Centurions mourn former hooker Geoff Aspinall

Leigh RL news
Leigh RL news

FORMER Leigh and Wigan hooker Geoff Aspinall has died, aged 61.

Geoff, who played for Leigh in 1981, died after a long illness on January 5.

A native of Marsh Green, Geoff was a talented hooker in the days of contested scrums and earned the respect of team-mate and opponent alike for his abilities and the way he played the game.

After emerging through the Wigan Colts set-up he made his Wigan first-team debut on November 23 1974 in an 11-2 home win over Rochdale Hornets and went on to make seven first-team appearances in his breakthrough season.

The departure of the talented John Gray to Australia gave Geoff more first-team opportunities but he was still contesting a hooking spot alongside the former GB international Colin Clarke, now coming to the end of a distinguished playing career and another fine hooker in Ray Martland. Later Tony Karalius and a young Nicky Kiss came into the frame.

Over the course of the next three seasons Geoff made a further 50 first-team appearances for Wigan and appeared in the Wigan side defeated 16-13 by Workington Town in the 1977 Lancashire Cup Final at Wilderspool.

But his career was hampered by injury and after playing at Bradford in October 1978 it was over 25 months before he re-appeared in Wigan’s first-team line-up in a 28-5 win at Huyton during Wigan’s one season in the second division.

By then Alex Murphy and Colin Clarke had taken charge of Leigh and they began to build a side that in the 1981-82 season was to shock the RL world by first lifting the Lancashire Cup and then the First Division Championship.

One of the first players they signed was Geoff Aspinall, for a £3,000 fee.

Geoff made his Leigh debut in a 12-8 win at Hull KR on January 25 1981, replacing Les Wall in the no9 jersey and played in nine of the next 10 games, including notable home wins over Leeds and Bradford before losing his place for the last four games to Ray Tabern.

Many of the Leigh side on Geoff’s debut went on to play leading roles in the successes of the 1981-82 season. The team was as follows: Grimshaw; Drummond, Bilsbury, Donlan, Fox; Woods, Green; Pyke, Aspinall, Cooke, Daley, Gittins, McTigue. Subs: Fairhurst, Wilkinson.

But when the new season began Tabern earned the hooking role and Geoff played only twice more for Leigh, his penultimate appearance no doubt being one he enjoyed hugely as Leigh won 9-5 at Wigan. His final appearance was at Hull KR on October 25 1981 when Leigh went down to a narrow 18-15 defeat. His professional career was ended by a badly broken leg.

Team-mate Tony Cooke and former Leigh kit man Tony O’Neill have been regular visitors to Geoff’s house in recent months. Remembering his old friend Tony Cooke said: “Geoff was a good lad to have in your side. He didn’t look a rugged, tough lad but he certainly held his own on the field. In those days you expected your hooker to win his fair share of possession at the scrums and do a decent job at acting halfback and anything above that was a bonus. Geoff was certainly what you may term an old fashioned hooker but he was also a decent tackler and a cracking lad as well.

“We got back in touch after Jason Donohue formed Leigh CPA and re-united a lot of old players. Geoff was delighted to receive his heritage number for Leigh (#899) and Tony and I took along his memento to his house as he was too ill to attend a game. We had some great afternoons reminiscing about old days.”

Geoff Aspinall made 69 appearances for Wigan scoring nine tries and kicking one drop-goal and made 12 appearances for Leigh, scoring one try.

Leigh Centurions wish to pass on their deepest sympathy to Geoff’s family at this sad time.