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Roger Halstead reflects on how Roughyeds fought Covid in 2020

It was, as someone rather well-known might have said, an ‘annus horribilis’.

We’ll never forget 2020 and our hearts go out to those who lost loved ones, lost their businesses or lost their jobs.

However, if the pandemic has given us anything positive on which to ponder it is the realisation that in 2021 we will appreciate things we previously took for granted.

Did we ever think we would prefer to go to the work place to earn a living rather than grafting at home day after day? Did we respect our freedom to jump in the car, drive to the seaside and mingle with others on Blackpool beach? Did we ever think there would come a time when we would go months without our regular fix of Roughyeds?

It was a year that changed the world; broke the hearts of thousands; killed off companies; closed down schools; put thousands out of work; brought out the best in our magnificent NHS . . . and proved that, when put to the test, Roughyeds fans would show their love of the club and their willingness to get behind it in times of adversity.

Roughyeds went toe to toe with Coronavirus and after a ten-month battle, with no games and no money through the turnstiles, the club marches confidently into 2021 and is ready to square up to the latest national lockdown rules with a big heart and a firm belief that civilisation will win through in the end.

The year began full of hope and expectation on the back of promotion to the Championship and the appointment of a new coaching team and backroom staff under the command of new head coach Matt Diskin.

Things didn’t go as planned with only one win from the first five league games in the higher division. But worse was round the corner . . . complete lockdown while assistant coach Brendan Sheridan fought for life in a Wakefield hospital.

While ‘Shez’ battled desperately in an induced coma, rugby league folk around the world sent him ‘get well’ messages.

Fully recovered physically, and with the best wishes of everyone at the club, he has now signed a new one-year deal as assistant coach, working alongside Diskin and a new member of the backroom team, prop Jode Sheriffe, who will double up as a player.

Super League kept running behind closed doors, but the Championship and League 1 competitions were abandoned.

This guaranteed Oldham survival in the Championship, but also created a frustrating year for fans, who began to worry that Roughyeds and other clubs like them would be faced with an uncertain future.

Often standing alone, Chris Hamilton has shown his metal by keeping Roughyeds afloat for more than 22 years and he didn’t intend to be beaten by Covid. Rolling up his sleeves, he joined forces with Diskin to re-sign the best of his 2020 squad on new deals and to also invest heavily on a dozen new boys.

While Hamilton publicly thanked 2020 sponsors and season-ticket holders for keeping their money in the club, rather than accepting pro-rata refunds, Diskin famously said he was much more confident of a good season in 2021 than he had been at the start of the ill-fated 2020 campaign.

Paying tribute to the loyalty and support of his “band of brothers” (Diskin’s Barmy Army, led by the loud, proud and infamous Kev The Voice), Hamilton said the surge of signings — and the consequent air of expectancy surrounding the 2021 season — would not have been possible without the backing and generosity of supporters.

As one signing followed another — 27 in total but now down to 26 because of Ed Smith’s enforced retirement due to injury — supporters grew increasingly supportive of what was happening behind the scenes, which included the sale of merchandise and other fund-raising efforts.

Merchandise included special Roughyeds shirts in support of the NHS and tee shirts designed to recognise the administrative feats of local man and former Roughyeds official Joseph Platt, who virtually ran Rugby League in its formative years and was recently installed in the sport’s Roll of Honour.

The Government’s furlough scheme was a big help, but it was the fans' positive response to early-lockdown rallying calls that made the biggest difference and encouraged Hamilton to carry on investing and strengthening his 2021 squad.

He was also encouraged by the number of weekly Club Cash lottery members who found other ways to keep their lottery numbers ‘alive’ when the club was forced to abandon door-to-door collecting.

Help from ORSA, the Roughyeds' Supporters' Association, was also relevant in holding Covid at bay, while in one of the last major assaults of the year, the anti-Covid battalion that was in the vanguard of the Roughyeds' fighting machine, triumphed once again by putting all its weight behind the sale of new 2021 replica jerseys.

It was a grim 2020 . . . but resolute Roughyeds faced the challenges with strength, wisdom, determination and a burning desire to enjoy a happy and a successful 2021 Championship season.

It’s the least they deserve.

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