24 Nov 2015 in Heritage
We recall the career of a great Rangers player of the past, Gary Ainsworth
You would have to go a long way to find a player who enjoyed his rugby league as much as Rangers prop Gary Ainsworth. After a successful professional career which began over twenty years ago, Gary still has no thoughts of retirement in 2004. ‘When the bumps and bruises cause me trouble going to work on Mondays, then l’ll pack it in’ he said. Ainsworth began his career here at Saddleworth and turned professional with Leigh in October 1981. In those early days at Hilton Park, Gary received a great deal of encouragement from John Woods, a player Ainsworth regards as the best he has ever played with. ‘He was very skilful on the pitch’, said Gary, ‘but even better off it, helping the kids, like me, at the club.’
During spring 1985 Ainsworth left Leigh, moving on loan to St. Helens. His stay at St. Helens was brief, playing only the closing 12 matches of the season. But they were twelve sensational games. He scored eight tries in those matches including one on his debut at Halifax, one against arch enemies Wigan in the Premiership semi-final and one in the Elland Road Final when Saints beat Champions Hull KR 36-16. Ainsworth then accompanied Saints to New Zealand where he played in all four matches of their mini-tour. On his return to Britain Gary learned that St. Helens would not pay the excessive transfer fee demanded by Leigh so he returned to Hilton Park. ‘It was disappointing but there’s nowt you can do about it. I just went back to Leigh and carried on playing’. Twelve months later Ainsworth did move from Hilton Park and this time the transfer was permanent. He moved to Swinton where Gary met up with the best coach he has ever played under, Peter Smethurst. ‘The training was always varied and he never told us to do something he couldn’t do himself’, he said . Ainsworth enjoyed tremendous success whilst at Swinton. He appeared at Old Trafford in two Second Division Premiership Finals, the first in 1987 giving him particular satisfaction. ‘It was the highlight of my career’ he says about the 27-10 victory over Champions Hunslet. Ainsworth won the scums 11-4 in that final, when they were proper scrums too. He scored one try and made a major contribution to the other four. Little wonder he became the first holder of the Tom Bergin trophy as man-of-the-match. Two years later Swinton lost to Sheffield eagles at Old Trafford as Ainsworth’s spell at Station Road drew to a close. He later had a season and a half at Workington and twelve months with Trafford Borough, the second six months as player-coach. Ainsworth then returned to play amateur rugby firstly as player-coach with Fitton Hill, then St. Anne’s before returning back here to Rangers.
Gary’s playing career came to an unfitting end when he suffered a broken jaw as the result of serious foul play at Crosfields and later that season he was again helping out Rangers in the capacity of acting coach. When this position was not renewed at the beginning of the 2004/5 season, Gary’s passion for the game was evident when he lent his experience to Shaw