02 February 2018
The waiting is over. The 2018 season is finally here and you’d be hard pushed to find anyone as excited as the Lions’ Chairman Andy Mazey.
Swinton Lions make the trip across the English Channel to the South of France to face Toulouse Olympique, in their first game of the 2018 Championship season.
The game marks the start of beginning, having marked a turbulent end as the final game of a tough 2017.
Amongst followers of the Lions, There aren’t many more excited than Andy Mazey who embarks on the start of the new season as the Lions’ Chairman, having taken over towards the end last season.
“It’s a great honour for me to be leading this club and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t really excited now that the Championship season is finally upon us.”
The off-season has been a demanding but positive one with great excitement amongst players, staff and supporters on what the new season will bring to this 152-year-old club.
When pushed on naming his favourite moment during the winter break, Andy wouldn’t be short of one to pick from. The Chairman could point to the launch of a Category 3 Academy in partnership with The Rugby College, wax lyrical on plans to develop the Agecroft site to build a new stadium with Moorside Rangers or discuss the extensive squad rebuilding, to name just a few. However, it is a more humbling moment that recent struck the Chairman on the direction the club is moving in.
“One thing which really pleased me though was talking to two gentlemen in the bar before the Wigan game on Sunday, who haven’t attended a game since the Station Road days. This demonstrates to me that we are making progress and this is further supported with pre-season attendances being really encouraging.”
“THE STRONGEST CHAMPIONSHIP SEASON TO DATE”
The 2018 Championship season could prove to be one of the toughest yet. Dropping down into the league come Leigh Centurions, who despite several incomings and outgoings look strong. Whilst coming up look the unassailable Toronto Wolfpack, unbeaten in league competition. both hot favourites for promotion to the Super League. With the likes of full-time sides Toulouse Olympique, London Broncos and Featherstone Rovers also in the mix, it’s set to be an exciting season for supporters, and that’s just at the top of the table.
“It is without doubt the strongest Championship competition to date. I’m not normally one for clichés but we will be taking things week by week and focusing on ourselves. Stuart Littler and our staff work extremely hard and prepare meticulously, so we will respect all, but fear none.”
With such a strong competition this year and the Lions’ relatively small squad, several media outlets have predicted the club to finish bottom of the Championship table, however the Lions’ Chairman is taking pundit’s suggestions with a pinch of salt…
“We will take that, we are comfortable with the underdog tag and we won’t lose any sleep over it. We will continue to go about our business in the right way, those who make predictions are entitled to do so.
“I suppose in terms of salary cap and player spend then on paper we are bottom of the pile. This game however isn’t played on paper so let’s see what happens.”
Andy has been vocal and proud to talk about the Lions in the off-season but prudent when asked to predict the Lions’ future in 2018. But what would deem success this year for the Chairman?
“I will make no bones about it, success for this club this year will be retaining Championship status as this will enable us to continue our progress, grow and develop at the current pace that’s been set since September in a sustainable manner.
“Nobody should underestimate the size of the challenge we face and as we’ve already said it’s the most competitive Championship competition ever.
“Putting things completely into perspective we must remember that his time last year the club was talking about targets of top four and pretty much throwing caution to the wind with a full time head coach and a number of full time staff and players also on the books. which ultimately proved to be unsustainable and unsuccessful.”
“This year we have put together a staff and squad on pretty much half of what was spent last year so the goals and targets are aligned, realistic and we believe they are achievable.”
With limited resources to work within budget, the Chairman was delighted last week to announce the continuing dual registration partnership with Super League side Wigan Warriors. The Lions benefitted from the being to call upon the likes of Josh Woods, Caine Barnes and Liam Forsyth to assist in ensuring their Championship status in 2017, however Andy also recognises the addition benefits, off the playing field, of partnering with a professional outfit such as Wigan Warriors.
“People will point out the obvious and clearly the partnership that gives Stuart options and access to quality players, which could prove invaluable this season with such a small squad.
“However, it isn’t just that though, as Stuart is building a culture here and we are creating a professional environment at Swinton Lions which starts at the very top.
“To have the help and support of Wigan who are an elite club in very sense of the word is vital. It is a reciprocal partnership that has seen both clubs benefit and when you talk to highly respected figures in the game such as Shaun Wane, Kris Radlinski and Matty Peet and they are very complimentary about what we are doing, it is very encouraging!”
NEW FACES AND YOUNG BLOOD
Wigan Warriors were the visitors last week at the Lions’ first home game of the season, featured several young players of whom may be at Stuart Littler’s disposal across the season. However, the Lions’ Chairman was also pleased with the young faces he saw off the field, perhaps enjoying their first experience of the club or the sport itself.
The club invited U16s to attend the friendly against Wigan for free, an initiative that Andy is keen to continue where possible to ensure the building a new generation of supporters at the club.
“I’ve gone on record many times in stating that we as a board we want to see more young faces and new blood on match days. We have handed out free season tickets in the community utilising the community foundation already and will look at further initiatives and promotions throughout the year.
“The supporters trust are also doing a great job and working hard with the Junior lions and we intend to increase our activity in this area as we move forward.”
With growing numbers of established and new fans coming through the turnstiles, improving the match-day experience is something the club are keen to improve. This has been further benefitted by the refurbishment of the Lions Suite at Heywood, which now features a stylish new bar and spacious dining area, complete with a new balcony view of the game. Having sampled it himself, Andy recommends to book in!
“Having sampled the food and new hospitality first-hand on Sunday, I can only say one thing – WOW.
“I received a very complimentary email on Monday morning from Kris Radlinski and the Wigan officials where highly impressed with both the food and new facilities.
“The balcony and bar experience is something not to be missed and the lunch and crunch deals have been put together to make match day dining and ‘The Lions Suite’ experience affordable to all. We start the year with a local derby against Rochdale at home and will pay our respects to a legend Ken Gowers with his family joining us on a very special day, so hopefully we can pack the room and start the year in style. We also have the VIP box now available with its own bar and private balcony so be sure to check this out.”
With a massive season to come and the opening weekend of the 2018 season ahead of us. Andy wanted to share a message for the supporters…
“The waiting is over, now is the time to really get behind this new era. We are a club that’s on the up and destiny is in our own hands. It won’t be easy but If we stick together, Chairman, directors, coaches, staff, players, sponsors, volunteers and fans alike we WILL achieve all our goals.
“If your heading out to Toulouse then see I will see you there, if not, I look forward to seeing you all at ‘The Lion’s Den’ on Sunday 11th February!”
Written by Chris Bell