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Sadness at the death at 40 of Tommy Dann, a talented Cambridge sportsman and PE teacher

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Thomas Dann, a talented Cambridge sportsman and a popular PE teacher at The Perse and The Leys, has died at the age of 40.

Thomas Dann who has died at the age of 40. Picture: Chris Fell
Thomas Dann who has died at the age of 40. Picture: Chris Fell

Cambridge born-and-bred, Thomas – known as Tommy or Tom – played rugby for Cambridge, cricket for Northamptonshire, Histon and Madingley and worked at The Leys as head of rugby from 2014 to 2018, following a spell at The Perse.

The Leys’ headmaster Martin Priestly remembers him as a “caring and empathetic tutor in Moulton House, our house for pupils in Years 7 and 8”.

He said: “Those who encountered him at The Leys, either in Moulton or on the sports fields, will know that he was an exceptional schoolmaster and an outstanding sports coach.

“He was also a hugely popular and amiable colleague whose loss will be deeply felt amongst his many friends on the staff at The Leys and elsewhere. He made a positive impact on anyone who had the pleasure of meeting him.”

A very well known and highly respected figure throughout the city, Martin notes that Tommy was a “superb sportsman”, excelling perhaps especially in cricket and rugby, and that he always played “in the right spirit and with a smile on his face”.

Martin said: “As a coach, he always encouraged and inspired his teams to do the same. We know that this news will therefore shock and sadden many within the Cambridge community.”

'Tommy's Tree'. Picture: Sir Cam @camdiary
'Tommy's Tree'. Picture: Sir Cam @camdiary

Martin said that the school has designated the garden in front of the Moulton boarding house on Brookside for those who wish to find a moment for quiet contemplation and a place to remember Tommy.

“With the main school site closed for Covid-19, we cannot open the school site at this time,” he said, “but this garden is highly appropriate given Tommy’s connections with the school and in particular with Moulton.”

The garden can be found on the opposite side of Trumpington Road from the main school entrance, just by Hobson’s Conduit.

“There are so many tributes to him already posted around the tree in the garden,” said Martin. “We hope that this will allow those who wish to have the opportunity to pay their respects in the coming days.

“Please feel free to lay a card or flowers or any other appropriate tribute. We need to stress that social distancing and other governmental guidelines should be observed at all times.

“Please come individually, and we would ask that only one household is in the garden at any one time. The garden will be open daily for the next few days, from 10am until 4pm.

“For those who cannot make it, they can simply post a tribute or card to ‘Tommy’s Tree’, The Leys, Cambridge, CB2 7AD.”

Thomas Dann, a talented Cambridge sportsman and a popular PE teacher. Picture: Kashif Darr
Thomas Dann, a talented Cambridge sportsman and a popular PE teacher. Picture: Kashif Darr

Martin says that when circumstances allow, the school will “find a way appropriately to honour him, to get together as a community, to celebrate his life and to remember the good times”.

He added: “We are also planning in the coming days to set up an online book of condolence so that, regardless of location, people can share their memories of Tommy. In the meantime, our thoughts are with his family and all those who are affected by his loss.”

Many tributes to Tommy have been left on The Leys Instagram page, including from Will Hooley, a US international rugby player, and England rugby player Alex Goode – both of whom were students at the school, though not coached by Tommy.

The Perse tweeted: “We are saddened by the death of Tom Dann. He taught sport and coached rugby here from 2009 to 2014. An excellent coach and caring tutor, he was highly valued by everyone, combining high standards and a kind approach. He will be greatly missed by us all. Our thoughts are with his family.”

Tommy, who is survived by his wife and three children, died on February 18.

Sporting achievements

Tommy Dann was a key member of the Cambridge Rugby Club squad that got promoted from National Division Three to what was then National League Two (now National League One).

He also played for Shelford and Cambridgeshire, and previously played for Blackheath.

