Kidd gloves give Swinton taste of high life

Lions hunt promotion to regain former pride as father-and-son team build dreams on and off pitch
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The Independent Online

There were knowing nods and mutterings of nepotism when Swinton named their new coach almost three years ago and it just happened to be the son of the chairman. Here surely was the final indignity for a once-proud club, now being handed out like a family birthday present.

"I took a step back from the decision," says chairman John Kidd, a lifetime Lions fan and local accountant. "I let the board decide without my input. I did not vote." All the same, it was not a decision he could have countenanced had he not believed that his son, Paul, who had been helping the previous coach, Peter Roe, on a voluntary basis, was up to it. "I thought he deserved a chance," he says.

There was an inevitable degree of scepticism at the time. To say that Paul Kidd (pictured right) did not have much of a playing pedigree would be a serious understatement, his career having been effectively ended by a head injury at the age of 17, playing for Accrington in the North West Counties division six.

Now, with Swinton in the National League Two Grand Final tomorrow, few are worried about the early section of his CV. It is the more recent entries that are important.

"I think his record speaks for itself," says Kidd Snr. "We've improved every year under him. In the first year we got to the first round of the play-offs, last year we got to the second round and this year we are in the final."

That final against Sheffield Eagles at Warrington and the prospect of promotion to National League One makes this the biggest day in Swinton's history since the old Division Two Championship final against the same opponent in 1989.

The Lions lost to Sheffield that day; you have to go back a further two seasons to a victory over Hunslet at Old Trafford for the last trophy for a club that was a force in the land in the 20s, 30s and again, with John Kidd watching transfixed, in the early 60s. If they recapture some of that old glory at the Halliwell Jones Stadium tomorrow, they will have done it the hard way. By finishing fifth in the table after the regular season, they have had to take the long route to the Grand Final, beating Barrow at home and then travelling to defeat Featherstone and the new Welsh club, the Celtic Crusaders.

That last victory at Bridgend came in an almost unbearably nerve-jangling manner. Lee Marsh scored an equalising try two minutes from the end of normal time, then Chris Hough put over a drop goal for 27-26 in golden-point extra time - the first time that system had been needed in a play-off. "I was walking on cloud nine," says John Kidd. "I was absolutely ecstatic."

The success has not been a one-man, or even a family affair. Kidd Jnr, who is a skilled amateur conjuror, is fortunate to have a genuine Swinton legend up his sleeve in the shape of Les Holliday, one of the cleverest loose forwards of his generation.

Now 31, Kidd is also a skilled networker, who sometimes resembles a sheet of blotting paper in the way he soaks up useful information from more senior coaches. Those who have particularly helped him include Ian Millward, Tony Smith, Paul Cullen and Karl Harrison, as well as Widnes' coach in tomorrow's NL1 Grand Final, Steve McCormack. "He has been able to take things from all of them and convert it into a part-time setting," says his vindicated dad.

The Lions sold their full allocation of tickets for Warrington almost immediately and managed to get their hands on more. It is a sign of enthusiasm returning to a club which, especially during a ten-year exile in alien Bury, seemed to have lost its very soul.

Playing at Sedgely Park has brought the club back a little closer to its roots, but the Kidds now have a vision, backed by the local council, for a new ground at Agecroft, less than two miles from its historic home at Station Road, which seemed to sprout semis as soon as the grandstand was demolished in 1992.

That is a dream that can only be brought closer by promotion to NL1. Suddenly, keeping it in the family doesn't seem such a bad idea.