FORMER Wilderspool Stadium groundsman and kitman Roy Aspinall has died, aged 76.
Roy, who died in Warrington Hospital last night, was connected with Warrington Wolves for 42 years.
Known to many as ‘Ockher’, colourful Roy was Alex Murphy’s first signing for Warrington in 1971.
They had grown up together in the Thatto Heath area of St Helens and when Murphy arrived from Leigh as player-coach he brought in his old mate as ‘the caretaker’ at Wilderspool Stadium as well as head doorman at the Wilderspool Leisure Centre.
Ground maintenance and playing equipment became his life for the next 30 or so years, initially as one of two assistants to Jackie Hamblett before taking charge in 1979.
“I was a general dog’s body,” he told the Guardian in an interview.
He was never far away from the place, especially with living in Fletcher Street just yards from the stadium entrance.
Roy, left, on the Challenge Cup homecoming bus in 1974
Wherever ‘Wire’ went, Ockher went, and so he was very much a part of the scene for the greatest season in the club’s history (1973-74), the Challenge Cup finals of 1974 and 1975 as well as the 12 other competitions won before the era of full-time professionalism arrived in 1996.
Ockher, who is uncle to the Cunningham brothers Eddie, aged 62, Tommy, aged 57, and Keiron, aged 37, was well known to every home and visiting player throughout that period. A game of cards and discussions around collecting rugby league memorabilia would often have been on the agenda.
Such was his popularity in the game and the respect he held for getting a job done he even gained international honours in 1975 - as kitman to the England team coached by Murphy that toured Australasia for the World Cup.
Roy had actually been working since ‘doing a runner’ at aged 15, leaving Grange Park School in Thatto Heath and joining up with the Silcock brothers to work with them on their travelling fairground.
He worked on various rides but his association with the Silcocks started when he was 13.
“I used to go round in Mac Moran’s boxing booths,” he said.
“They used to pay rent to Silcocks Fairground and the boxers would take on all-comers.
“I was doing this with a mate of mine called Buller. Not many would take us on at 13.”
After his time on the Autodrome, Swirl of Life and Waltzers rides, he joined Wigan Casino as its head doorman until Murphy came knocking.
Despite some nomadic ways growing up, he settled well into Wilderspool life.
Duties included tending to the pitch, brushing down the dressing rooms, cleaning boots, cleaning up the terraces after matches and other odd jobs around the ground.
Then there were match-day kit responsibilities and up until Wilderspool’s main stand was burned down in 1982, kit-washing duties were his too.
He said it was one of his career highlights that Warrington called on his services to assist them in Australia and New Zealand during the World Club Championships competition in 1997.
He came back with shirts from all the Australian clubs to boost his massive collection of rugby league memorabilia.
Roy with former Warrington players Lee Penny, Mike Wainwright and Dave Elliott in the Wilderspool Stadium dug-out
Roy always said that Silcocks and Warrington Rugby League Club were the saving of him. He did not like to think what would have happened to him without them.
And it was a mark of the club’s gratitude of his loyal service that when the first game took place at the new Halliwell Jones Stadium - against Wakefield Trinity Wildcats - in February 2004 that he was honoured with the task of ceremoniously carrying the match ball on to the pitch.
In later life, Ockher was a great reader and devoured autobiographies.
He also travelled a great deal with his family and friends around Europe and visited America.
Roy at the opening of the heritage timeline at The Halliwell Jones Stadium earlier this year
Roy was regularly seen whizzing around Warrington on his mobility scooter OCK1, which gave him the freedom to get about.
A Warrington Wolves statement reads: “Ockher was a family man, who leaves a wife Sue, sons and grandchildren who he adored.
“He was one of those colourful characters who could always tell a good story and will be fondly remembered.”
Tributes from Twitter
Sad to hear of the death of a man we all knew at Wilderspool as Ockher, Roy Aspinall. A proper #rugbyleague character pic.twitter.com/ma4VzPa2b8
— angela powers (@angelampowers) January 9, 2014
R.I.P Roy Aspinall. (Ockher)
— chris mellor (@mezzer82) January 9, 2014
R.I.P. Roy 'Ockher' Aspinall. Remember him well from the Wilderspool days. #Wire
— AboveUsOnlySky (@AdamMiller36) January 9, 2014
R.I.P Ockher!! A great character, who would always stop and talk rugby. @wolvesrl
— Neil Aspinall (@Aspo313) January 10, 2014
RIP Ockher! I'll never forget when you sold us a Wire flag for £5 that we'd got for free the week before haha. Will miss seeing you around!
— Bexx (@Wire1992) January 9, 2014
Sad news about @wolvesrl kit man #Ockher Sad that the game and everybody that knew him has lost another great character #rugbyleague
— Steven McCormack (@McCormackSteve1) January 9, 2014
RIP my old mate #Ockher, welcomed me to Wilderspool in 1996 and stayed a friend since that day.
— Dave Swanton(Swanny) (@SwannyMediaMan) January 9, 2014
Sad to hear that Warrington Legend Ockher has died, true Rugby League Gent R.I.P Marra @wolvesrl @briers6 🏉
— steve nicholson (@1stevenicko) January 9, 2014
RIP Roy "ockher" ASPINALL worked together for 8 years ,friends for a lifetime ,he will be sorely missed by all who knew him #LEGEND
— Stuart Warburton (@stueywarby) January 9, 2014
Sad news about former Warrington kit man Ockher! A Wilderspool Legend! Condolences to his family and friends! RIP
— Trevor Hunt (@TheTrevorHunt) January 9, 2014
RIP Ockher #kingofwilderspool A wonderful RL character, collector of pin badges, keeper of secrets and bringer of first HJ match ball
— Sean Mellor (@seanbigfellamel) January 9, 2014
Rip ockher, if theres either a guy thats commited to his team it was this guy
— Ronnie (@ronniewatson86) January 9, 2014
Absolutely gutted to hear to the very sad news about the passing of ockher ex Warrington Kitman, groundsman absolute legend of a bloke! #rip
— Lee Briers (@briers6) January 9, 2014
Sad news great character RIP Ockher Warringtons number one kit man & keeper of the Zoo Keys #unsung herorugbyleaguestalwartbloodygreatbloke
— Andy Kelly : (@andykelly3of6) January 9, 2014
so sad Ockher has gone, lovely man @wolvesrl a #wire legend http://t.co/u0viHMplKJ never heard his real name before! rest in peace Ockher
— Phil Gatley (@PhilGatley) January 9, 2014