OLD words with new meanings have surfaced in the English language during this annus horribilis of 2020.

Never again will we think of layers of wedding cake when we talk of ‘tiers’.

‘Self-isolation’ will no longer mean locking oneself in the loo after a few too many on a boozy night out.

Forget ‘bubbles’ when Oldham Times staff raise a glass to the launch of the new daily paper, the fizzy drinks ‘bubbles’ have a different meaning now.

As for ‘masks’, they used to be worn at new year parties by merry revellers; now nearly everybody wears one in the street.

Covid-19 and the pandemic have a lot to answer for – not least sweeping changes to our way of life and major disruption to our commercial, business and sporting activities.

Oldham Rugby League Club, for instance, has bravely and stubbornly gone toe to toe with coronavirus and after a 10-month battle with no games and no money through the turnstiles appears to have forced the virus on to the ropes and pinned it in a corner.

The year began full of hope and expectation on the back of promotion to the Championship and the appointment of a new coaching team and backroom staff under the command of new head coach Matt Diskin,

Things didn’t go altogether as planned with only one win from the first five league games in the higher division. But worse was round the corner – complete lockdown caused by Covid and assistant coach Brendan Sheridan’s fight for life while in a coma in a Wakefield hospital.

The Oldham Times: Brendan Sheridan, rightBrendan Sheridan, right

While ‘Shez’ fought desperately to beat the dreaded Covid, the rugby league family rallied to support him and he was inundated with ‘get well’ messages from around the world.

Fully recovered physically, he is still fighting mentally to come to terms with what happened, but with the best wishes of everyone at the club, he has signed a new one-year deal to keep his assistant coaching job alongside Diskin and a new member of the backroom team, prop Jode Sheriffe, who will double up as a player.

The RFL eventually decided to keep Super League running behind closed doors, but to abandon the Championship and League 1 competitions which, on the one hand for Oldham, guaranteed Championship survival and another crack at it in 2021 but on the other resulted in a frustrating and worrying year for fans, who naturally began to feel that Roughyeds and other clubs like them would be faced with an uncertain future.

For Chris Hamilton who, often standing alone, had beaten off threat after threat to keep Roughyeds in business over 22 years, it was the sort of challenge he relished. Rolling up his sleeves, he joined forces with Diskin to re-sign the best of his 2020 squad members on new deals and also to invest heavily on recruiting a dozen new boys.

While Hamilton publicly thanked 2020 sponsors and season-ticket holders for keeping their money in the club rather than accepting pro-rata refunds for the money they had spent in advance of games that never took place, Diskin famously said that he was much more confident of a good season in 2021 than he had been at the start of the ill-fated and ultimately curtailed 2020 campaign.

Paying tribute to the loyalty and support of his “band of brothers” (Diskin’s Barmy Army led by the loud, proud and infamous Kev The Voice), Hamilton said the surge of signings – and the consequent air of expectancy surrounding the 2021 season – would not have been possible without the backing and generosity of supporters.

As one signing followed another – 27 in total but now down to 26 because of Ed Smith’s enforced retirement due to injury – supporters grew increasingly supportive of what was happening behind the scenes and increasingly more likely to support the club’s sale of merchandise and other fundraising efforts.

Merchandise included special Roughyeds shirts in support of the NHS and tee shirts designed to recognise the administrative feats of local man and former Roughyeds official Joseph Platt, who virtually ran Rugby League in its formative years and was recently installed in the sport’s Roll of Honour.

Central funding from the RFL and the Government’s furlough scheme were a massive help, but there’s no doubt that it was the fans’ positive response to early-lockdown rallying calls from the club that made the biggest and best difference and encouraged Hamilton to carry on investing and strengthening his 2021 squad.

He was also encouraged by the number of weekly Club Cash lottery members who found other ways to keep their lottery numbers up when the club was forced to abandon door-to-door collecting because of social distancing.

Contributions from ORSA, the Roughyeds’ Supporters’ Association, were also relevant in holding Covid at bay, while in one of the last major assaults of the year, the anti-Covid battalion that was in the vanguard of the Roughyeds’ fighting machine, triumphed once again by putting all its weight behind the sale of new 2021 replica jerseys, which went down a treat with fans and proved the most popular the club has sold for many years.

It’s been a grim year, but resolute Roughyeds have faced the challenges with strength, wisdom, determination and a burning desire to win through in the end and to enjoy a happy and a successful 2021 Championship season.

It’s the least they deserve.