Rugby League: Murky end to myth of Watersheddings

Dave Hadfield sees the final rugby league match at Oldham's infamous old stadium
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The Independent Online
It would have been neither proper nor fitting for the sun to have shone on the last 80 minutes of rugby at Watersheddings.

Its critics would claim that the sun set on this famous, nay, infamous, ground during the second Ice Age. So it was only appropriate that when the last game here - which Oldham won 20-16 against Swinton - finally went ahead at the third time of asking, Watersheddings should enter the myths of history amid a chill Pennine fog.

"Feeling nostalgic?" one regular was asked as he surveyed the back of the main stand patched up like a shanty in Rio de Janiero.

"Feeling cold," he said. "But I'll miss the place."

That is the sort of equivocal reaction that the old stadium produces, illustrated most vividly by a remark attributed to Fred Trueman: "Rugby league without the Watersheddings would be like a horror film without Boris Karloff."

After 108 years of terrorising the unwary visitor, they finally drove a stake through the old monster's heart yesterday. Oldham will play in future at Boundary Park, home to their football neighbours, so far down the balmy slopes of the Pennine foothills that summers there can be positively spring-like and where spectators will enjoy luxuries like hot pies and toilets with roofs.

But this was not a day for looking forward. It was strictly a day for looking back, with few traces of the modern world that the game's administrators are trying to foist upon the game, for a parade of old stagers, walking sticks propping up arthritic knees, a brass band and "Abide with me", the hymn that the Watersheddings faithful never did get the opportunity to sing at Wembley and now never will. There was a grudging nod towards modernity with players wearing squad numbers and names - but not necessarily their own.

Thus is was that Vince Fawcett made his Oldham debut and scored his first Oldham try masquerading as Jason Temu, and the crucial try that broke a 16-all deadlock 11 minutes from time came from Joe McNicholas appearing in the guise of Adrian Belle.

Swinton have made a habit of spoiling the party at commemorative events at the Watersheddings. They abused their hosts' hospitality by winning the inaugural game here in 1889 and, with steadier finishing, could have repeated the social gaffe yesterday.

It fell to Dave Whitehead, a Watersheddings regular for 43 of his 48 years to sound the final hooter on rugby at the ground. No wonder there was a hint of a tremor in the blast of the klaxon.

Oldham: Atcheson; Jones, Abram, Topping, Myler; Maloney, Crompton; Goldspink, Clarke, Faimalo, Lord, Davidson, Bradbury. Substitutes not used: Deacon, Norman, Melling, Fawcett, Crook, McNicholas.

Swinton: Welsby; Ashcroft, Evans, Walker, Gardiner; Longo, Gunning; Armstrong, McCabe, Barrow, Adams,Rogers, Pearce. Substitutes not used: Gibson, Price- Jones, Fox, McCombe, Casey.

Referee: G Shaw (Dewsbury).

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