The Self-Isolation Chronicles: Rochdale Hornets

1. Matt Calland retired from playing aged 46.

Only two years ago, Rochdale Hornets head coach Matt Calland was still turning out for Rochdale Mayfield at the age of 46. Having turned out for Rochdale Hornets (twice), Featherstone, Bradford, Hull FC and Huddersfield between 1990-2003, he hung up his boots from the professional game. He then continued with Rochdale Mayfield, having later coached their Academy and first-team. The one-time England international also coached Halifax to a Golden Point victory in the 2010 Championship Grand Final, while combining that with still playing for Mayfield. He played in his 37th season of Rugby League in 2018, having started the game aged 9, and turned out alongside Callum Marriott (son of Karl) having played alongside his dad earlier in his career. He was named Hornets coach in 2019, having earned plenty of plaudits as head coach of Mayfield with accolades including the development of Warrington Wolves star Matty Ashton and St Helens forward Jack Ashworth

2. They swapped a player for turnstiles.

In 1989, both Rochdale and neighbours Oldham were not in the healthiest of financial climates, prompting one of the most bizarre swap deals in Rugby League history. Oldham player Jeff Edwards, who had made his debut for the club in 1985, was purchased by Rochdale for £1,000 and four turnstiles. The turnstiles were subsequently used at Oldham’s Watersheddings.

3. Tragedy struck twice, in 1998, as two of their players died just months apart.

What makes this more unusual is that both players suffered from mysterious fatalities while driving to or from training. In October 1998, 28-year-old Karl Marriott collapsed and died in front of his wife, only minutes after returning home from training. He only married his wife Linda 10 weeks prior and had a five-year-old. Only two months later, former Great Britain international and Leeds and Bradford forward Roy Powell (above) then passed away in similar circumstances, aged 33. Powell had suffered a heart attack on his way to training and was pronounced dead upon his arrival at hospital, having only joined the club months earlier.

4. They were called Rochdale Hornets in 1895.

Unusual monikers have become commonplace in Rugby League, as well as the wider sporting world. Only 7 clubs [St Helens, Hull FC, Halifax, Oldham, Hunslet, Doncaster and Whitehaven] of the 37 professional clubs in the UK are without one, while all of the NRL teams adopt a range of suffixes. In the 1895-96 Northern Union season, they were one of only three teams [Rochdale Hornets/Wakefield Trinity/Broughton Rangers] to adopt a moniker, with many of the clubs dropping them for the new season. They are, by account of Broughton folding and Wakefield later being called the Wildcats, the only team to have a moniker from that season which has stood the test of time.

5. Their women’s team director was the first female player at Wembley and is also an Olympic Judo star.

In 2019, Sophie Cox (above, in blue) was named director of rugby of the newly launched Rochdale Hornets women’s team. That came 25 years after she became the first-ever female to play Rugby League at Wembley Stadium, when she turned out for Rochdale Schools in 1993. A widespread debate at the time questioned whether girls should be allowed to play contact sports, with regulations almost stopping her playing against Sheffield Schools in the historic Challenge Cup curtain-raiser. She was permitted to play, however, a week before her 11th birthday and was inducted into the Guinness Book of World Records. Her sporting achievement also became a Trivial Pursuit question, as Rochdale won 12-6 on the historic day. She would go on to then take up judo, reaching the pinnacle of the sport by reaching the 2004 Athens Olympics Games where she was defeated in the quarter-final. Cox also won two European silver medals and, either side of teaching English in Thailand, returned to feature in the 2012 games on home soil, where she was knocked out in the first round by the eventual gold medal winner. She has since become a development coach for England Judo and, last year, joined the board of Rochdale Hornets’ women’s team.