Oldham set sights on making their mark
Monday 20th February 2017 14:03 News Posted by Mark Phillip

Tameside rugby fans are being given the chance to enjoy some professional league action for a second successive year.

And it’s all because Oldham Rugby League Club are playing their home fixtures at Bower Fold, home of Stalybridge Celtic, during the 2017 season.

 

Commonly known as the Roughyeds, Oldham consolidated their position in the KP Championship after finishing 10th last season.

In doing so, an agreement was reached between both clubs to extend the ground sharing arrangement for another campaign.

Last week, Tameside Radio’s Luke Edwards spoke to Oldham Chairman, Chris Hamilton, about the history of the club, how the ground share transpired, what fans can look forward to this season and more. “Our official name is Oldham Rugby League Football Club, and our nickname is the Roughyeds” said Chris.

“Over the years the two have been put together and a lot of people, much to my annoyance, call us Oldham Roughyeds, but that’s just a nickname.”

The club has a relatively short but fruitful history.

In fact, having formed in 1997 following the liquidation of Oldham Bears, the club have been runners up in a number of competitions, including the 1998 Trans Pennine Cup, the 2001 NFP Grand Final, and the Co-Operative NL Final in 2007, 2008 and 2009.

However, following years of near misses, Oldham finally tasted real success in 2015.

But success came with a hefty price, as Chris – and the town of Oldham– discovered: “In 2015 we won the league and won the grand final to get promoted, and at that time our ground didn’t meet the minimum requirements to play in the championship” said Chris.

“We were looking to potentially play at Oldham Athletic’s Boundary Park, but that couldn’t be done so we had to look at grounds outside the borough, unfortunately.”

Being unable to play in the club’s home town has obvious setbacks, but Chris is more than happy with Oldham’s adopted stadium. He said: “I say unfortunately because obviously we do want to be playing in our home town, but in Stalybridge Celtic we’ve found not only a willing partner in terms of the people at the club, but a great facility, fantastic playing surface, and a cracking little ground.

“Last year was our first full season at Bower Fold and virtually everyone we played commented on what a good setup it was.”

 

Although the pitch will be used on a regular basis by both Oldham and Celtic, Chris refuted suggestions that the surface would suffer. “In fairness, Stalybridge Celtic’s groundsman, Pete Owens, does a fantastic job” said Chris.

“It’s a bit of a misconception that rugby league does all the damage to the pitch – groundsmen will tell you that football actually does more damage to a pitch.”

Coached by Scott Naylor, Oldham have won one and lost two of their opening three league fixtures.

And, after suffering an agonising 18-20 defeat to the London Broncos on Sunday – a game that attracted 558 to Bower Fold – Oldham occupy sixth spot in the KP Championship table.

Despite having every faith in his club, Chris is under no illusion that this campaign will be any easier than the last.

Questioned on what Oldham’s ambitions for the season are, he said: “First and foremost it’s to survive, but the real aim is to make sure we improve.

“We’ve managed to do that season on season for a few years now, and we’ve invested heavily in the squad this year, which has subsequently increased the quality.

“I think that’s been borne out with the performances we’ve put in so far.”

He continued: “Sheffield are probably the biggest team that we’ll play this season – they’re an absolutely huge team – and although they’ve been through their own financial troubles in the off-season, they proved by beating Toulouse quite convincingly that they’ll be no mugs.

“We went to Featherstone who finished fourth last year and have targeted a top two finish this season, and we should have won.

“I’m not a very good loser, but it’s probably the happiest I’ve been at losing a game for a very long time.

“It was played in horrendous conditions, but it was a superb performance by us and we were really unlucky to lose the match.”

As a part-time outfit, Oldham are disadvantaged compared to their full-time counterparts.

And while Chris accepts this frustration, he still believes that Oldham have every chance of causing a few upsets this season. He said: “Our lads will train with us three times a week and they’ll also have stuff to do in the gym away from us.

“They’ll then of course play for us on a Sunday, so there is four days minimum commitment to us.

“The difference between full-time and part-time is exasperating.

“It’s a contact sport, so it goes without saying that if someone’s lifting weights and doing skills work every day, compared to our lads who are grafting at work and then training for two and a half hours at night, there’s bound to be a difference.

“As we proved last year when we won at Hull KR in the cup, when they were in the Super League, it can be done, although it is very difficult and rare.

“We’ve just got to make sure that we target the games against the full-time teams and to just make sure that we do our best.”

 

For the first time in their 20 year history, the club will be travelling to France to complete a league fixture.

Having secured promotion to the Championship via the League 1 play-offs last season, Oldham have a date with Toulouse Olympique on Saturday 8 April.

Relishing the tie, Chris said: “Part of the conditions for Toulouse being in the league is that they have to cover the transport costs for teams going over there, which they do through sponsorship.

“They also have their matches shown on French TV, so they generate income through that.

“For us it’s a first. We’ve played French teams at home in the cup before now, but never played Catalans who are in Super League or Toulouse who are now in our league.

“It’s new territory for us. Most of the players and the fans are really looking forward to it, but from a chairman’s point of view, I’m just making sure that everything goes to plan and everybody gets back on the plane safe and sound.”

In a bid to increase their presence within the borough, Oldham have started working with a number of local schools.

Chris is hopeful that these extra efforts will pay dividends throughout the season. He concluded: “Last season we averaged just under 1,000, and part of that is dependent on trying to attract more people.

“We’ve just started doing some work in the local schools in Tameside, which we certainly want to increase, so if  any schools want us to come in, do some coaching, and offer tickets to parents and pupils, then we would be delighted to do that.

“Obviously the fact that we’re not playing in our home town is counting against us in terms of crowds, but obviously on the back of the success in staying in the division last year, combined with the improved team performance this year, we’ll be looking to increase those attendances even further.”

Oldham return to league action on Sunday at table-topping Hull Kingston Rovers.