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They came from The Valleys . . and changed codes

‘The Rugby Codebreakers’, a BBC Wales TV documentary that tells the inside story of the massive exodus of Welsh RU players to Rugby League, which lasted for nearly 100 years, will be shown again on Sunday, three years after it first made a big impression on both codes of rugby.

Produced by Alan Golding for Hoi Polloi Pictures, it tells the inside story of the days when even the best Union players in The Valleys were amateurs and were the subject of interest from professional clubs in the North, including Oldham.

The hard-hitting documentary will be shown on BBC 1 Wales but details on how to view in England are here: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BBC_One_Wales

Programme details here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b09w01q4

It will be on iPlayer for 30 days following transmission.

Over the years Oldham have signed scores of talented Welshmen, some of whom are featured in the film, including the great, late Alex Givvons who came north as a young man and spent the rest of his life at Watersheddings, filling every role from player to player-coach to trainer to backroom assistant and to the man in charge of the dressing room.

Norman Harris, grand-father of Oldham-born dual-international Iestyn Harris, also signed for Oldham about the same time as Alex.

Like his fellow counytryman, Norman also settled in Oldham where his son Paul married a Welsh girl, Sandra. They still live in Shaw. Paul played for Saddleworth Rangers and for Hornets ‘A’ when Norman, his dad, was player-coach at The Athletic Grounds in the twilight of his career,

Norman’s grandson never played for Oldham, but as a classy stand-off or full-back Iestyn starred for Warrington, Leeds and Bradford before switching codes and winning 30 caps for the Welsh RU side — a player who reversed the trend of hundreds of players coming from South Wales to play League in the North of England.

Bryn Goldswain, another Welshman, was the player-coach generally credited with starting the Oldham club’s rise to championship-winning success in the 1950s and a key member of that side was another Valleys boy, the great Charlie Winslade.

More recently, winger Mike Elliott played nearly 500 games for Roughyeds between 1963 and 1979, but perhaps the highest-profile Welsh lad ever to wear the Oldham jersey was Malcolm Price, a wonderful centre of Newport, Wales and British Lions fame.

He had a comparatively short time with at Watersheddings after suffering a career-threatening injury in a game at Rochdale, but he confounded the medics by returning to the game, transferring to Rochdale and, thanks to his wonderful performances for Hornets, winnimg selection for the Great Britain RL side — one of the few to play for both the Lions at RU and for GB at RL.

Those are just a few of the many Welshmen who signed for Oldham as ‘Rugby Codebreakers’; settled in the town; and spent the rest of their lives here. It wasn’t exclusive to Oldham.

In the 30s, 40s and 50s some of the biggest names in League were Welsh and most teams had men from The Valleys in their ranks.

Why did it happen ? How did it happen ? What was the reaction in Union-mad South Wales?

All is revealed in ‘The Rugby Codebreakers’.

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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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