FRIENDS, family and team-mates of former Furness rugby union captain George Hartley have been paying tribute to a popular and talented player.

George, died this month aged 74 after a brave battle with illness, and his funeral saw a huge turnout at Beacon Hill Methodist Church last week.

As well as being a loving and devoted husband to Joan and dad to Michelle and Steve, it is for his feats as captain of Furness RU that George is best remembered.

He first joined Furness RUFC in 1958 and soon made his first-team debut, playing alongside the likes of Eric Gardner, Harry High, Brian Wassell, Dennis McGarry, Joe Croasdale and Ken Smith.

George played predominantly at fly-half or centre, although former club captain Steve Warbrick remembers him as an excellent utility player in the back line.

“He was once dubbed George ‘Play Anywhere’ Hartley by a previous Evening Mail sports editor,” said Warbrick.

“In 1966 he was invited for a full Lancashire trial and he was Furness first-team captain in the 1966/67 season.”

George was a key member of the first team that recorded the most successful season in the club’s history in 1970/71 – playing alongside the likes of Warbrick, Roy Cullen, Harry Wilkie, Graham Gibson and Ronnie Hughes.

“In that season he scored 350 points which remains, to my knowledge, a club record,” added Warbrick.

“He was a remarkable goal-kicker, using the then rarely utilised ‘round the corner’ style.

“He later dropped down to captain the A-team, taking the chance to build a team of youth and experience including Dave Elliot, Les While, Billy Oxley, John Finch, John Croasdale and Ali Palmer.

“In the 1976/77 and 1977/78 seasons the team won the Westmorland Cup back to back. Despite all his successes with the first team, I would say that this was his proudest achievement with the club.”

Les While, a key player in that team and a long-time friend described George as “an excellent fly-half, a joy to play with and a real gentleman.”

Despite hanging up his boots a number of times, George had stopped playing regularly by 1979/80 due to knee problems.

He continued to play a couple of times a year for the over-35s and over-40s teams and his last game was for the over-40s at Ambleside in the 1983/84 season.

When his playing career ended, he helped coach the Furness A-team, the Colts and under-17s for three years, with the U17s winning the Cumbria Cup in the 1983/4 season.

He also served the club as a committee member, selector and, alongside many of his friends and team-mates, dedicated himself to supporting and promoting the club for many years.