The Big Interview: There’s no place like home for Sheffield Eagles

Sheffield Eagles' new home at the Olympic Legacy Park
Sheffield Eagles' new home at the Olympic Legacy Park
0
Have your say

Being back at square one is no bad thing for Sheffield Eagles.

For years, that is all they have wanted.

Mark Aston

Mark Aston

Without a home following the demolition of Don Valley Stadium in 2014, the Eagles endured a nomadic existence which threatened the future of the club.

Three successive seasons of rugby outside the city limits hardly helped, with last year’s campaign at Wakefield seeing only the most hardy of supporters sticking by the Eagles.

But this year saw the light finally appear at the end of the very long tunnel as they made a long awaited return to Sheffield.

From heading out of the game, they are back in it and sitting at square one.

Eagles supporters at the Olympic Legacy Park

Eagles supporters at the Olympic Legacy Park

Built from the rubble of Don Valley, the Olympic Legacy Park is what the Eagles have craved for a long time – a place to reestablish their foundations.

While there is plenty of work to be done to make their new house a real home, the Eagles are back in the Steel City.

And six months into their tenure in Attercliffe, director of rugby Mark Aston is delighted.

“To be back in the city is massive for us,” he told The Star.

Facilities at the Olympic Legacy Park

Facilities at the Olympic Legacy Park

“The last four years just about killed us stone dead.

“Being out of the city, the fan base dropping, corporate numbers going down and down.

“What we need is to reverse that trend and get people coming back to look at us.

“Some people have come back for a look and liked what they’ve seen in the facility.

The temporary stand at the Olympic Legacy Park

The temporary stand at the Olympic Legacy Park

“Probably they’ve not liked so much the on-the-field stuff, which we’re trying to put right.

“But so far, the experience of being back has been good.

“It’s been needed and we’re enjoying it.”

The Eagles are a work in progress both on and off the pitch.

On-field, the side are attempting to secure Championship survival.

Off-field, they are merely at the beginning of their life at the Olympic Legacy Park (OLP).

They have a pitch and so far that is about it. The actual stadium will come later.

Supporters are housed in a temporary stand, or position themselves on grass banks surrounding the playing surface.

Changing and corporate facilities are dotted around the site, at the University Technical College (UTC) or Oasis Academy which form part of the OLP.

“It’s hard because people are all over the place,” Aston said,

“There’s a temporary stand, people are stood all around.

“The changing rooms are a bit small for us in the UTC. There’s a gym we can use for warm-ups.

“Everyone is all over the place so we’ve had to try to condense it so we’re together as a team, working together, talking together and staying together.

“It’s been tough.

“The referees are over in the Oasis in a different building. The corporate are behind the posts up in the UTC.

“The fans have loved it. We’ve had an outside catering coming in, the Rotherham Hog Roast, and the fans are loving it.

“The Itchy Pig, the micro-brewery from Broomhill have put the beer on and that’s gone down really well.

“Those that have been out to Australia liken it to that. And we’ve had the weather to match recently so that’s helped.

“The atmosphere in the stands has been positive.”

It was announced last year that Scarborough Group – founded by Sheffield United co-owner Kevin McCabe – had won the bid to develop a stadium at the site, which will be shared by the Eagles and Sheffield United Ladies.

And Aston cannot wait to see the development completed.

“It’s going to be a 5,000 capacity which is absolutely great for us, which is just what we need,” he said.

“There will be corporate boxes, corporate lounges, changing rooms. It’ll be a proper stadium.

“And there will be terraces all around the sides to enclose everything.

“All sport is about atmosphere and that is what we need to generate.

“People will remember when we were playing big games in Super League and that sort of atmosphere.

“They’ll feel the crunch and the big hits more because they’re that close to the pitch.

“The development, when it’s finished, will be absolutely what is needed for Sheffield Eagles.

“That’ll help generate a buzz about the place.

“This area has been quiet since Don Valley got knocked down.

“It’ll generate a buzz about the place with United Ladies and the Eagles being there.”

Being back in Sheffield is just the start for the Eagles and it has far from solved all the problems which have blighted the club.

A lack of considerable financial support means the club remains on rocky foundations.

But it is hoped the stability of having a home to call their own will eventually lead to more stable footing.

And that starts by attracting supporters back through the turnstiles.

“I don’t say this lightly – we have come very, very close to going out of existence,” Aston said.

“It’s been tough because of being outside the city.

“To come back, and there’s still a lot of work to be done, it’s everything we need.

“We still need the support. We need everyone behind us to get us over the line.

“It’s still tough and there’s people demanding money off us all over.

“The costs go up. We’ve got temporary stands, operating two different buildings, the use of the facility.

“The costs fly off the radar so we still need that support to keep our heads above water.

“The financial situation is the same.

“We committed to putting £30,000 back into coming back into the city to play our games.

“It’s a considerable amount more than that at this time.”

Though there is still some way to go to reach the end of the tunnel for the Eagles, the light is getting brighter.

There really is no place like home.

ASTON CONFIDENT OF SURVIVAL TO DELIVER A YEAR TO REMEMBER

While there is positivity off the pitch, on-field matters continue to cause concern at the Eagles.

With only four wins from their 15 games so far this season in the Betfred Championship, the prospect of relegation is very real for Aston’s side.

Ever-passionate, Aston has not held back in his criticism of his players throughout the campaign.

But he is supremely confident they will remain in the second tier – an optimistic outlook boosted by a fine performance in defeat at London Broncos which was followed up with victory over Barrow at the Summer Bash in Blackpool last weekend.

“That was a massive boost for us at the weekend,” Aston said.

“There’s been a bit of a response over the last few weeks.

“We went to London are were probably the best team for large parts. And we had a great result in Blackpool where we probably played our best game.

“They’re starting to pick up what I’m about and what this club is about and what a team is.

“We’ve got a huge game against Swinton who are four points below us so it’s about extending that and sustain some momentum.

“We play Batley the week after and we can get on a real roll.

“The confidence is coming back and that is a large part of it.

“They’ve had a smile on their face this week and they’re enjouing it.

“They’ve been under the pump and I’ve been hard on them.

“We’ve been looking for this sort of response and there’s something to hang it off.

“I’m confident and I’m always confident that we can turn things around.

“I don’t see any reason why it can’t be the same for us this year.”