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Fans key to success
NEW Vikings owner Steve O'Connor has thrown down a gauntlet to the town's rugby league fans - support your local team or risk losing it.
The 42-year-old has just rescued the ailing rugby league club with a personal gift of £250,000, on top of a five-figure sum paid to secure the rights to the Widnes Vikings.
In partnership with Halton Council, he has put together a business plan which takes the club out of administration and returns it to a sound financial footing - fully capable of launching a successful franchise bid for a place in the coveted Super League.
The club will soon meet most of the entry criteria. It has a superb stadium, owned by the borough council, an active community programme and youth training academy, and very soon will be backed by a robust commercial operation.
Mr O'Connor said: "The final piece in the jigsaw is in the hands of the people of Halton. At the moment there seem to be more people expressing opinions about what should and shouldn't happen than there are season ticket holders.
"The stadium has a capacity of 13,800, yet the average home game attracts only 3,300 people. This just isn't good enough.
"We are now up against the wall - we need to be very clear - you use it or you lose it.
"The fans that have been coming along to matches have been marvellous.
"However, we need to get thousands more involved and in return we need to give them plenty to shout about with a winning team on the pitch.
"I hope that if any good at all can come out of the club being forced into administration, it is that it is a wake-up call for the whole town not to take things for granted.
"Transforming Widnes Vikings means we all have to be pulling in the same direction and supporters have a key role to play to help bring back the glory days.
"Successful sports teams rely heavily on support from their fans. They can really lift a team and be the difference between success and failure.
"Rejuvenating the fortunes of the team requires the people of Halton to get behind the boys and cheer them on.
"We want to fill the stadium on match days and create a unique atmosphere. The fans are an absolutely vital ingredient for success and I hope they will catch the mood of what I want to achieve here."
Although he is a committed life-long Liverpool football supporter, Mr O'Connor has strong ties to Widnes, which is his birth place and home to his successful freight business founded by his family.
His father Brian started the O'Connor business in 1970 after leaving the Navy. He was very much a trucker at heart and when Steve and his three brothers and sister joined the firm after leaving school, the firm was running four trucks.
From these small beginnings, he and his family have used their commercial energy and entrepreneurial flair to expand the firm into one of the UK's most successful haulage and logistics group, incorporating rail freight, road transport and deep sea shipping.
Mr O' Connor said: "We run the most successful inland port in the UK at Widnes, moving thousands of tonnes of goods across the UK in a state-of-the-art logistics operation.
"We have an honest and transparent approach to business and the vision and skill to deliver results. We have achieved this for our company and I strongly believe I can do this for the Widnes Vikings too.
"I am not in this for financial gain. The money is a gift, which will be managed by a Vikings' trust fund, but I want it to be used wisely and as a catalyst to attract other investors.
"The people of the town have helped to build our business and now I am delighted to be in a position to put something back, to leave a legacy and make a difference."
As a youngster, Mr O'Connor attended St Bedes Primary School in Widnes and recalls sneaking over the wall of the old Naughton Park ground by the toilets to watch the Widnes Rugby League team in action during the late 1970s.
He played rugby as a schoolboy, and although football is his first love, he is keen for his new club to win him over to the pleasures of rugby league.
Mr O'Connor, who lives in Frodsham, Cheshire, is married to wife Clare and has three children Sarah, aged 23, Allen, aged 21, and Stevie, aged two.
As managing director, he transformed the O'Connor Group and recently sold his shares to Stobart Group in a multi-million-pound deal.
He will continue to manage the operation and is now responsible for developing the Stobart brand across the North West.
This drive and determination will be key to turning around the fortunes of the historic rugby league club.
Mr O'Connor added: "I absolutely would not be involved with the Widnes Vikings if I didn't think the club had a successful future."