THE purpose of this new series, in which ROGER HALSTEAD will be talking to players, fans and staff members, is to provide supporters with an insight into the people whose lives have been touched by Oldham RLFC.
Today he chats to Anne Kearns, the lady from Bury who has been acting as office manager and running the club on a day-to-day basis during chairman Chris Hamilton’s absence on sick leave.
Her cup in the office kitchen has three words written on it that sum her up perfectly . . . ‘Crazy Rugby Lady‘.
One of her sisters spotted it on a market and couldn’t resist buying it for the sibling who has indeed become ‘crazy’ about rugby league in general and Oldham RLFC in particular during the last three years.
Her story is a remarkable one. Before then, and though born in Salford, she had never been to a rugby game in her life.
How and why she first ended up at Whitebank, as it was then, in the promotion year of 2015 is a story in itself and one which we might look at some time in the future.
For now, we can report that from the first time she walked across the car park and into the club she was hooked on the atmosphere, the camaraderie and a sense of belonging which she had never experienced anywhere before.
She couldn’t have imagined then, a complete novice about the game and a newcomer to the club , that within two and a half years she would be working in the office alone, answering calls, making decisions, dealing with the demands of the RFL and generally making sure SS Roughyeds remained on a straight course in calm waters while the captain was away from the rudder.
So where had she come from, this ‘Crazy Rugby Lady’ from Bury, with a police-sergeant son in Leicester and, forever by her side, a small, friendly pooch called Finbar, who licks and loves everybody in sight except the postman.
“Beware of the dog” reads the message on the office door — perhaps an example of a sense of humour and fun that fortified her during a working lifetime in nursing.
She was trained the old way — on the wards — when Matron ruled with an iron rod but commanded the sort of respect that, in so many areas of life these days, seems to have disappeared.
All these years later Anne will watch “Call the Midwife” on TV and quickly go into nostalgic, reflective mood as she recalls the early days when she would cycle around parts of Manchester “on the district“, as a nurse would say.
She wasn’t a midwife, but she was fully trained as a general nurse and a children’s nurse and she rose to become Director of Nursing Services for Bury Primary Care Trust, as it was then known.
But it was the early days, spent cycling around the streets of Ancoats and Beswick on an old, clapped-out bike in her role as district nurse that she remembers most.
“I could write a book,” she said. “I was young and I didn’t drive so they gave me this heavy old bike that reminded me of a butcher’s bike so that I could do the rounds visiting patients in their own homes. That in itself was an experience I’ll never forget.
“The kids in the streets wanted to ‘mind the bike’ but it cost me every time I went into a house.”
She trained as a general nurse at North Manchester General, then known as Crumpsall, and as a children’s nurse at the no-longer Booth Hall Children’s Hospital.
“Back then, each hospital had a Matron and they were fantastic people. They ruled us with a rod of iron, but they were forthright, fair and had everyone’s respect.
“I often thought if I could become half the woman Matron was I would be satisfied. Even now, so long afterwards, I’m convinced the best thing the NHS could do would be to restore the role of Matron in every hospital.”
Born in Salford in a house on the site of the old Broughton Baths — “We lived at the six-foot end” — she and the family, two sisters, moved first to Prestwich and then on to Bury where she still lives with Finbar, her best-pal Bichonfrise.
One sister lives in Middleton; the other in Kent.
“Neither can understand my passion for rugby league,” said Anne.
“In company here I’ve never once been made to feel like a single person. There’s something very inclusive about rugby league that I’ve never experienced anywhere before. It’s unique for that, and its brilliant.”
Given that Chris is now gradually returning to the rudder, she doesn’t know what the future holds in terms of a continuing managerial role but she is certain of one thing — she will be an Oldham supporter until her dying day.
“I’m sure we’ll sit down soon to map out where we go from here, but I just want to do whatever is best for the club. That’s all I’ve ever wanted really,”
said the Crazy Rugby Lady, who found happiness and friendship in helping to run a rugby league club.
Matron would have been proud of her.