BILLY Hague, a lifelong Oldham fan who moved to Lincolnshire 12 years ago, has sent us this story, illustrated by pictures, of his wonderful memories of living in Oldham and watching Roughyeds in his younger life.
Thousands of us used to take such pleasures for granted. We won’t any more. There are so many aspects of life in Oldham that we hold dear to our hearts and we will again when Covid-19 is over.
For Billy, and thousands more exiled Oldhamers like him, we don’t know how lucky we are when we can look forward to a ‘normal’ Oldham life again when Covid is beaten.
His recollections will bring a tear to the eye of many thousands of local people. Read on . . . and let’s look forward to the resumption of rugby league as we know it in March or April, 2021.
You could say that my affinity and support for Oldham was pre-ordained long before I was born.
When my mum and dad were married at “Clegg Street Cathedral” (the Registry Office) in March 1956, my dad’s support for the club was such that after the wedding he took my mum to Watersheddings in the afternoon – to watch the ‘A’ team game!
The wedding buffet would have to wait.
My dad (Billy Hague senior) had supported the club for many years and also played the game at amateur level for St. Mary’s (the only non-Roman Catholic on the team) and Ferranti’s.
At St. Mary’s he played in the same team as Bill Flanagan (Terry and Kevin’s dad) and Derek Foy (Des and Martin’s dad).
My family have lived in Bardsley since at least the 1770s, so even though I “emigrated” to Lincolnshire (and was transported back to the 1950s in some cases (pubs, pre lockdown, closing on Mondays, shops closing for half day on a Wednesday)) in 2008, Bardsley and Oldham are still home and I get back as often as I can, taking in a game if the club are at home.
In the early 1960s I was given a Sports Illustrated book (which I still have), showing a picture of Billy Boston. Not long after this, my dad told my mum that he was going to the rugby and I asked who they were playing – Wigan. I asked him whether I could go with him and he agreed.
Being about 5 years old and not knowing any better, I said “Good. I am going to shout for Billy Boston”.
“If that’s what you are going to do, then you can stay at home. You are not shouting for the other side”. With that he went without me! A valuable lesson learned.
Later during the 1960s and 70s my dad used to play frequently at Watersheddings, in the Oldham Scottish Pipe Band (I think that there were only a couple of Scots in it), especially on New Year’s Day when they carried a sheet around the perimeter of the ground for a collection. He was the big drummer in the leopard skin, twirling his sticks and I got the job of picking up the coins that had been thrown at the bedsheet and missed! No danger money for that job.
My mum’s family (the Leydens) were also big rugby supporters and her brothers used to walk to the ground from St. Mary’s where they lived, whilst my grandad for, some reason, went to watch the Latics. Two of my mum’s brothers Kevin and Terry, were also in the Pipe Band. Terry’s son, my cousin Shaun, used to play for Waterhead, sporting a blue or leopard print Mohican. Kevin later became Mayor of Oldham. My cousin Michael Slicker used to coach Waterhead and his sons played professionally.
As a teenager I played a few games for Oldham Rugby Union Club Colts at Keb Lane, who were coached by Lyn Morgan, along with Terry Flanagan and Paddy Kirwan before they went up to Saddleworth Rangers.
When the 5 Oldham players who were chosen for the 1984 Lions tour landed in Brisbane, my dad’s cousin, Tommy Penny (another who emigrated, but much further afield), put a big barbecue on for them at his house, which Terry later recalled that they had enjoyed very much and that any thirst that they may have had was well and truly quenched.
In 1994 my dad went to visit Tommy in Australia at the same time that Wigan took on Brisbane Broncos in the World Club Challenge at Lang Park, for which they had tickets. I bought them Oldham hats to wear to the game, which they wore with pride. This time, thirty odd years after he didn’t take me to the match when I said that I would support Billy Boston, my dad (and Tommy) did shout for Wigan, because they were now representing Great Britain against the old enemy.
During the early 80s, I used to sell the lottery tickets for the club. When we had a Fire Alarm drill at work, they used to joke that I had set it off, just so that I could have a captive audience to sell the tickets to. Later on, when Miriam was the Commercial Manager, I also used to sell the Golden Gamble tickets before the home games, along with my auntie (Annie Goldthorpe), who used to come to the games each week with me, home and away. I think that we only missed 5 games home and away over a ten year period, ironically one of which was the day after I got married (no shades of 1956 there unfortunately).
My favourite games were when we beat Wigan in the cup under floodlights in 1987, with Paddy Kirwan diving between Graeme West’s legs, the Australian tour game in 1986 and the Second Division Premiership Final in 1990, when we came from way behind to win, with Tommy Martyn’s try (and cartwheel).
I also remember once going up to Workington in February 1988 when it was snowing and a couple of the players getting hypothermia, Brian McCarthy being one of them.
Although I am no longer able to attend matches on a regular basis, I do keep as up to date as I can via the club website, League Express and also when games are streamed live on the Our League app.
Now that we have to wear masks when we enter shops and leisure facilities, I wear my Oldham RLFC mask around Lincolnshire, just to let the locals know that you may be able to take the man out of Oldham……………….
Oldhamer in exile