(Photo) Alan Rathbone (fifth from left back row) in the Leigh team of Sep 1979
Leigh Centurions were saddened to learn of the recent passing Alan Rathbone at the age of 57 and pass on sincere condolences to his family at this time.
Rathbone, a former amateur boxer and GB Schoolboys and BARLA Under-19s forward, began his professional career with Leigh after signing from the Colts side, making his debut at Castleford in September 1976, retrospectively earning Heritage Number 860. Kevin Ashcroft was the Leigh coach at the time and took him under his wing.
Rathbone, who grew up in the Bewsey area of Warrington, soon earned a reputation as a hard man and encountered disciplinary issues from the off, but Ashcroft saw the potential in him.
“Alan was one hard lad,” Ashcroft recalls. “He was wayward but he never gave me an ounce of trouble and he was a top rate professional. The problem was he didn’t know how to channel his football ability against his aggression. You’ve got to have both to be successful in Rugby League but it’s a case of getting the balance right.
“Opposing teams used to know this and wind him up and all too often he took the bait. Alan was frightened of nothing and nobody. If King Kong was stood in front of him he wouldn’t back down. If an elephant charged at him he wouldn’t move.
“There was one famous story that Brian Bowman, then Leigh Chairman offered him a turkey for Christmas if he didn’t get sent off. That was in September. Alan got sent off the next match. Brian came into the dressing room and said: ‘Alan, you’ve missed out on your turkey.’ Alan replied: ‘Mr Chairman, you can shove that turkey up you a***.’ Brian still laughs about that now.
“Alan was hard as nails and would have made it in Super League stood on his head. Alright, he would go off the rails but he was a good professional and always asking for advice. He didn’t always take it though.
“One day he was up against Jim Mills and I told him not to mess about with Jim, who was also renowned as a hard player. Right from the off Alan tackled him high and got retribution for his trouble and came off the worse.
“After the end of the game I said to him: ‘Why did you mess with Jim? I told you not to.’ He replied: ‘It was an accidental high shot.’ I replied: ‘Well, looking at the state of you Jim didn’t think so.'”
Rathbone was transferred to Rochdale Hornets but came back to Leigh in September 1979 and earned Great Britain Under 24s honours a few months later, playing against the French at Hilton Park alongside Leigh team mates Malcolm Swann, Des Drummond and John Woods.
The second-rower or loose-forward, who had the nicknames ‘Action’ and ‘Rambo’, was transferred to Bradford Northern in June 1981 for £17,000 and went on to make five appearances for Great Britain, making his debut against the great 1982 Kangaroos.
He later moved to Warrington in June 1985 and to Leeds in 1987. Ironically his debut for Leeds was against Leigh at Headingley and Rathbone incurred a severe jaw injury in the first half and never played again.
“It was no surprise to me when Alan played for Great Britain as he always had that potential,” Ashcroft says. “He played every game like it was his last and like many players of his generation the injuries took their toll. When I last saw him he was suffering terribly with arthritis in his knees, shoulders and hands and it was so sad to see a lad who had been so active being so incapacitated. He was a great lad was Alan and will be remembered fondly by many people.”
Alan Rathbone, born 20 Oct 1958, died 5 June 2016 aged 57.
Leigh 77 games, 10 tries;
Rochdale Hornets 25 games 1 try;
Bradford Northern 97 games 17 tries 1 drop-goal;
Warrington 33 games 3 tries;
Leeds 1 game.
Great Britain 5 games;
Great Britain Under-24s 2 games.
Total 240 games 31 tries 1 drop-goal.
By Mike Latham.