Your club needs YOU . . . at the Vestacare Stadium on Sunday

ANNE Kearns, who is looking after the day-to-day running of Oldham RLFC while chairman Chris Hamilton recovers from major heart surgery, is featured in a big article by Gareth Walker in this week’s League Express.

In it she tells how she would like to appeal to the people of Oldham “to come along and see what they’re missing” — a heartfelt plea that follows a similar message to the town’s rugby league lovers by club captain Gareth Owen, an Oldhamer born and bred.

Both are speaking ahead of this Sunday’s Betfred League 1 game against North Wales Crusaders at the Vestacare Stadium (3pm kick-off) and against a background of dipping attendances throughout the whole sport.

Oldham currently lie third in League 1, after a run of eight league wins in a row between April 15 and June 17, and are well fancied to be in the end-of-season play-offs which feature clubs finishing 2nd, 3rd, 4th and 5th. The league leaders go up automatically. Only the winner of the play-off four goes up with them.

The play-off format is 2 v 5 and 3 v 4 with the winners going head to head in a promotion final.

This is what Anne Kearns said in her notes for Roughyed Review (our match-day magazine) for the last home game against West Wales Raiders:

NOT that we needed any reminding, but a glance at this week’s rugby league trade papers, League Express and League Weekly, demonstrated all too clearly that clubs at our level are finding life tough in the current financial climate.

It’s often said that life’s tough at the top. I would venture to suggest it’s a darn sight tougher a bit lower down, and not necessarily as far down as the bottom.

We read that Barrow, Whitehaven and Keighley Cougars, to name but three, have major financial concerns right now and I would hasten to suggest they’re not on their own.

‘Barrow on the brink’ screamed a headline in League Weekly.

‘Duo depart cash-strapped Cougars’ was the headline on a piece in League Express, which went on to tell us that Matty Beharrell and Josh Tonks have left the club as a result of a financial crisis that is threatening it’s very existence.

Earlier this season we’ve heard of other clubs asking players to take pay cuts.

Times are bad. That’s clear for all to see — and you’ve only to look at match-day attendances to see why.

Take away Bradford Bulls, who went to Coventry Bears last week and boosted their attendance to 1,465, and possibly York City Knights, and most clubs in Betfred League 1 think it’s their birthday and Christmas rolled into one if they pull in a four-figure crowd.

The average is probably about 500 and frankly, even with my limited knowledge of rugby league financial affairs, I know that’s not enough to keep even a part-time professional club alive and kicking.

What about our own crowds at the Vestacare Stadium ? In truth, not good. Our first home league game drew a crowd of 703 for the visit of York, who brought a few of their own fans.

Since then, it’s been a downward spiral.

544 v Hunslet; 530 v Keighley Cougars; 455 v Newcastle Thunder; 411 v Hemel Stags; 453 v Doncaster; 419 v London Skolars; and, last week, 486 v Workington Town.

We really do need to address these crowd figures if we are to take the club forward and upwards.

It’s the easiest thing in the world to say the club should do this and the club should do that, but you’ve only to look at the crowd figures for most other clubs in our division, and in some cases even in the Championship, to see that nearly every other club is in the same boat.

Figures in the Championship last Sunday, for instance, included 889 at Batley; 458 at Sheffield; 555 at Swinton Lions.

If you’re reading this the chances are you are probably a die-hard, who will love the club and everything it stands for and, as such, will want to do anything you can to lend a hand and help.

As individuals we can only do our bit, but as a collective force — all 500 die-hards of us — we can do a lot; for starters we can all be acting, unpaid marketing men and women, ‘selling’ the club by word of mouth to friends, neighbours and work colleagues as we go about our daily lives.

You had only to marvel at the sheer effort the players put into their game against Workington last week, in sweltering temperatures and relentless sun, to know that Scott and the boys are sweating blood for this club and for us, the fans.

I know we lost and I know we could have played better. But even I, who doesn’t pretend to know much about the technicalities of the game, could see that defeat was nothing to do with a lack of effort.

As you know I have launched the FEMALE FAN CHALLENGE in which I am asking every female supporter to bring another woman to home matches to see if, like me, they get ‘hooked’ at the first time of asking.

I’ve had a positive response from a lot of ladies, but it’s not the sort of thing that will show amazing results overnight. It’s going to be a slow process and it’s something I will need to keep working on.

If the chaps can do something similar that would be a huge bonus.

After today we’ve only got four more home games in the regular season and the last one is against Bradford Bulls, which will take care of itself.

We musn’t get too ambitious otherwise we’ll end up getting disappointed, but I’d like to target 500-plus for North Wales Crusaders in a couple of weeks and then a few more for Whitehaven on August 12 and a few more again for Coventry (that will be the big test) on September 2.

It will take a lot of hard work to get there but COLLECTIVELY, working together to spread the word, we can realistically aim for those figures and see what happens.

Anne Kearns,
Oldham Rugby League
Football Club,

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