24 Nov 2015 in Heritage
Superleague forward, Mark Flanagan remembers his early days at Rangers
The days of playing for Saddleworth Rangers as a kid only seem like yesterday.
I can vividly remember waking up on a Sunday morning bright and early, excited at the thought of playing rugby with my mates. We used to meet at the Satellite at Chuchhill Playing Fields to get changed and make the short walk over to Greenfield school’s rugby pitch. It always seemed to be freezing cold on those mornings as we made our way to the often waterlogged ground. We must have looked a sight.... a bunch of ragamuffin kids in oversized shorts and jerseys with the studs from their boots clattering against the pavement.
We didn't used to have a bad side back then with Joe 'Manchild' Walsh, Wes 'the rocket' Turner, the guile and astute kicking game of Liam Swift at scrum half and the raw speed and athleticism that only the great Aaron Muller possessed....not bad for a group of 8 year olds.! Although we'd often get hammered by the powerhouse teams from Wigan and St.Helens, who were drilled not for enjoyment but to win at all costs, we still wouldn't change a thing!
After the game it would be back to the club for hot dogs and orange juice made by one of the teams parents ,who did an unbelievable job back in the those days and probably didn't get the recognition they deserve. Then the presentation of the man of the match, most improved player and the top tackler awards. The prize would be a small trophy and a Mars Bar. More often than not, the top tackler would be Liam Hall, who is still executing his copy book tackle technique in the first team these days. The Rangers weekly programme would then get a read, us players would scan the pages to be the first person to 'Find Ronnie'. In each programme there would be small cartoon figure that looked like Rangers chairman, Ronnie Hardaker hidden within the pages. Whoever was victorious would then receive a mars bar from Chippy Moors. I think the club most have stumbled across a large shipment of Mars Bars on Shaw Hall Bank Road because pretty much any good work was recognised with a chocolate bar!
The end of season presentation at Birch Hall was always a highlight of the season. Both the kids and the parents had great nights. I can always remember us lads playing full tackle on the fields outside until well after dark. I'd be wearing my Sunday best, and my clothes would always be ruined, covered in grass stains and dirt.
I have enjoyed some great times training with the Rangers open age team and following their progress over the last few years. Myself and Kyle Eastmond used to join in at training and learn a few lessons from the 'greats' at touch and pass. Rangers stalwart Emerson Jackman would sulk around the field at tig and pass until he got the ball, and would scream at his team mates to 'Come with me!!!' .Aaron Miller would always be there even though he couldn't catch a cold and plenty of blood would be spilled on the rare occasion that Mick Coates joined in for a game!