OLDHAM RL Club officials are hopeful that fans will put their stamp of approval on the decision to relocate for the forthcoming Championship season to the Bower Fold home of Stalybridge Celtic FC.
Staff have been encouraged by season-ticket sales since the Tameside adventure was first announced and also by the many positive comments from supporters both on social media and across the counter at the club’s Whitebank office.
The acid test will come when fans vote with their feet at the opening Championship game against the full-time professionals of London Broncos which will be staged at Bower Fold on Sunday, February 7.
Chairman Chris Hamilton had to find an alternative venue when Roughyeds won promotion from League One because Whitebank, the club’s home for the past five and a half seasons, did not meet the Rugby Football League’s minimum standards criteria for clubs in the Championship.
He spoke to several clubs, including Oldham Athletic about a proposed return to what is now called Sportsdirect.com Park, but drew a blank every time until he rang Stalybridge chairman Rob Gorski, who quickly welcomed him into the fold . . . Bower Fold.
Mr Hamilton said: “Speaking to Rob was like a breath of fresh air. Not only was he happy for us to go there, but he embraced what we need and he is genuinely keen to help us. That will help to ease any difficulties or teething troubles which we might run into over the first few weeks of the season.”
RFL approval followed and that was a huge relief for the Oldham chief who had worked tirelessly for three months to find a new home that would get the thumbs-up from fans as well as the green light from the sport’s governing body.
He added: “We always felt Bower Fold would pass the test with flying colours, but it’s still good to know that the final piece of the jigsaw is in place.
“The RFL have rubber-stamped all the processes we’ve been through so, obviously, we’re delighted at that.
“We had to put together the rationale for what we needed to do in terms of finding an alternative venue and explain how it fitted into the long-term strategy of the club. That’s something every club has to do when faced by similar circumstances.
“We had to go through several processes, one of which involved a visit to Bower Fold by RFL representatives.
“All the available information was then considered by members of the RFL board, and the last remaining box has now been ticked.
“It is important for us to reiterate that Bower Fold doesn’t merely meet minimum standards; it exceeds them in various ways.
“It will be one of the best grounds in the Championship and we’re delighted to be playing there.
“It’s compact; fans are close to the action; and it will generate a great atmosphere.”
Minimum standards stipulate, among other things, that a Championship ground must have a capacity of at least 3,000, including 750 seats.
Bower Fold’s capacity is 5,200 and it has 1,215 seats. Cover is provided on both sides and at both ends; fans can sit or stand; and those who like to watch from behind the posts can switch ends at half time.
Coach Scott Naylor was suitably impressed with facilities on and off the field and commented that both players and supporters would quickly feel at home at a venue that would lend itself to providing a first-class atmosphere.
The flip side to all the positivity is that it isn’t in the borough of Oldham, so once again the Roughyeds are having to play out of the town they so proudly represent.
They point out, however, that Bower Fold is only four miles from the Oldham-Ashton border at Hurst Cross and that, for many Saddleworth-based supporters. it won’t be much further to travel than it was down to Whitebank if they use the ‘back road’ past Saddleworth Rangers and on to Stalybridge that way.