Rugby League: Besieged Bears ready to fight until they drop

Dave Hadfield looks at the desperate plight of Oldham's rugby league team
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The Independent Online
Oldham have every reason to fight for their lives in their last three Super League matches. Their life as a club, or at least as a club with any top-flight pretensions, could depend on those 240 minutes of rugby.

At the very least, Oldham need to win one and draw one of those remaining fixtures, starting with the home match against Wigan on Friday and followed by a trip to Paris and a visit from Warrington. Only the most blinkered Bear would put any money on them to get away with it.

"The club is under a fair amount of pressure," admits its chairman and chief executive, Jim Quinn. "This has been quite a traumatic season for us; a season where nothing has gone right."

For many, the trauma began when Oldham played their last match at Watersheddings, the dilapidated and weather-lashed old ground on the edge of the moors. It would have won few awards for its facilities, but the theory that it was worth a few points start against some less committed visitors seems to have been borne out.

In the much more neutral surroundings of Oldham Athletic's Boundary Park, they have been a far less intimidating proposition - and it shows in their results. Then there was the business of Andy Goodway, a coach still highly regarded by many players and supporters, who was sacked after becoming increasingly outspoken about the shortcomings of his board and Quinn in particular.

"I think there's a mixture of views about Andy," says Quinn now. "But at the time we made the decision we were in pretty dire straits. Andy was speaking out all right, but I think it was because he struggled with defeat. He also struggled with the changes that had to be taken on board - but staying at Watersheddings wasn't an option."

A messy transfer of coaching responsibilities to Bob Lindner did not help, but nor has continuing uncertainty over the club's home. It has been clear from the start that their football neighbours did not particularly want them as tenants, but the proposed new stadium that would take them out of Boundary Park is, as Quinn admits, no closer than it was two years ago.

If Oldham do go down, there is, he also admits, no way that they can afford to play there on First Division gates. That leaves the possible option of moving in with Oldham Rugby Union club, if its modest facilities could be brought up to standard.

Gloomier prophets - and there is no shortage of them in Oldham - predict that there could be no ground and no club. Quinn rejects that prediction. "I still believe that there is going to be a will and a way found to sustain one of the game's original clubs," he says, but even he admits that it will be fiendishly difficult to regroup and get back into Super League.

Of course, there is a strong feeling within the town that Super League would not be unhappy at that result. As a small town team, without a large population base or anything else - apart from its tradition - to sustain it, Oldham have been bracketed with Halifax and Castleford as the sort of clubs who have little place in the future of Super League.

"We have felt unwanted for some time," says Quinn. "But there are two ways of reacting to all this - and one is to say `We'll show them'. We won't let them kick us out'."

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