CONSECUTIVE AWAY defeats at Barrow and Keighley took some of the gloss off Oldham RL Club’s bright start in Kingstone Press League One.
When it all began at Easter, however, fans would have gladly accepted going into June as one of four clubs on 12 points at the top.
Rochdale, Oldham, Keighley and Newcastle, in that order on for-and-against points differentials, were setting the pace as villagers prepared for the cultural delights of the Saddleworth Festival while still recovering from band contests and Whit Walks.
Sport that draws its customers from Saddleworth at this time of year faces intense competition for hearts and minds, yet Oldham RL can reasonably expect to attract better crowds in the second half of the season, starting with the visit of York City Knights to Whitebank on Sunday, July 6.
In a worrying trend for officials, clubs throughout League One have lost supporters so far this year and Oldham is no exception. The first four league games at Whitebank, against new club Coventry, London Skolars, Gloucester All Golds and Newcastle pulled in, on average, only 412 fans per game.
By comparison, last year’s home games against Skolars, All Golds and Thunder – Coventry were still in Conference rugby – were watched, on average, by 480 fans per game.
That might not be seen as a significant drop, but when budgets are stretched to breaking point anyway, it’s no fun to see match receipts down by £700 a game, a situation the club will be anxious to address over the next four months. Thankfully, there is every reason to believe it will improve.
Away form needs also to improve, as coach Scott Naylor was quick to point out after the latest loss on the road at Keighley.
“If we want to achieve anything in this division this year,” he said, “it’s no use being a good side at Whitebank and a poor one on our travels.”
He was frustrated because he believed Roughyeds could have won at both Craven Park and Cougar Park had the players been mentally tougher and willing to roll up their sleeves and play to the best of their ability from start to finish.
Providing he can put that right, Naylor has every chance of guiding Roughyeds into a challenging position for honours.
And in terms of putting a smile on the face of the man who has to pay the bills, chairman Chris Hamilton, he can look forward to five home games that are sure to arrest the drop in attendances and, instead, put crowd figures into an upward spiral.
Already in League One there is a clearly-defined north-south divide with the top half comprising the north-west powerhouse clubs of Rochdale, Oldham, Barrow and Swinton, plus Keighley, Newcastle , North Wales Crusaders and York City Knights.
Down below are the best of the rest, Oxford and Gloucester, followed by Coventry, Hemel, London Skolars and South Wales Scorpions.
Oxford are at Whitebank on Sunday, June 14, then come York (July 5), Rochdale (July 12), Keighley (August 2), Barrow (August 23) and Swinton (September 6), all games that will attract visiting fans as well as pulling in more locals.
Meanwhile, Saddleworth resident Jarrod Ward, who played for Rangers as a boy, has left Roughyeds to take up a once-in-a-lifetime job outside rugby on the French Riviera.
The 21-year-old winger, who has lived and worked previously in Cannes, has been sponsored all this season by French company Beauchamp Properties.
He is going back to be full-time manager of a £65million holiday villa complex in an area populated by film stars, top European footballers and some of the wealthiest people in the world.
“To lose Jarrod is a blow, but he’s got to think of his future and we respect his decision,” said Naylor.