A MAN hailed as pivotal in starting a mini rugby revolution in Tynedale has died.

John Saunders (81), of Hexham, was persuaded by former Hexham Courant editor Mike Sharman to coach youngsters at Tynedale Rugby Club almost 50 years ago, and their roles at the club have been heralded as laying the foundations to the Corbridge club’s rise up the leagues.

John’s involvement with the rugby club lasted to the present day, and he served as president.

A crowning glory came when he was president of Northumberland Rugby Football Union in 2009 as it pulled off a great shock to defeat Cornwall at Twickenham to win the County Championship Shield.

While well-known for his involvement with rugby, John was also a keen fisherman and, in addition to being the Courant’s angling correspondent for many years, he also served as president of the Northern Society of the Salmon and Trout Association.

Born in Berkshire, John was educated in Suffolk before moving on to Cambridge University where he gained a masters degree in archaeology.

His studies sandwiched a two-year spell of National Service as a sergeant of the guard at the Tower of London. He was chosen for the role because he was also a trumpeter.

He started a career in the gas industry following his time at Cambridge and his profession brought him to the North-East, working for the likes of British Gas. John would often joke that his studies in archaeology and gasworks seemed completely different. However they both required him to dig holes.

He was married to wife Faye for close to 60 years after they tied the knot in 1961. They had twins, Edward and Claire, and had three grandchildren.

Mrs Saunders said: “John was an all-rounder. He was a very musical man as well as enjoying all sports and his fishing.

“It has been so nice to hear from so many people who knew and liked John, and I have been surprised by how many people actually knew him.”

John died peacefully in Hexham General Hospital last Thursday.

A funeral service will be held at St Andrew’s Church, in Corbridge, on Thursday, May 9, at 1pm, and will be followed by a reception event at Tynedale Rugby Club.