MIKE Ford can add another string to his already varied rugby bow – the man looking to rejuvenate his hometown club.
Now as part of a five-man group that has bought the Roughyeds, he aims to put them back at the centre of sporting pride.
There is a strong local connection to the takeover, as well as Diggle-based Ford.
Mick Harrington hails from Delph, Gary Kershaw from Denshaw and Royton’s Simon Winnard – even the help of Greenfield’s Frank Rothwell, who completed the purchase of Boundary Park and its surrounding land, made sure the deal went through.
Now to the job in hand, making people want to watch the team, which moves to Oldham Athletic’s ground next year, and want to play for them.
Former Roughyeds player and coach Ford told Saddleworth Independent: “It’s about the town and it’s about all these rugby people who say they support Oldham.
“It’s time for us now to come out and claim their stake in the floor, because it’s theirs. I want them to go to work on a Monday morning and say, ‘Did you see that fantastic win?’
“If I’m honest, I don’t know whether the town is proud of the club or it isn’t. It would be disrespectful of people previously involved to say it isn’t.
“But I just know there are a lot more people in Oldham who are rugby fans but don’t go any more – we want those people back.
“It’s not just the older generations, we want to get new people in as well. When we do, we want them to be proud of Oldham.
“And the key is it’s their club, it belongs to them. Everyone’ s got to do their little but to make sure we’re all proud of it.”
Ford, father of England rugby union star George and union player and coach Joe, has been part of Oldham all his life. From wanting to sign for the club over Wigan as a youngster, to playing for them in two stints, to coaching them, now to part-owning them.
He is used to starting from a low base but he is adamant something good can come of this latest venture.
He added: “I was looking 12 months ago at Oldham rugby and where they are. I’d always watched their progress and they seemed to be stuck.
“I wanted to see if I could grab hold of it and I started making enquiries about playing at Boundary Park.
“My first season at the club as coach was in 1999/2000. We started with five players and trained in Rochdale. Two years later, we attracted the highest crowd at Boundary Park since Super League of 4,700 as we were one game from that level.
“Since then I’ve been away for 25 years at some of the best organisations in the world, similar sporting environments, so what I can add straightaway is something I hope will make a massive difference.
“And coming back to Boundary Park is huge. We feel it’s in the heart of Oldham and it gives us a fantastic opportunity to play on a fantastic, brand new pitch.
“The plans for what’s going on are fantastic. Hopefully in 12 months’ time, Oldham rugby will be training out of Boundary Park.
“I can see something similar to what we had at Watersheddings, when everything was on the same site.
“And Frank Rothwell is an Oldham fella who wants to do it for the Oldham people. He very much wants Oldham rugby to be a part of that.”
The talent produced in Oldham cannot be doubted. Currently there are 12 players from the town plying their trade in Super League while the Roughyeds lie in League One.
Throw in legends like Kevin Sinfield, Paul Sculthorpe, Barrie McDermott, Richard Russell and you would get a decent side just from the area.
And Ford, who is associated with Uppermill’s Kobe coffee shop and Sorella restaurant, believes one of the first parts of his job is to make them attractive to kids, with promotion to the Championship the target for current boss Stuart Littler.
Reaching Super League once more is also the end goal, ideally with a nucleus of homegrown heroes.
“When I signed for Wigan, I rang up Oldham and asked them to sign me. Back in 1982, I wanted to play for Oldham, to play in front of my family, friends and fellow Oldhamers.
“And I wanted to play at Watersheddings. Kids today haven’t got anything to hang on to.
“Super League is about different clubs, so we’ve got to create a club that is winning week in, week out and has heroes the younger generation wants to emulate.
“So when they’re 16 or 17-years-old, they want to play for Oldham.
“When my boys were making decisions about their careers, I’d gone to rugby union and it opened eyes to the other code and the opportunities in it.
“They’d both signed for rugby league clubs as scholarship players but they liked union better – there was no competition, though.
“If Oldham were thriving and had a Paul Sculthorpe, my old neighbour, playing for them rather than St Helens, they’d have wanted to play for them.
“Create heroes and the kids will want to play back here, in Oldham.”
*OLDHAM’S first home match since the takeover will see them face local rivals Rochdale in the Good Friday derby, kicking off at 7.30pm.
Tickets for the clash at the Vestacare Stadium can be bought by clicking https://roughyeds.co.uk/tickets.