The long-gone rugby club that has not been forgotten

IT is a story of a lovingly remembered rugby league club which has been told in a book published by two of its stalwart members.

It chronicles how the band of brothers that formed and ran Fitton Hill Amateur Rugby League Club played, laughed, drank and sang together for 32 years until it folded in 1996.

Many of its former players went on to become top professionals in the game including Steve McGiffin, Johnny Blair, David Jackson, Kevin Flanagan, Kevin O’Rourke, John Green and Stuart Bottom.

But Malcolm Woodhead and John Hankin, aged 70 and 72, stuck around and have now committed many affectionate recollections and stories to print in a book called ‘The Fitton HIll Amateur League Football Club – As Told By Itself’.

Malcolm, who lives in Grotton, and John, from Mossley, spent 12 months during lockdown producing the book which includes a database of 250 players who turned out for the club.

John Hankin, left, and Malcolm Woodhead

They created a Facebook page and Malcolm said: “The lads have written the book with the stories they shared.

“The club’s legacy is the book which tells its story and the players who turned out for the club.”

It was the summer of 1964 that the founding fathers met at The Hathershaw Hotel, Ashton Road, close to the Fitton Hill housing estate.

Bill Greatorex, a schoolteacher at the estate’s junior school, was discussing with friend Bill Hankin a dream to start a junior amateur rugby league side on the estate which local boys could play in. They discussed the idea, and before long the club was formed.

As well as its youth side, the club also launched into the open age game in 1970 and reached two Standard Cup finals, losing to Saddleworth Rangers in 1983 before beating Shaw at Watersheddings two years later.

1985 Standard Cup winning side

Sadly, in the following years, the club fell on hard times before it bowed to the inevitable and folded in 1996.

Malcolm, himself a former hooker who played well into his 40s before becoming chairman, said: “Scores of former Fitton Hill players went on to play for other clubs in the town.

“The heart and soul of the club lives on. Our book is dedicated to all the players, coaches, committee men and supporters who gave, freely, their time and commitment to Fitton Hill ARLFC from the club’s very beginnings through to its closure.”

Proceeds from the book, which is priced at £10 and available on Amazon, are being donated to the SG6, a men’s mental health charity set up in memory of the former Rochdale Hornets, Oldham RL and Swinton Lions rugby player Stephen Gartland.

The book is available on Amazon and you can join the club’s Facebook page here.

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