Blast from the Past: Oldham’s 2001 Northern Ford Premiership season

The 2001 season was a memorable one in the comparatively short history of the ‘new’ Oldham RLFC, which was formed in the autumn of 1997 following the liquidation of the traditional Oldham club which played at the iconic Watersheddings ground and was one of the sport’s founder members in 1895.

Four local business men, headed by an Oldham accountant, Chris Hamilton, got together to launch a new club which had humble beginnings and which started up absolutely from scratch without even an old bootlace to call its own.

Players were signed in the back of cars and the dream of having a ground to call its own remained just that for the next 12 years until Roughyeds finally moved into the Whitebank Stadium in the summer of 2010.

Incidentally, Chris Hamilton, the current chairman and chief executive, is still in charge and is the only remaining player or club official to have enjoyed an unbroken association with the club from day one to now, the best part of 16 seasons.

The 2001 season was the new club’s fourth year in existance and the second campaign under the tutelage of coach Mike Ford, who later worked for England Rugby Union and is now head coach of Bath RUFC.

A scrum-half of some repute, Ford was player-coach at his hometown Oldham club, having had an accomplished playing career with Wigan, for whom he played at Wembley in a classic Challenge Cup final against Hull FC.

Oldham were to finish fourth in the 2001 Northern Ford Premiership, behind leaders Leigh, Widnes and Rochdale, with 21 wins from 28 games.

Phil Farrell, Pat Rich and Neil Roden played in each of the side’s 34 games in all competitions with big prop Jason Clegg just one behind on 33.

Goalkicker Rich narrowly missed out on a remarkable record of playing and scoring in every game throughout the season.

A blank sheet at Hull KR on the last league day of the season put paid to his chances, although he still managed to score 146 goals and seven tries in his total of 320 points.

Top try scorer was Mark Sibson with 18, which included four against amateurs Queensbury in the Challenge Cup and a hat-trick against Gateshead Thunder.

The influential David Gibbons was just one behind with 17, which included four against Chorley Lynx and three against Queensbury.

The club had its record home crowd of 4,747 in a Boundary Park defeat against Leigh and enjoyed what was then a record 70-6 win at York.

Rich’s goalkicking was phenomenal at times. He kicked nine in that big win at York, as he did in the previous game at home to Hunslet and also in the play-off semi-final win at Rochdale.

The team showed what it was made of when it recorded seven wins in a row in 21 days. It went on to make it 11 consecutive wins before going down 24-4 at Hull KR on the last day of the regular season.

They had already clinched fourth place, however, and were to embark on a thrilling play-off series which culminated in a final appearance against Widnes at Rochdale on July 28, 2001.

They qualified with a thrilling 15-14 win at Leigh before staging a remarkable comeback at Rochdale in the next game to win 39-32 after trailing 32-14 with only 18 minutes to go.

Most fans had already accepted defeat, but Ford got up off the bench to throw himself into the action as a substitute and what followed was one of the club’s most remarkable fightbacks in living memory.

It earned the mouth-watering final appearance against Widnes on the same ground, the winners to go up to Super League in time for the 2002 campaign.

The final attracted a crowd of nearly 9.000 to Spotland, but the fairy story ended in a 24-14 defeat — a magnificent achievement nevertheless by the club that had only been in existence for four seasons.

The team lined up like this on a day which will go down in the new club’s record books as one of its finest hours:

Sibson; Hayes, A Gibbons, Rich, McNicholas; D Gibbons, Roden; Casey, Brennan, Norton, Farrell, Henare, Mannion. Subs: Clegg, Hough, Guest, Ford.

Neil Roden, the scrum-half, is still at the club 12 years on, having scored more than 100 tries in nearly 300 appearances, both of them club records.

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