NEARLY 70 years after he first picked up a rugby ball, Rod Raines is still an avid fan and for him the side he’s always rooting for is the one he helped found – Leigh Miners.

The 83-year-old is president of the amateur club which on more than one occasion has struck fear into the hearts of professional teams.

Rod, who with his wife Marion coppered up to buy the team’s first playing kit, is proud of the club’s achievements that have made it a household name in the world of rugby league.

Born in Wigan Road, Leigh, the youngest of 12 children was playing open age rugby in the Leigh Amateur League when he was just 14 years old.

Even a broken neck couldn’t put him off the game.

He recalled: “I was playing front row for a Hindley Green side in one match at Westleigh in 1947 when the pack collapsed. I walked alone half-a-mile to the changing room. I was like a zombie. Then they sent for a taxi to take a lad with a cut eye to Leigh Infirmary and said I might as well go too.

“There they found I had fractured the top of my spine and dislocated two vertebrae.

“They put me flat on my back on boards with a sandbag either side of my neck. Then they put me in a plaster cast jacket and fed me through a tea pot. I couldn’t open my mouth until my mother cut away part of the plaster.”

After recovering he resumed playing at centre and Leigh offered to sign him for a £25 fee which he promptly turned down. Swinton were also interested but in 1947 he signed for Wigan.

“By the time I was 19 I was 15th man in the first team but we had a squad of 17 internationals and there were no substitutes then. I played two seasons at Wigan but a knee problem led to coach Jim Sullivan telling me I needed a cartilage operation which in those days was major,” said Rod.

“St Helens came for me because Vince Karalius had broken his arm. I played three matches for Saints and after a game at Barrow director Harry Cook said they were going to sign me but Saints and Wigan couldn’t agree a transfer fee. I played my last game for Saints at Liverpool City and my knee went so Saints dropped their interest.”

Fortunately physiotherapy sorted out his knee and after a brief return to the amateur game with Bedford Recs he signed for Keighley and he and Marion went to live in the Bronte village of Haworth.

Keighley offered him a job in the building trade but he turned it down and got work in a sandstone quarry.

He played 124 first team games at Lawkholme Lane but struck by rheumatic fever his professional career was cut short at the age of 26.

After three years out of action he returned as an amateur with Wigan Road then Astley and Tyldesley Collieries, winning the Shaw Cup with them in 1965.

The year after ex-Leigh player Frank Wardle recruited him for Hope Rangers and he was a Shaw Cup winner again but after the match the team disbanded and when Lilford Rangers also disbanded it meant there wasn’t an amateur side in the town.

A soccer pitch had been created at Leigh Miners Welfare club so Rod, Harry Westhead, Eric Ratcliffe and John Norris got their heads together and Leigh Miners ARLFC was born, scraping into the Warrington league by a vital vote from Pilkington Recs.

He and Marion found the £16 and 10 shillings to buy disbanded Lilford Rangers’ playing strip and he cadged a ball from Leigh RLFC coach Gerry Helme but recalls there was a hole in the leather casing!

The Miners played their first match against Triangle Valve at home on August 20, 1966 and won 31-7. The team was Ray Evans; Harry Westhead (three tries), John Cooke (one try, five goals), Les Jones, Terry Flannery; Steve Riley, Jimmy Raines; ? Brown, Keith Smith, Kevin Callaghan, Jimmy Blackburn, Tommy Martyn, Ted Lennon with John Dowling and Rod as subs.

“Nobody knows our number eight’s first name, that was the only game he played. We think he was a Wiganer who worked at Parsonage pit,” said the Miners’ legendary ex-coach.

“We almost won the league in that first season then in 1967-68 and in the first three years we twice reached the first round of the Challenge Cup.

“But I’m a Leigh lad and of all the teams I most liked to beat it has to be Wigan St Pats.”