OLDHAM RLFC (1997) Ltd celebrated its 20th anniversary in style at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on Friday night.
A glittering five-hour extravaganza was packed full of after-dinner entertainment with loads of fun and laughter and even a tear or two, writes ROGER HALSTEAD.
It happened when vocalist Stuart Beech employed his rich tenor voice to sing ‘Bring Him Home’ from the musical ‘Les Miserables’ and dedicated it to the memory of his close friend and his former teacher and mentor at Hathershaw College, Nigel Marland.
Nigel, a lifelong Roughyeds fan, died in 2014, aged 66, and Stuart rendered the same piece, Nigel’s favourite, at his funeral service. The following season Nigel became the first fan in the history of the club to have his name and years emblazoned on the playing kit.
Stuart’s repeat performance in the majestic QE Hall was a highlight of the club’s birthday bash which provided something for everyone and all against a backcloth of big-screen action from the Roughyeds’ most memorable matches of the last two decades.
Top-table ‘celebs’ were local boxing hero Anthony ‘Million Dolla’ Crolla; Debbie Abrahams, MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth; her husband John, former captain of Lancashire County Cricket Club and one-time member of England’s coaching staff; Ralph Rimmer, Chief Operating Officer of the Rugby Football League; Councillor Javid Iqbal, Oldham’s deputy mayor; and the hugely talented Stuart Beech, who doubled up as MC.
His beautiful voice captivated a mixed audience of supporters, sponsors, staff, volunteers, players (including several new signings), coaches, headed by Scott Naylor, and friends of the club.
Many had pictures taken with Crolla, who provided another highlight when, in an extended interview with club chairman Chris Hamilton, he told the story of his fascinating rise from boy boxer in a humble Manchester suburb to a world lightweight title and the WBA crown.
Others bought a new book that was launched on the night: Craig Halstead’s ‘Roughyeds — Against All The Odds’, the story of the reborn Oldham club’s first 20 years as seen through the memories of club officials, players and coaches who have been employed by the club over the past two decades.
On behalf of the RFL, Rimmer said it was a ‘massive privilege’ to thank the reborn Oldham club for all it had offered to the sport since 1997.
It was thanks to Chris’s (Hamilton’s) energy and drive over 20 years that the Oldham club was still digging-in.
He said fans could be proud of Oldham’s contribution, at professional and community-club levels, to the sport over the years.
He went on: “The club’s beliefs are part and parcel of rugby league — resilience, courage in adversity, respect and honesty.
“You should all be proud of what you’ve got here — and proud to support Chris and the club.”
In reply, Chris Hamilton thanked two people without whose help the Anniversary celebrations would NOT have happened — Anne Kearns and Julie Collins.
Reflecting on 20 years, he went on: “We have had ups and downs, and plenty of in-betweens. I suffer the downs more than anyone. I’m sick of going home and closing the curtains in the daylight.
“This club has taken over my life. Everybody who has played a part in our history has had to make sacrifices which often get overlooked in the world we now live in.
“I can vividly remember the start of the new club and that momentous first game where we beat Rochdale to win our first piece of silverware. If I had known then what I know now I would have quit while I was ahead !
“We are not in a rich sport, but we are rich in other qualities and that’s why we care.
“We are unique, and with distinct challenges, because we’ve played home matches in more places than any other club and we’ve been able to do that thanks only to the time, effort and toil by a lot of people.
“Our achievements have been all the sweeter because we have had to work harder than others to get there.
“One such achievement was to be only one game away from Super League in 2001, and to finally get the promotion we deserved in 2015 (from third tier to second) was fantastic. I even got a well-done message from the Samaritans that day !
“We got relegated again, after two years, on the back of a horrendous injury list, but in true Roughyeds fashion we are gearing up to return to the Championship in 2019. If we don’t it won’t be for lack of trying. You can count on that.
“To everybody who has supported, played, coached, backed or worked for the club in any capacity over the past 20 years, I say thank-you. Without you we wouldn’t be here.
“We have reached a milestone that lesser people wouldn’t have even got close to. That fighting spirit is embedded in everything this club stands for.
“I want to thank all those people who have put up with me, over the years, when I’ve sulked, moaned and generally been a pain in the backside.
“Tonight, we are looking back, but also thinking about the future. We can be whatever we want to be.”