The "No Fans, No Ground!" Nomad Years: 2013-22
The closure of Don Valley Stadium at the end of the 2013 season marked the beginning of a very uncertain time for Sheffield Eagles and its supporters.
For nearly 9 years the club was forced to play at seven temporary venues both in and outside of Sheffield.
The Nomad Years
Many of the venues that the Club played at between 2013 and 2022 didn't necessarily have facilities best suited for rugby league, with the RFL providing the club with special dispensation to compete in the Championship on several occasions. Playing in front of dwindling home support, the club was threatened with the very real prospect of folding during much of this time. Once again though the club, with the help of its die-hard supporters, defied the odds and survived.
Owlerton and Keepmoat
For the 2014 season the Eagles returned to the ground where it all began 30 years earlier. However, the romanticism surrounding the club’s return to its roots quickly faded as the team - who had enjoyed such strong home form at Don Valley and Bramall Lane over the previous two years- struggled at home for much of the season. The poor form owed much to the fact that the pitch at Owlerton was extremely narrow. Mats even had to be placed in the corners of the in-goal areas to prevent players from injuring themselves on the speedway track when scoring a try. The narrowness of the pitch meant that the players were unable to play the expansive brand of rugby league that Mark Aston had drilled into them over previous seasons. Opposition teams also complained about the lack of proper changing facilities at the stadium and the view of the pitch was also obstructed by the surrounding speedway and dog track. Although the corporate and catering facilities at the stadium were excellent, overall, the ground was not a suitable venue for rugby league. In a taste of things to come, the Eagles also played at the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster for their playoff match against Batley Bulldogs.
Keepmoat, Castle Park and Bramall Lane
Unable to secure a home ground in Sheffield, the Eagles were forced to play the majority of the 2015 season at the Keepmoat in Doncaster. Games against Workington and Whitehaven, however, were played at Castle Park - the home of Doncaster Knights RUFC. Despite being exiled from Sheffield the Eagles fared much better at “home”, playing the expansive brand of rugby that they had been unable to play the previous season. The views and facilities at the Keepmoat were excellent, but travelling took its toll and crowds began to drop off. During the “Super 8s” campaign the club played at Bramall Lane for games against Hull KR and Wakefield, with over 1700 attending the Eagles’ victory against the latter.
Sheffield Hallam University Sports Park
Whilst the club waited patiently for news on the development of a new stadium on the former Don Valley site, the Eagles managed to secure a return to Sheffield for the 2016 campaign. Located a stone’s throw (or more accurately a conversion away!) from Rotherham on Bawtry Road, the venue was made up of two temporary stands behind the posts at one end of the pitch with a third smaller stand for players’ families at the opposite side. There were also corporate facilities in the sports park clubhouse on the touchline. The venue was far from ideal, with very little in terms of facilities for supporters. It was also expensive to operate because the club had to rent the temporary stands, portable toilets, and security staff.
Belle Vue, Wakefield
Unable to afford the costs of a temporary set up in Sheffield, in 2017 Belle Vue became the home of the Eagles. It was an extremely difficult time for the club off the field. Having narrowly avoided folding at the end of the 2016 season the Eagles were forced to play over 25 miles away in front of dwindling home support in an ageing venue. At some games there were perhaps as little as 100 Eagles supporters, with away supporters sometimes travelling a shorter distance than “home” fans! Despite the problems off field, the team enjoyed a fairly successful season, finishing around mid-table and losing to Toulouse in the Championship Shield final.
2018 & 2019
Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park temporary set up
In 2018 the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park finally opened, and the club made a highly anticipated return to the city. At this stage the OLP was very similar in its setup to Bawtry Road, with a temporary stand on the touchline and limited facilities for Championship rugby league. The facilities were reduced further for the 2019 season, with half of the 500 temporary seats being removed.
Castle Park and Wakefield
In 2020 the Eagles were once again forced on the road as construction on the main stand at the OLP began. The Eagles faced Toulouse at Castle Park and Halifax in Wakefield before the season was cut short by Covid 19.
As rugby league and a semblance of normal life returned, the Eagles found themselves in the familiar setting of the Keepmoat stadium. It was an unhappy return, with the team finishing the season just one place above the relegation zone.
Keepmoat & Millennium Stadium Featherstone
It was hoped that construction on the main stand at the Olympic Legacy Park would be completed for the beginning of the 2022 season. Continued delays, however, meant that supporters had to wait a few months longer for a permanent home venue. For one final time the Eagles were forced out of the city, once again playing at the Keepmoat before adding the Millennium Stadium in Featherstone to the long list of post-Don Valley venues.
2022 and beyond
Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park Community Stadium
You can read more about the return to Sheffield on 23rd May 2022 and the first game at the Sheffield Olympic Legacy Park Community Stadium HERE.
SHARE YOUR MEMORIES
What are your memories and stories of the Eagles nomad years? You can share them with the Heritage Project HERE.