" was released to celebrate Vollenhoven's time at Saints. This light hearted calypso was released to coincide with his testimonial season in 1967–68. Issued by Chart Records (CR 367) and recorded at Chart Studios, Liverpool, England.
- Vollenhoven retains his cult status in St. Helens to this day. He returned to England to front the club's centenary celebrations in 1990, and spent nearly three hours the day before signing autographs.
- For a spell, Saints had South African wingers on both flanks, with Jan Prinsloo also joining the club from Western Province RU in 1958
- Tom van Vollenhoven guested for Wakefield Trinity during their South African tour in June and July 1962.
- Vollenhoven is one of four to hold the joint top scoring record in a single match for St. Helens with six against Wakefield Trinity in 1957 and Blackpool Borough in 1962 and is only one of two to achieve the feat twice (the other being Steve Llewellyn).
- Nauright, John. "Tom Van Vollenhoven". Encyclopædia Britannica Online. britannica.com. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
- "Van Vollenhoven named as Cup's greatest overseas star". www.superleague.co.uk. 28 May 2010. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
- "Tom van Vollenhoven". espnscrum.com. ESPN EMEA Ltd. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
- "Tom van Vollenhoven". sarugbyleague.co.za. S. A. Rugby League. Retrieved 20 March 2011.
- dix-Peek, Ross (22 February 2010). "The "Voll": Tom Van Vollenhoven and St Helen's". The South African. Retrieved 20 March 2011.