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Eric Fitzsimons, ex-player and coach, dies in a Rochdale Nursing Home

ALL-ROUND sportsman Eric Fitzsimons, a former player and coach at Oldham RLFC, has died in Springfield Park Nursing Home, Rochdale after a long battle with dementia. He was 69.

A local man, he played football, rugby league and basketball to professional or semi-professional level and he was also well known in this area as a local schoolteacher.

The Rev Tony Ford, Oldham RLFC chaplain, said:

“Lots of local people, particularly those who were involved in sport when they were young, owe a great deal to Eric for the help he gave them as mentor and teacher. I know. I was one of them.

“He was more like a mate than a schoolteacher. He was a top sportsman, a top teacher and a friend to scores of young people.

“He would help anybody — a true gentleman, too.”

In 1986 Eric and two other local teachers, Iain MacCorquodale and the late Fred Laughton, took a party of Oldham schoolboys to the other side of the world on an ambitious rugby league tour of New South Wales and Queensland.

As a promising young soccer player he was courted by Everton. His Goodison Park dream never materialised, but he went on to play for Oldham Athletic, Bury, Hyde United and Bradford (Park Avenue), who were then still in the Football League.

When they were voted out of the League he was at a sporting crossroads and two other local schoolteachers who were Oldham RLFC players at Watersheddings, Phil Larder and Dave Fricker, suggested he should test himself at rugby league.

Said Rev Tony:

“It suited Eric because rugby league in Oldham schools was big in those days and he felt a knowledge of the game would be hugely beneficial to him as a local PE teacher.”

Eric took his boots to Watersheddings, learned how to kick an oval ball as opposed to a round ball and the rest, as they say, is history.

He became an established rugby league winger and goalkicker, landing 127 goals and scoring 11 tries for Oldham in his 46 senior games between 1979 and 1981.

He later played at Hunslet, but it was when he returned to his home-town club as coach a few years later that he really made his name in rugby league.

As head coach at Watersheddings in 1987-88, with Iain MacCorquodale and Mal Graham as his assistants, he led Roughyeds to the Second Division championship and then guided them to Division Two premiership success at Old Trafford.

Picking up their second trophy that season, the squad coached by Fitzsimons beat Featherstone Rovers 28-26 in a thriller at the Theatre of Dreams.

They lost only four of their 28 league games to finish top, ahead of Featherstone and Wakefield Trinity.

They also reached the semi-final of the John Player Trophy, beating Fulham, Bradford Northern, Batley and Warrington before losing 18-8 to St Helens in the semi at Wigan.

That was forgotten by the time they lifted the Second Division crown at Old Trafford thanks to a late try by winger Kevin Meadows.

That was the pinnacle of Eric’s coaching career and he achieved it with this line-up: Burke; Round, Foy, McAlister, Meadows; Walsh, Ford; Sherratt, Sanderson, Waddell, Hawkyard, Graham, Flanagan. Subs: Irving, Warnecke.

Sincere condolences from everyone at Oldham RLFC.

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AS you all know from your own experiences these are tough times for everybody, but we believe you will agree that OLDHAM RLFC is taking massive inspiration from the fabulous NHS and other key workers in tackling Covid head-on, while looking forward positively to the 2021 season and better times ahead thanks to the outstanding work now being done to get people vaccinated as quickly as possible.

Nevertheless, we have to face facts and be realistic enough to accept that the club urgently needs every pound that is currently coming in from whatever source. One of those sources is our Club Cash lottery and we would like to take this opportunity to thank all those who support us on this. A lot of you who used to pay our collectors on the doorstep have responded to our suggestions on how to pay by different methods and we are extremely grateful for that. Thanks again. You will never know how much difference your contributions make.

Alas, our income from the lottery has dropped by more than 50 per cent over the course of the pandemic and that would be a huge blow financially at any time let alone a time of unprecedented hardship because of the pandemic. It really is a situation we seriously need to address.

With that in mind the prize fund for the duration of the latest national lockdown will be temporarily reduced from February 10.

You will still be able to win a £1,000 first prize, plus £100, £50, £25 and ten £10 prizes every week, while continuing to provide vital support for the club and it will only cost you £1 a week. You can’t get a decent coffee for that, but the difference it makes to the club when multiplied a few times over and then multiplied again by 52 – the number of weeks in the financial year – is of major significance.

If you can help us at all — for £1 a week — it would be hugely appreciated by everyone with Oldham RL Club at heart. The prize structure still represents good value for money for an outlay of £1.

To those who are already members and help us accordingly, we very much hope to retain your support at this extremely difficult time.

Should you wish to play but don’t, due to the pausing of cash collection rounds, we have other options available, which you can discuss with our lottery administrator, John McAndrew on 07980129541 or from the club on 07904 898177.

Alternatively, you can send an email to: mcandrewj@aol.com or to: enquiries@roughyeds.co.uk

The prize fund will be increased back to previous levels as soon as latest lockdowns are released. Please watch our website and social media platforms for further announcements.

Finally, if you want more information about the lottery or you wish to discuss your membership please contact one of the numbers given above.

A huge thank-you to you all.

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