Cheltenham awaits the Gibraltar of the Northern Union

Date published: Thursday, March 25, 2010

Oldham – one of the mightiest rugby clubs of the Victorian and Edwardian period – will be appearing at the Cheltenham Rugby Festival at the Prince of Wales Stadium on Saturday April 24.

Such was the power, fame and prestige of Oldham and so impregnable was their home ground of Watersheddings that they were universally known as the Gibraltar of the Northern Union. Rugby League was known as the Northern Union until 1921.

Oldham has strong links of heritage with Cheltenham for it was on February 15 1908 that one of Gloucestershire’s most famous rugby players – “Mad” Arthur Smith of Yorkley and Cinderford – played for England ( the Northern Union ) at the former Athletic Ground in the town against the New Zealand All Golds.

Thus was the deciding match in Rugby League’s first ever international test series. New Zealand beat England by 8 points to 5.

Smith played 247 times for Oldham from 1905 up to the outbreak of the First World War having been spotted by talent scouts and then moving to the well known Lancashire Mill town.

To celebrate the Centenary of the ” Great Match ” on February 15 2008 Chris Hamilton the Oldham club Chairman was an official guest at the plaque unveiling.

Arthur Smith’s name lives on in the Festival as the player of the tournament in the 1908 Cup for Gloucestershire Schools receives the Arthur Smith Award in the various age groups.

It is hoped that this year Arthur Smith’s granddaughter will attend to present the trophies in honour of the great man. Arthur earned his captivating nickname because of his enthusiastic and forceful performances on the field of play.

Chris Hamilton is very pleased that Oldham will be taking part in the 9 aside All Golds Cup:

” It is highly significant that the Oldham club will be appearing at Cheltenham for the Festival. To have one of our greatest ever players honoured by having a trophy named after him is something very special indeed. Arthur Smith was and still is greatly revered in the town. We are aware of the strong line up of sides in the All Golds Cup but we intend to give a very good account of ourselves and so do justice to Arthur’s memory.”