'It means the world': Sheffield Eagles legend Mark Aston on the day he feared would never come

After countless false dawns in Sheffield Eagles’ quest to return home, Mark Aston is putting his celebrations on hold until he sees the players run out against Widnes Vikings tonight.

The Eagles have been homeless since the demolition of Don Valley Stadium in 2013 and were on the brink of extinction six years ago.

Sheffield came through the other side and had a beacon when Scarborough Group International was granted planning permission for a 3,900-capacity stadium in 2017.

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But the club have suffered setback after setback on the road home, most recently in March when they were told the new ground would not be ready for the Good Friday visit of London Broncos.

Mark Aston feared this day would never come.

The community stadium at the Olympic Legacy Park in Attercliffe has now been given the green light to host its first game - but Aston will not quite believe it until he sees it.

Asked whether there were times when he thought this day would never come, the Eagles boss told The Yorkshire Post: “Yesterday, the day before.

“There’s been some dark days over the last nine years, particularly 2016 when we lost somebody who was going to take the club on and pulled out.

“We went to Bradford and got beat 80-0 and the boys had gone. They were dead men walking. They’d lost everything and so had we.

Mark Aston has spent most of his life at the club. Picture: Steve Ellis

“It’s a massive credit to everybody involved that we’ve stayed alive. I’m not sure how many clubs would have survived nine years out of their city.

“If it wasn’t for so many people embracing us and helping us - Doncaster, Featherstone and Wakefield. Without that support and the sponsors, we wouldn’t be here.

“It’s been a long time coming but the one thing that’s come out of the adversity is that we’ve got resilience.”

A veteran of more than 35 years’ service in playing and coaching roles, Aston has seen it all during his time at the Eagles from the remarkable Challenge Cup triumph to the recent dark days on the road.

Mark Aston at the 2018 Summer Bash. (Picture: SWPix.com)

In his eyes, finding a permanent home in the city again is every bit as special as the club’s greatest achievements.

“You never envisage that you’ll ever have to play outside your city, never mind for a month, a year or nine in our case,” said Aston.

“We are Sheffield Eagles and we are proud of the name Sheffield. It’s going to mean the world to us.

“I joined in ‘85 when we played down at Owlerton and remember the Hillsborough disaster closing it down.

Mark Aston celebrates Sheffield's 2013 Grand Final success. (Picture: SWPix.com)

“We had a year on the road playing at Chesterfield, Doncaster, Wakefield - you name it. I saw Don Valley Stadium built and saw it knocked down.

“We’ve had Wembley ‘98 and the 1895 Cup which were very special moments, and Grand Finals as well. But to come home and have a home is right up there.

“In the dark days, people thought I’d leave but I told them I’d never leave until we got back.

“I won’t be going anywhere because we’ve got a very enthusiastic, committed board of directors that have got ambition to take this great club forward. Sheffield is my home.

“The next thing for me will be chuffing retirement!”

Aston’s loyalty has been tested in recent weeks after the capacity was limited to 800, considerably lower than demand.

The club had hoped as many as 1,200 supporters would welcome them home but the attendance will not hit four figures until June at the earliest for safety reasons.

“I thought I was going to retire the other day when I found out the capacity,” added Aston.

“We wanted a capacity that was fitting for Sheffield Eagles. When I found out it was like somebody cutting my heart out.

“There will be people who won’t be able to get in who have been through everything I’ve been through.

“I also have to mention the people who aren’t still with us because they’ve passed away over the last couple of years, in particular Ian Anniss who was very instrumental in the beginning of this stadium.

“I’ve been to enough funerals over the past few years to appreciate the numbers that we’ve lost.

“Out of respect for them, my thoughts and the club’s thoughts will be with those people that won’t be there to celebrate.”

The clash with the Vikings offers Sheffield the chance to boost their play-off chances but Aston is not losing sight of the bigger picture as the Eagles showcase their new stadium in front of the Premier Sports cameras.

“People will see the development that’s happened here,” he said. “People won’t be moaning about Sheffield Eagles’ facilities anymore once they’ve been here.

“There’s a lot of excitement and rightly so. I’m really pleased because it’s been tough.”