A GUARD of honour lined the route out of St Elphin’s Church in a final farewell to Roy ‘Ockher’ Aspinall today.
Family, friends and rugby league colleagues spanning five decades applauded as they said goodbye to ‘a great family man’ - the former Wilderspool Stadium groundsman and ex-Warrington Wolves kitman.
The turnout for father-of-two ‘Ockher’, who died aged 76 on January 8, was a tribute to a colourful character who had touched so many lives since his days growing up in St Helens, working on the travelling Silcocks fairground and through his 42-year association with Warrington Wolves.
His former assistant at the rugby club, Paul Jackson, said afterwards: “They broke the mould with ‘Ockher’. I’ve got nowhere to go on Friday nights anymore without my best mate.”
And he recalled memorable times they had shared as friends and colleagues - losing to him in four pool finals at the Seven Stars pub, the night Ockher had fallen asleep with the water sprinklers on to leave the Wilderspool pitch flooded ahead of a match against Widnes, and the day the team’s kit basket had been left behind, resulting in Warrington having to play Castleford in the host team’s white and amber away strip.
In his eulogy, rugby league legend Alex Murphy said ‘Ockher’ will be missed by all who knew him.
“He was a great lad and a great friend,” said the former Warrington player and coach, who got Roy his job upon arriving at the club in 1971.
“Did you ever grow up with somebody who you had to fight first but love him afterwards? At 11 years of age that’s a bit unusual,” said Alex of their early days together in Thatto Heath.
He recalled: “Ockher used to work for Silcocks on the fair. And it was great at the time that if you had no money the only ride you could get on was the Waltzers - because he was in charge of it.
“He used to tell me that he would spin the Waltzers around that fast so that all the money would come out of their pockets!”
They worked together at Leigh Rugby League Club, too, and Alex told of a mischievous act ahead of the Challenge Cup Final against Leeds at Wembley in 1971.
It had been decided that Gary, the young son of teammate and future Warrington player and coach Kevin Ashcroft, would become the first team mascot at Wembley.
Alex continued: “It was the nicest thing we ever did but mascots were not allowed.
“We had to smuggle him in. Ockher suggested a wheelie bin. So we put him in a bin and put bags on top of him.”
He talked of a dependable man.
“You’ve got to realise what ‘Ockher’ was about,” said Alex.
“I got him the job at Warrington. He’d had a bit of trouble but that was all past. From 1971, he never looked back.
“If you said ‘watch my back’, he would have your back.
“He had a lot of friends. He did a lot of unusal things but he did a lot of good things as well and he’ll be sadly missed.
“And I say to Sue (his wife) and to Peter and Paul (his sons), that he will be looking down on us.
“He will make sure that everything up there is working.
“He’s probably looking for a bit of scrap and he will be sending me a text message saying what it’s like, making sure he’s getting everything right for when I get up there.”
The service, and then the interment at St Helens Crematorium, was conducted by Ray Whitticombe, reader at Warrington Parish Church.
He spoke of a great family man, both with his personal family and also his rugby and sporting family.
Current and past Warrington Wolves staff, players and coaches were among the mourners, as well as some big names from rival clubs.
Ockher had prepared their kit, cleaned their boots and tidied up their changing room mess for years on end. They were heroes to him.
The guard of honour was a final thanks, a final tip of the hat, and a mark of the mutual respect for a life fully lived, valued and treasured with memories left that will be cherished.
“He’s a total legend and will never be forgotten,” said Wolves chairman and Warrington Borough Council chief executive Steven Broomhead.
Amen to that.