Former Oldham star Eric Fitzsimons dies, aged 69

Former Oldham player and coach Eric Fitzsimons has died following a long battle with dementia.

Fitzsimons played football, rugby league and basketball to a professional or semi-professional level and was well-known in the local area as a schoolteacher.

In 1986, Fitzsimons and two other local teachers, Iain MacCorquodale and the late Fred Laughton, took a party of Oldham schoolboys on an ambitious rugby league tour of New South Wales and Queensland.

As a promising football player, he was scouted by Everton. His Goodison Park dream never came about, but he went on to play for Oldham Athletic, Bury, Hyde United and Bradford Park Avenue.

Fitzsimons was persuaded by Oldham players Phil Larder and Dave Fricker to switch sports to rugby league.

He became a winger and scored 11 tries and kicked 127 goals in 46 games for Oldham between 1979 and 1981.

Fitzsimons later played at Hunslet and returned to his hometown club a couple of years later to become a coach.

As head coach at Watersheddings in 1987/88, he guided the club to Division Two premiership success at Old Trafford.

They then reached the semi-final of the John Player Trophy but lost 18-8 to St Helens in the semi-final at Wigan.

That was all forgotten though when they lifted the Second Division crown at Old Trafford thanks to a late try from Kevin Meadows.

The line-up that day was: Burke, Round, Foy, McAlister, Meadows, Walsh, Ford, Sherratt, Sanderson, Waddell, Hawkyard, Graham, Flanagan. Subs: Irving, Warnecke.

The win was the pinnacle of Fitzsimons’ coaching career.

Oldham chaplain Tony Ford said: “Lots of local people, particularly those who were involved in sport when they were young, owe a great deal to Eric for the help he gave them as mentor and teacher.

“I was one of them. He was more like a mate than a schoolteacher. He was a top sportsman, a top teacher and a friend to scores of young people.

“It suited Eric because rugby league in Oldham schools was big in those days and he felt a knowledge of the game would be hugely beneficial to him as a local PE teacher.”

“He would help anybody. A true gentleman, too.”

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