Oldham to make return to Boundary Park

James Gordon
Boundary Park, Oldham

Boundary Park, the home of Oldham RLFC - Alamy

League One side Oldham have announced that they will return to Boundary Park from the 2024 season.

The 13,500-capacity stadium is home to Oldham Athletic football club, and the rugby league club previously played there from 1997 to 2009 following the closure of Watersheddings.

In 2009, Roughyeds were told they could no longer play at Boundary Park and approached the local council for help, which saw them move to Whitebank Stadium.

But as Whitebank Stadium does not meet the criteria for the Championship, Oldham have had to move to Bower Fold in Stalybridge for their seasons in the second tier.

With them bouncing between Championship and League One, that has meant consistency of location has been hard to come by.

The 2016 and 2017 seasons were played at Bower Fold, before returning to Whitebank for 2018. Promotion meant a move back to Bower Fold for 2020 and 2021, while the last two seasons have been spent back at Whitebank.

Despite the initial move to Whitebank Stadium providing them their own ground in the town, due to it not meeting the required standards, Oldham surrendered the lease on it 2016 and non-league football club Avro FC soon became the main tenants.

Now Oldham Council have confirmed an investment of £1m in a new pitch at Boundary Park to enable the town’s professional football and rugby league clubs to both play there.

Work is due to start on the new hybrid pitch at the end of the National League football season in May.

Super League ambitions?

Oldham’s traditional home at Watersheddings was where they played between 1889 and the mid-1990s. It was sold in June 1994 for £1.25m to pay off debts, and housing now sites on the site.

The announcement comes following the recent confirmation of the licensing criteria from IMG.

MORE: IMG reveal grading criteria with five key areas highlighted

Oldham Bears were founder members of Super League in 1996, but were relegated the following season and went bankrupt with debts of £2m.

A new club was then created by current club chairman Chris Hamilton and three directors, entering the Northern Ford Premiership.

The closest they have come to a Super League return since was then they lost the NFP Grand Final to Widnes in 2001.

Oldham has traditionally been a hot-bed for talent, with a raft of Super League stars hailing from the town – including the likes of Kevin Sinfield, Barrie McDermott and Iestyn Harris.

This stadium move gives their future ambitions a real shot in the arm,

Hamilton wrote on LinkedIn following the recent IMG meeting: “The inevitable issues that come with having roughly 28 cats that need herding several times a week and the big IMG meeting as the (club’s) Rugby League Council member last Thursday for starters meant there was always plenty to keep me busy.

As far as IMG is concerned it remains to be seen what happens but obviously I don’t think they ever expected 100% agreement with their proposals and they weren’t disappointed!

“The passion people have for their clubs is the reason we have a game to follow so I would never knock that.

“There is still a way to go before the new proposals are embedded into the game – if indeed they are to be – a club vote in April will decide that and there will, no doubt, much more debate before that point.

“One key point Matt Dwyer from IMG made during his presentation though that really stuck with me was ‘we (IMG) have been charged with bringing more money into the game and at the moment we have been told that what the game is currently doing is not doing that.'”

Funding boost

Meanwhile, Oldham have also confirmed the receipt of a £25,000 Local Improvement Fund grant from Oldham Council.

The £25,000 will go towards the development of Melrose Playing Fields in Chadderton which is owned by the Rugby Football League with Oldham RLFC and Hollinwood community (amateur) club holding a joint long-term lease.

Chairman Chris Hamilton said: “We will now apply to the RFL to match the funding so that we can complete the part-finished extension at Melrose.

“This will enable us and Hollinwood ARLFC, who are joint lessees (lease-holders) with us on that site, to have bigger and better facilities and, as a result, to expand the things we offer to the local community.”

Oldham’s women’s team are set to play at Melrose.