When Rochdale travel to Hemel at the weekend, it will be the second time in little over a month that the two supporter-owned clubs have gone head to head.
It’s more than four years since the Hornets were put into administration, and then re-founded as a co-operative, which operates on a one-member one-vote principle.
A range of membership packages are available, starting from £20, and no matter how much money one individual puts in, they will be given one share. All members have a vote in the make-up of the club’s board.
General Manager Ryan Bradley said: “It’s a sustainable method – we aren’t in the situation where if one person walks away then everything falls down. This model enables us to generate more interest, more fans and gain more sponsors, as a result of our membership.
“In the first year, we made a small loss but have then gone on to break even, and make a four figure profit, just through living within our means.
“The old club went bust despite selling its ground all those years ago, so we want to make sure we stay within those means and don’t buy anything we can’t afford.
“The supporters owned model doesn’t hold us back, if anything it works to our advantage, as sponsors and partners know that any money is going in to the club, and not being taken out.”
A disappointing 2012 meant that Rochdale missed out on one of the four promotion places available to the Championship, and given the form of North Wales Crusaders so far this season, the play-offs look like their best chance of going up.
With the re-structuring of the game planned for 2015 and beyond, the Hornets are eager to ensure they aren’t left stranded in a regional league.
Bradley added: “A lot of clubs went all out to get promotion last year, and we couldn’t afford to do that. We won’t break the bank. It’s match payments only. We’ve got a pay structure and we stick to it, anything else goes against what we’re trying to do.
“We want to go up this year, and finish 7th or above the year after so we make it in to that second 12 of Super League clubs.
“We don’t want to be stuck in a regional north league, it doesn’t seem right. The re-structure still has a bit of work to be done to it, but it doesn’t seem to have been thought up right at the bottom.
“With the addition of the new teams this year, we love the fact we’re playing in a truly national league, and it has helped to get more sponsors in, because it’s opening them up to new markets. Going to a regional league would be a step backwards.”
“It’s the perfect way for us to get extra quality. We jumped straight in to the partnership.
“Last year, we had players missing games after suffering from midgie bites following training. The only local facilities we had weren’t great, whereas now we can go to Cowley, use their rugby gym, masseurs and it’s the best possible environment for the players.
“We’re breaking old habits, and changing the attitude and professionalism of the club.
“Ian Talbot (head coach) comes from a St Helens set-up used to winning everything, and he’s brought a bit of that Saints swagger to us – we’re in it to win it.
“Working with a top Super League club gives us something to aspire to, and we work with Saints on and off the pitch to help improve our club and learn what that top level is all about.”
For Rochdale, promotion to the Championship is the focus this year, but if their club becomes a long-term success story, then their supporters-owned co-operative model could well be a trailblazer within professional rugby league in the UK.
To win tickets to Rochdale’s next Kingstone Press Championship One match, against Hemel on Sunday 7th July, click here.
Kingstone Press Cider has teamed up with LoveRugbyLeague to celebrate all things great about the rugby league Championships. For the rest of the season, ‘Championing the Championships’ campaign will put a weekly spotlight on each Championship and Championship 1 club to focus on their most memorable moments, look back at the clubs heroes and reward the loyal fans. Read more.