Football: Oldham face a watershed: Dave Hadfield explains why some rugby league clubs fear for the future

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The Independent Online
IF THE Rugby League has its way next month, the trap door into the Second Division at the end of this season will be smaller, but it will lead into a very deep, dark cellar.

Proposals for the formation of a Premier League, expected to be approved by member clubs on 5 October, will make it difficult for those which miss out at the end of this season to fight their way in. Only one team per season will be promoted and then only if they meet a series of demanding criteria.

That is excellent news for clubs like Widnes, Salford and Sheffield - any of whom could have flirted with relegation under the old two-up, two-down system. But for the one side at the foot of the table next April the descent will be painful. Cut off from the income that will increasingly be monopolised by the Premier League, there will be no easy way back, which is why fixtures involving the likes of Oldham, Workington Town and Hull are already heavy with significance.

Workington are not as bad as their record of four defeats suggests and they have their best chance yet of a victory against Hull today, who are just one point better off and still awaiting the arrival of their New Zealanders. The other side without a point are Oldham, and their predicament typifies the difficulties that struggling clubs could face if they miss out on Premier League status. Within the new set-up, Oldham would qualify for financial help to ensure that they have a ground which meets the minimum standards.

Outside it, it is hard to see how they could ever arrest the cycle of decay. True, there are plans to leave the delapidated Watersheddings and move to a new ground in three years, but that is a distant prospect.

It is a sign of how badly Oldham have started - conceding an average of 45 points in their first four matches - that they start as second favourites today at home to Doncaster, whose three wins so far will help ensure that, unlikely as it might sound, they will be a Premier League club.

Like their crumbling surroundings, Oldham's playing shortcomings are easily identified, but fiendishly difficult to fix. The departure of Bob Lindner, Barrie McDermott and Se'e Solomona this summer, coupled with the premature retirement of their coach, Andy Goodway, has left them short of top-level forwards and without the money for reinforcements.

They will have to play above themselves, starting today. Otherwise, the cellar, that repository for the forgotten and unwanted, looms.