Sheffield Eagles: All we want is a place called home, says Mark Aston
The nomadic life is tough for Sheffield Eagles.
Particularly when all they want is to have a home of their own.
Since the demolition of Don Valley Stadium in 2013, the Eagles have been shunted from pillar to post around South Yorkshire, all the while having the tantalising prospect of their own stadium dangling in front of them.
Owlerton Stadium, Doncaster’s Keepmoat Stadium, Bawtry Road – all have been gracious enough to provide a temporary base for the club, yet the cost in each case has been more than financial.
This season, after a few months where the very future of the club was brought into serious question, they find themselves encamped further from their spiritual home than ever before.
On Sunday, they begin their home campaign against big-spending Toulouse Olympique at Belle Vue Stadium in Wakefield, 24 miles from where Don Valley once stood.
For director of rugby Mark Aston, there was no alternative other than taking the Eagles on the road again.
“We had nothing else,” he told The Star bluntly. “I pull no punches on that.
“We tried every place in Sheffield to be able to get in.
“There were different reasons why it didn’t happen – the pitches weren’t adequate, some people maybe didn’t want us.
“It’s a sad fact that we had no alternative other than to play at Wakefield.
“We’re indebted to Michael Carter, the chairman at Wakefield, because he opened the door and allowed us to play there for 12 months.
“If you’d have asked me where we’d have played if we hadn’t got that, I wouldn’t be able to answer.
“And that would have been a crying shame.”
Though disheartening to see a proud and famous sporting name forced out of the Steel City limits for the second time in four years, there is plenty of pride in the loyalty shown to the club by supporters.
The numbers may not be what they once were but a hardcore group have proven that wherever the Eagles will go, they will follow.
And Aston says the drive to continue the battle to keep the club alive is motivated by the supporters.
“When we talk about good people and the reason why we do what we do and why I fight so hard to keep the club going, it’s for those people, the fans,” Aston said.
“We haven’t got a massive fan base but we’ve got loyal fans.
“They’ve had a lot of trauma in their lives watching Sheffield Eagles. Everything looked like a bed of roses after winning the Challenge Cup in 1998 but then came the merger with Huddersfield, starting again from scratch in 2000, to having our home knocked down in 2013 and be all over the place playing for the last few years.
“It’s a credit to their strength for sticking with us.
“The reason I personally stick with it is to one day deliver what we’ve dreamed of and promised – a stadium for rugby league in Sheffield they can call home.
“We’ve never had that.”
That dream remains alive for Aston and everyone associated with the club.
But there are plenty of hurdles yet to clear before concrete confirmation is delivered that the Eagles will be back on the site of the former Don Valley Stadium.
Building a rugby league stadium as part of the Olympic Legacy Park in Attercliffe would come as part of investment from the club’s mystery backer.
But the investor will only part with the approximate £7million needed to build the stadium if Sheffield City Council agree to his wish to construct a £35million green energy plant nearby.
After an initial reluctance from the Council to enter negotiations, they began talks last September, giving the investor enough confidence to back the Eagles financially for this season.
And the dream is edging closer for Aston.
“I can stand at our office window and watch the diggers working, you can see where the rugby pitch is going to be,” he said.
“It will be down in four to six weeks. It’s flat now, they’ve put the matting down and it’s all ready to have the artificial surface laid.
“The sad thing that’s still missing is the stadium.
“That’s all linked with the green energy.
“But now we’re starting to work together, the Council are starting to be more proactive, working with us, and the person who wants to build the plant will hopefully build us the stadium as well.
“Things are going in the right direction for once.
“That is something we need to deliver because how long will the Rugby Football League allow us to be outside the city?
“That’s the next question to be thrown at us and they’re already speaking about it now.
“They’ve given us permission to play at Wakefield this year, but in 2018 what are your plans?
“We need to be back in Sheffield.”
No one would disagree with that.
But for now, Wakefield is home.