Kevin Nicholas will celebrate 20 years as chairman of Batley Bulldogs today.
Mr Nicholas took charge of the club, along with fellow director Andy Winner, on November 3 1997 — making him the second-longest-serving chairman in the Rugby Football League.
Huddersfield’s Ken Davy is believed to be the only current serving chairman to have been in charge of a club longer than Mr Nicholas.
However, looking back at 20 memorable years in charge at Mount Pleasant, Mr Nicholas recalls his reign may only have lasted a few months.
He explained: “Andrew and I joined the Batley board in 1995 but both resigned.
“I then managed to acquire some shares and, with those from Andy and Ron Earnshaw, we managed a hostile takeover in November 1997.
“Just a month later, we discovered the club were £440,000 in debut and, in the first week of December 97, Trevor Hobson had issued a winding up petition to the company.
“In January ’98 we had a hearing, which, if it had gone against us, would have been the end of rugby at Batley.
“Fortunately, we got off the winding up petition on a technicality and then came up with agreements with our other creditors to pay them back.
“Over the next two years, there were 24 court proceedings against Batley and it was a horrendous time.”
David Ward was appointed head coach in 1998 and, having guided Batley to a Trans Pennine Cup final win over Oldham, the club went into the final game of the season needing to beat Chorley to clinch promotion to the second tier of English rugby.
Mr Nicholas said: “That was the most important game at the time because the increased Sky money was used to pay off all the club’s debts.
“Since 2000 we have got things under control and since then have run the club as a going concern without any debt.
“We pride ourselves that since winning promotion, the club has never been relegated.
“We also take pride in the fact Batley have never sacked a coach during my 20 years at the club and we must be the only sports team in the country who can boast this.”
After Ward left the club following Batley’s cup win and promotion double, Jon Sharp had a brief stint with the Bulldogs in pre-season before leaving to take up a post with Huddersfield Giants.
Paul Storey, Gary Thornton, Karl Harrison, John Kear and current coach Matt Diskin are the other coaches to serve under Mr Nicholas during his 20 years.
Mr Nicholas said: “We have had just six coaches, excluding Jon Sharp, during my time at the club and they have all remained as long as they have wanted and all left in good circumstances and are all welcome back at the club any time.”
Under Storey, in 2002, Batley went on a terrific run and came within a whisker of reaching the second tier’s play-off final when they were edged out by Leigh Centurions.
Karl Harrison memorably guided Batley to the Northern Rail Cup final in 2010, when the Bulldogs claimed a major scalp in beating much-fancied Widnes Vikings at Blackpool and, the following year, he guided Batley to a third-place league finish. Mr Nicholas pulled off a coup in 2011 when he enticed much-travelled John Kear to take over at the helm of Batley. Kear’s arrival, in front of the rarity of an official Batley Bulldogs press conference, heralded a new era at the club.
In 2013, Kear’s Bulldogs defied the odds as they defeated Featherstone Rovers and Leigh Centurions to reach the Championship Grand Final, where they were edged out by Sheffield Eagles.
In 2016, Batley were crowned the best part-time club in rugby league after Kear masterminded a run to the middle eights stage of the competition and a seventh-place finish overall.
Mr Nicholas recalled: “Winning at Swinton to secure our place in the middle eights was a great day and, as John Kear viewed it, we were then crowned the best part-time club in rugby league.
“We beat Featherstone in the middle eights to become the highest-ranked part-time club and that was a great achievement. A lasting memory of that season was going to Headingley, in my view rugby league’s most iconic ground. Although we didn’t manage to get on the scoresheet against Leeds Rhinos – Alistair Leak had a try disallowed – it was a fantastic occasion.
“There were 15,000 there that night and the Rhinos fans in the South Stand were all chanting ‘Batley, Batley’ at the end of the game. They gave us a great reception.”
Mr Nicholas has no intention of giving up his chairmanship just yet and still has a dream that his beloved Batley could one day grace Super League.
He added: “It is not all or bust for us to play in Super League but we will be trying to get as high up the rugby league ladder as we can and I am sure, under Matt Diskin’s second year in charge, we will have a much better season as we strive for our goal to again become the best part-time club in rugby.”