AFTER what seemed like an eternity, Bower Fold reverberated once again to the sound of fans on the terraces. Just one problem – there were none there.
While Stalybridge Celtic’s Northern Premier League season is off, the rugby league campaign is just getting started.
And Oldham RL’s home draw in the Challenge Cup meant the stadium they call home saw action once again.
The only people allowed in, other than the players and coaching staff, were media, club officials and a few stewards.
So in total, about 60 people saw the 20-6 win over Barrow.
When supporter noise was piped through the tannoy, you would have been forgiven for thinking it was 6,000.
In a sign of how unfamiliar the hubbub and chants of ‘Oldham, Oldham,’ are now, people said they could hear it in Dukinfield.
Now, rugby league is not a sport where prisoners are taken and not having a crowd only accentuates the punishment the players put themselves through.
Every tackle, every hit, every confrontation was seemingly amplified.
So was every word on the touchline.
“Dalli’s injured, where is he?” said Barrow staff as Jamie Dallimore limped off injured.
Step in replacement Dan Toal. “He’s coming now. He’s just gone for a p***!”
And when they complained about decisions by referee Marcus Griffiths, the touch judge told them in no uncertain terms, ‘Shut up.’ Twice.
Some discussions in the stand were also not what you would normally hear. The lack of planes flying overhead as Bower Fold lies on the flight path to Manchester Airport.
This week, it was not the performance of Oldham and Barrow, not even a referee’s decision – it was whether or not the bird sanctuary that lies behind the Lord Pendry Stand is indeed the oldest in the country!
In the end, Oldham won out and progressed to the second round of the Challenge Cup.
And it was a blessed relief for Roughyeds’ boss Matt Diskin, who cannot underestimate the role Stalybridge Celtic play in making sure the club can operate in the Championship as their base at Whitebank Stadium is not good enough for them to play in rugby League’s second tier.
He said after they booked a second-round trip to Swinton: “It’s a great facility with a fantastic pitch.
“If you’re a diehard Oldham fan, it’s always going to be hard to call it home because of the locality but from a playing point of view, we’re really happy with it.
“It’s a fantastic surface, it’s well looked after and when it’s good conditions, you can play good rugby, which we did at times.
“The pitch is always good, and it’s well looked after. For us, it’s ideal.
“We’ve been at Stalybridge for a couple of years and the chairman’s relationship with the people at Stalybridge Celtic is key to that.
“We’re really happy to call it home and we can’t wait for the opportunity to put some crowds in there.”