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Death of former Wire skipper and stand-off Willie Aspinall

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FORMER Warrington Wolves skipper, stand-off and Hall of Fame member Willie Aspinall has sadly died at the age of 78.

Born in St Helens 8 November 1942 he went to school at Merton Bank Primary and then Parr Central.
He joined Warrington from the UGB (United Glassblowers) junior club in St Helens, making his debut at Widnes on Good Friday 1962, where Vince Karalius knocked him on his backside, and bust his nose!. Jackie Edwards and Bobby Greenough were the first-choice half-backs at the time and so Aspinall – who weighed in at 5ft 9in and 11st 7lb – had to be patient and turn out on the wing when required.
By the start of the 1964-65 season, however, he was the number one stand-off at the club and would remain so for the next seven seasons before he moved on to Rochdale Hornets.
At Leeds, on the opening day of the 1964-65 season, Aspinall unwittingly made a little bit of Warrington history when, after 21 minutes, he became the first Wire player to be substituted when he was replaced by Joe Pickavance.
Substitutions were a new innovation that season, but were only allowed up to half-time and then only if a player was injured.
Aspinall was Warrington’s only representative on the 1966 Great Britain tour to Australia and New Zealand and proved to be an excellent tourist.
Aspinall, who was the Warrington captain at the time, played in 20 matches on the trip, scoring 10 tries. He also collected his only international cap with a try-scoring display at Auckland’s Carlaw Park as Great Britain beat New Zealand 22-14 to take the series 2-0.
But, in the days before mobile phones and email, he only found out that he had been picked for the tour while playing for Warrington at Whitehaven one Wednesday afternoon in March when a message was passed on to the pitch via a team-mate.
“During the game our winger Brian Glover ran across the pitch and threw me in the air, congratulating me on being picked,” said the stand-off.
Aspinall was also a member of Warrington teams that made two more pieces of history. In January 1969, he played at full-back at Borough Park, Blackpool when Warrington played their first match on a Sunday. Then, in November of that year, he played in the centre and kicked four goals when Warrington played their first home match on a Sunday, again against Blackpool. Sunday rugby league was a controversial issue at the time.
Despite his length of service, Aspinall only collected two winner’s medals while he was at Wilderspool – for the Lancashire Cup win over Rochdale Hornets in 1965 and for the Lancashire League title success in 1968. He also played stand-off, and scored a drop goal in Warrington’s 2-2 draw with St. Helens in the 1967 Lancashire County Cup Final at Central Park, Wigan, but missed the replay won by St Helens.
He was a drop goal expert in the days when drop goals were worth two points and kicked 30 in the primrose and blue of Warrington. Willie who is Heritage Number 631 made 268 appearances for the Wire, scoring 55 tries, kicking 40 goals as well as his 30 drop goals for a total of 305 points. Willie also made seven appearances for Lancashire, scoring two tries,
Warrington team-mate Jackie Melling recalled: “I had a lot of time for his ability and his professionalism. He was a good professional and a talented player.” Those traits were recognised in 2005 when he was inducted into Warrington’s Hall of Fame.
His final appearance for Warrington was on 18 April 1971 in a 16-9 win at Huyton. The arrival of Alex Murphy as player coach in the summer of 1971 heralded the departure of Willie to Rochdale Hornets.
He played at the Athletic Grounds for five years making almost 100 appearances for the Hornets before retiring in 1976. The highlight of his time at Rochdale was being on the left wing in the Hornets side that lost 27-16 to Warrington in the 1974 Player’s No6 Trophy final at Central Park.
Aspinall was a fitter by trade, but by 1979 he decided on a career change and went into the licensed trade and ran pubs in and around St Helens. When he “retired” he worked part-time on the groundstaff at Grange Park Golf Club.
He was also a keen cine cameraman and has a fine collection of films taken from the 1966 tour of Australia and New Zealand as well as from his time at Warrington and Rochdale Hornets.
He did some coaching at Blackbrook, where his son Warren played. He also played golf and was treasurer of Greenall’s Golf Society.
Although not in the best of health in recent years, he was still a welcome visitor to The Halliwell Jones Stadium. and had been an active member of the Warrington Players’ Association.
Warrington Wolves send their condolences to his wife Linda, children Warren and Nicola, grandchildren Lauren, Ali, William and Taylor, and his two great grandchildren Atticus and Chester, who affectionately referred to their great grandad as “Willie Grumps”.

The funeral is on 10 November at 12pm at Greenacres Memorial Park in Rainford, St Helens.
Aspinall is pictured leading out the Wire with Aussie legend Reg Gasnier.

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Experienced journalist for more than 40 years. Managing Director of magazine publishing group with three in-house titles and on-line daily newspaper for Warrington. Experienced writer, photographer, PR consultant and media expert having written for local, regional and national newspapers. Specialties: PR, media, social networking, photographer, networking, advertising, sales, media crisis management. Director Warrington Chamber of Commerce Patron Tim Parry Johnathan Ball Foundation for Peace. Trustee Warrington Disability Partnership. Former Chairman of Warrington Town FC.

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