Castleford Tigers chief Gill targets a final goodbye to Wheldon Road with a trophy
WITH real reverence, chief executive Steve Gill fondly describes Castleford Tigers' characterful Wheldon Road ground as the 'old girl' when discussing how he wants to pay homage to it.
Given it was built in 1926, there is no denying the rickety stadium is greying and neither can anyone argue it is not fraying, too, but there is no disrespect shown.
Castleford, of course, hope to switch to a new purpose-built arena just down the road by 2020 in a move which should greatly enhance their income-generating potential.
All of which means there is a finite time to enjoy those raucous occasions – more than 11,000 vociferous, animated fans packed in so close to the pitch – that the Tigers so often help produce at their spiritual home.
At the Super League season launch in Leigh on Thursday, there was plenty of utterings from various assembled guests about this year potentially being the one where the West Yorkshire club reach a maiden Grand Final.
Indeed, title sponsors BetFred have odds of just 10/1 for vibrant Castleford, who have recruited erstwhile Man of Steel winners Zak Hardaker and Rangi Chase, to secure a first-ever league title in its 93rd year of existence. How fitting would that be?
“There is a lot of expectations on us now,” Gill admitted to The Yorkshire Post, after the diligent and inspired management of Daryl Powell helped turn them into a potential contender.
“It’s nice that people are talking about us. I look at the squad we’ve assembled and do think ‘wow.’
“It’s what we’ve been working towards since day one. I’m sure the boys will appreciate it but as always we’re not getting ahead of ourselves. I’m sure Daryl will keep everyone’s feet on the ground. We know where we were four years back and realise what it’s taken to get us to this point.
“We still want to be respected and a team that can play entertaining football as, ultimately, that’s what we are – in the entertainment business. But we’d like to bring some silverware back to the old girl before we leave her.
“If we can do that it will then be a fine tribute for this ground and all the memories created here, the people no longer with us who shared good times and bad.
“To say a final goodbye with a trophy would be fantastic.
“But that is something we have to work hard at and we’ll continue to do that.”
They open against newly-promoted Leigh at Wheldon Road on Friday.
Later this month, Gill will celebrate the fourth anniversary of taking over at the helm having held a number of positions at his hometown club previously including head of youth development and, in his childhood, scoreboard operator.
Castleford were in disarray on and off the pitch when CEO Steve Ferres quit suddenly in February 2013 but Gill – despite his inexperience at that level – has overseen a fine transformation since.
“There was no blueprint and it goes without saying that it took its toll on my health and family life,” he said, having previously admitted he broke down with depression later that year.
“But you adapt. You don’t have pressures in your life and then all of a sudden you’ve got them.
“It can hit you as you’re not just doing it for yourself and your family but thousands of people. It’s their hopes and aspirations, too, that are on your shoulders.
“It shouldn’t be like that but it is. I’m really thankful I had (commercial director and manager) Mark Grattan and Richard Pell who took a lot of weight off my shoulders and the backroom team we have here now have been absolutely phenomenal.
“We all work together and I feel we’re complete as a board, too. It’s taken a while to adapt to where we needed to be but I really think (new chairman) Ian Fulton has now grasped the nettle and said ‘this is where I want to be.’
“We’re driving the club forward now and we all have one purpose: to make us one of the top four Super League clubs, if not the best Super League club.”
Fulton succeeded his father Jack, the club’s benevlovent chairman who helped keep Castleford afloat during his long reign before his death in September 2015 at the age of 83.
Jack Fulton led Tigers out in the Challenge Cup final at Wembley the year before. Granted, they have still not won any silverware since the 1992 Regal Trophy but that could all change soon and the “old girl” might just see it.