Inside how Mike Ford, Sean Long are bidding to bring back Oldham’s glory days

George Riley
Sean Long Mike Ford Oldham Alamy

Oldham head coach Sean Long (left) and managing director Mike Ford (right)

The ambition at Oldham is palpable, the enthusiasm infectious, and the Boundary Park dressing room bouncing with anticipation for 2024 and beyond. It is something this club has been missing badly.

The players’ kit and warm-up gear freshly laundered and neatly folded under bright neon blue lights shining down on a thumping music system in a pristine Boundary Park dressing room, this is not your average League 1 rugby league scene. 

We have access all areas for Oldham’s 1895 Cup clash with Rochdale Hornets, the renewal of a local rivalry that the club believes can play a key part in bolstering gates at a club in rebuild. 

Across the pitch in a raucous fans bar underneath the Joe Royle Stand, almost a thousand fans are crammed in to listen to the man many feel is the club’s saviour, managing director Mike Ford, rallying supporters with passion and vigour under the club’s new motto Stronger Together.

From rugby league’s doldrums Oldham are on their way back – that is the clear message. Ford, the club’s former player and coach, is overseeing the building of a squad that should – on paper at least – win League 1.

Coached by Great Britain legend Sean Long, back on his favoured side of the hills after spells with Featherstone Rovers and Wakefield Trinity, so far this season they have beaten Halifax Panthers, Barrow Raiders – and now Rochdale too, to reach the 1895 Cup quarter-finals and the fourth round of the Challenge Cup.

“We have got a great facility at Boundary Park and I don’t think there are many places that we will play that will be better,” says one of the Roughyeds big-name recruits, half-back Danny Craven.

“The atmosphere in the Joe Royle Stand is brilliant so hopefully they keep backing us throughout this year and we will have a good year.”

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‘We are building something great here at Oldham’

 1,661 spectators turned out to watch this win over Rochdale, with a sponsors room bursting with new partners too. These may not yet be earth-shattering numbers but this was the club’s biggest attendance on home soil against Rochdale in 21 years.

There is good reason the likes of Elijah Taylor, Jordan Turner, Craig Kopczak and Matty Wildie have dropped down to League 1 to be a part of this too.

 “We are building something great here at Oldham, week by week, step by step,” winger Mo Agoro tells Love Rugby League. The fitness instructor from Leeds scored his second length-of-the-field try of the season during the game.

We are building something nice and we want to repay the fans with our performances on the pitch.”

So far, so good on that front, with Long challenging his players to try and score from every set. It’s a fresh challenge for Long too – sacked by Featherstone despite a hefty lead at the top of the Championship, the former St Helens star finished the season at relegated Wakefield and is hoping Oldham becomes the successful project he has been craving.

“We are building,” he says, as the team prepare for Sunday’s trip to Swinton in the Challenge Cup, a 6pm kick-off, live on The Sportsman.

“We are gaining really good sponsorship and getting the crowd behind us. We are growing as a team, learning as a team and knowing that if we perform we will get the crowd right behind us.

“We have talked about a journey, building from League 1, and obviously trying to get in the Championship.

“The fans are massive to what we are trying to do, so hopefully we can keep giving them entertaining rugby.”

The League 1 season starts next month, with Oldham heading to Workington on Sunday, March 17.

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