SADDLEWORTH Rangers are in mourning after the sudden death of Mick Coates who has been described as one of the greatest figures in the club’s history.
Grotton-based Mick, who was aged 60, will forever be associated with the club’s most successful era when he coached the first team to three National Cup wins out of four final appearances in five years and a National League title.
Before that, he played in one of Rangers’ most talented ever youth teams alongside Terry Flanagan and Nicky Kiss.
Mick, who was cycling in Mossley on the evening of Thursday, May 27, died of a suspected heart attack following lengthy efforts by paramedics to revive him.
He leaves wife Tracy, sons Michael and Liam who are both former Rangers’ players, daughter Jodie and brother Paul.
Mick, an electrician by trade, was described as a fierce and skilful competitor on the pitch whose no nonsense style earned him contracts at Rochdale Hornets and Swinton before a back injury brought his career to a premature end.
The professional game’s loss was Rangers’ gain as he set about building a team in the late 1980s and early 90s that set new standards in amateur rugby league. The pinnacle was the treble-winning team of 1992-93.
At the club’s 25th anniversary reunion of that epic campaign, Mick, reflecting on those achievements, said: “I’m definitely proud of it. It put us on the map. We’d been there and done it and got the t-shirt and pictures to show for it.
“It wasn’t heard of at the time for an Oldham club to get to those finals. The players raised their level and to be there and experience it was great.”
The triple trophy season came towards the end of a run of four appearances in National Cup finals in five years. The team lost their first in 1990 before winning in 91, 93 and 94.
Mick continued: “Looking back, it was a period of success that took us all by surprise. We weren’t doing anything we thought was special at the time.
“We just had super fit lads, we trained really hard and we had some good players.
“At the first final when we lost, we’d just thought it was for teams from Wigan and Leigh, but we broke into it and got a taste for it.
“By 1993 it was our third final in four years, and I think that they might have been more worried about us.”
Current open age coach Sean Whitehead, captain of that side, said: “Mick’s man-management was fantastic. He was very bright and sharp, and he moulded those players.
“He took a good side and took them to the next level with a style of rugby that was about mobility and fitness. Everyone looks back on those as the ‘pinch me’ years. It was incredibly special for everyone involved.”
Rangers’ tribute continued: “Few people have left a bigger mark on Saddleworth Rangers than Mick Coates.
“Memories of his brutal fitness sessions still send shudders down the spines of those who endured them. Playing against him in a ‘friendly’ game of touch rugby was a life-enhancing experience for those who survived.
“A generation of players and spectators now look back and consider it a privilege to have been on the pitch or the touchline as part of that era he helped create.”
“Mick was a proud family man, a friend to many and a popular and respected character around the club and at amateur rugby clubs in Oldham.”
Rangers’ treasurer Karen Thompson, who has known Mick for decades, said: “Mick brought the most success that Rangers have ever had.
“Sean Whitehead described them quite rightly as pinch-me times. We were unstoppable.
“It was all about fitness, but his coaching skills were also awesome.
“He still watched games and both his boys played for Rangers. When he was on the touchline, he was a gentleman.
“The whole club is in total shock and we’ve lost another one of our own far too soon. Our heart goes out to Tracey and the whole family.”
There was also a tribute from Roughyeds where Mick had spells as assistant and later first-team coach.
When the ‘new’ club, Oldham RLFC (1997) Ltd, was formed ahead of its first season in 1998, Paddy Kirwan was coach and Mick was his assistant.
Kirwan left after one season and Mick was head coach in 1999. He, too, left after one season and then in came Mike Ford.
Chris Hamilton, chairman then and chairman now, said: “Mick was in on things at the very start of our adventure, as Paddy Kirwan’s assistant when we started up in our first season in 1998.
“He was head coach in 1999, our second season, so he had a big part to play in our formative years.
“All at the present-day Roughyeds were shocked and saddened to hear of Mick’s passing. Personally, and on behalf of the club, I would like to convey deepest condolences to all the family.
“As a player, Mick was synonymous with the success of Saddleworth Rangers in the club’s glory days and then, as a coach, he served Roughyeds for two years, first as assistant coach and then as head coach.
“He will be sorely missed by the rugby league community in Oldham.”