In a joint statement, Cambridge Rugby Club and Shelford Rugby Club said: “Tom was a very talented and exciting fly-half who played senior 1st team rugby over many years for both Cambridge and Shelford Rugby Clubs.

“He also had a big positive influence on future generations of players through his coaching at holiday camps, and through his school coaching at Comberton Village College, The Perse and the Leys schools.

“Tom was respected and loved by all who knew him and we will always cherish his memory.

“Both clubs are planning to come together in the near future (as soon as restrictions allow) to jointly pay our respects to Tom and celebrate his life and involvement in both our clubs. We will share news on this as soon we can.

“Our condolences and deepest sympathies go out to his family and friends.”

Rob Dean, CRUFC chairman, added: “Tom Dann was a very popular member of our playing squad during one of its most successful spells, with over 50 1st XV appearances from 2004 to 2007. As demonstrated by the many comments received from past players he was clearly well liked by all. Since his playing spell he continued to have a big influence on the club, touching the lives of many of our mini and youth players through his coaching in local schools.”

A team photo with Thomas Dann who has died at the age of 40. Picture: Chris Fell
A team photo with Thomas Dann who has died at the age of 40. Picture: Chris Fell

Sam Tovo, the former head coach at Shelford, said: “Tom joined the club in 2008 as a player and skills coach. He was well respected by his teammates, club members and all those who had the privilege to meet him. His enthusiasm and commitment to the Shelford community is still evident through the people who encountered him, and his loss has highlighted the legacy that he will leave.

“Upon hearing the sad news, messages between Peacocks of the same era came thick and fast, remembering games of triumph and loss, and fondly reminiscing about evenings well spent on the grounds, often Tom being the source of the joviality, and fostering that environment of inclusiveness and encouragement he was best known for. His dedication to rugby was immense, and every one of his teammates loved playing with him, often the younger players learnt from him and felt him somewhat of a mentor – they adored him.

“One of many memories of Tom I have, which only highlights others’ admiration of him, was during a match in which Tom was receiving some ‘off the ball attention’ from an opposition forward. The Peacocks’ response was prompt and ferocious. This is what Tom meant to his teammates, and still does.

“The team would do anything for Tom, and he would repay the team by often kicking a last-minute penalty to win a match. Shelford Rugby Club’s Men’s 1st XV encountered its most successful years on the pitch in its history during his time at the club, and this was in no small part due to Tom and his commitment to the game and the club.

“His work as the backs and skills coach has only solidified his legacy, and the younger players whose futures were forged by the experience he imparted on them. As described by a good friend Tom was the most “professional amateur”, he was a perfectionist. The infectious laugh, the beaming smile, the little Diddy strut, he will be sorely missed. In essence and quite simply, Tom was one of the best.

“We acknowledge Tom’s wife Rachel and three sons, Oliver, Harry and Wilf, his parents James & Helen, and sister Lucy during this difficult time.

“RIP Diddy, fly high our brother, we love you.”

Thomas Dann who has died at the age of 40. Picture: Chris Fell
Thomas Dann who has died at the age of 40. Picture: Chris Fell

Tommy also coached the backs at the Cambridge University RUFC LX (Sixties club), which said: “He was extremely well-liked by the CURUFC players and made a very positive contribution to the club in his time with us. His death is a huge loss to the Cambridge sporting community and all of our thoughts are with his family at this difficult time.”

His cricket clubs locally included Histon and Madingley. Histon Cricket Club tweeted: “Everyone at Histon CC is incredibly saddened to hear of the passing of Tom Dann. Tom was a genuinely fantastic bloke, a true gent with a heart of gold.

“We extend our thoughts and condolences to all his family and friends at this unimaginably difficult time.”

Madingley Cricket Club said: “The thoughts of everyone at the club are with the family, friends and everyone who knew our former captain and club legend Tommy Dann.”

Cambridge City Hockey Club described him as “a bright, lovely man who made a positive impact on all he met”.

A wicket keeper and top-order batsman, Tommy represented all Northants County age group sides through to U19 and then the Northants 2nd XI.

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