Time to sit down and contemplate some of the things that keep me sane again; I’ve spoken about 2 of the sports I have a passion for – rugby union and cricket but not the 3rd. This Essex girl is a huge rugby league fan! All a bit odd that really when you consider that the furthest north I’ve lived is Solihull and that’s not renowned for its love of the 13 man code.
Some more scene setting is needed I do believe; those of us who grew up in the 60’s and 70’s – yes I am that old – would have watched rugby league on the TV. It was a core part of Saturday afternoons; my biggest memory is of Eddie Waring’s commentary and in particular his description of the ‘up and under’. The TV was the closest I got to rugby league until 1996 when my older brother Keith invited the whole family (yes the one with 5 kids!) to Charlton where London Broncos were playing St Helens.
I think you could say my love affair with the game started that day; I’d watched football and rugby union live; but this game? So fast, so skilful, so edgy, I absolutely loved it! It most probably helped that the visitors were the might Saints. The game was a memorable one with the score finishing on Broncos 28 Saints 32. The St Helens squad at that time was packed full of stars such as Steve Prescott, Paul Newlove, Bobbie Goulding, Tommy Martyn, Chris Joynt and the man who stuck in my mind most of all that day Apollo Perelini. He scored the try that gave the away team the win. They went on to win the league by a solitary point ahead of Wigan that year.
My husband was from Warrington so took no persuading to buy season tickets for London Broncos and so a long association with the club started. It has to be said things have been very up and down as far as the Broncos form has been concerned; but in general it’s always been great fun to watch them. A husband from Warrington meant a family to visit in Warrington; we’d go a few times a year and pretty much always book to go and watch rugby league while we were there.
Often we’d plan a trip when London Broncos were up in the heartlands of the game, but it wasn’t a prerequisite. To start we’d aim for a Friday night game followed by a game the next day. In time we’d add in a Sunday game too; seemed rude not to after travelling all that way! One of my favourite fixtures was the Good Friday St Helens v Wigan clash; that remans to be a fixture played with so much passion it often spills into a display of handbags (fighting). One such game we decided to stand at Knowsley Road (Saints ground) and can remember Andy Farrell and Paul Sculthorpe going hammer and tongs at each other right in front of where we were standing. Excellent added entertainment! No one was hurt in spite of the punches thrown.
Finding myself on my own it never entered my mind that I wouldn’t keep my Broncos season ticket; a fix of rugby league always brightens my life! I fairly quickly got into the habit of watching at lest one game every weekend as I added London Skolars and Hemel Stags to the teams I watched. I can remember watching the Stags play St Albans Centurions the 1st time in driving rain. I literally couldn’t believe my eyes; it was more akin to watching a battle than watching a game of rugby! Thoroughly enjoyable!
It’s amazing how many more people you talk to when you go to sport alone; other than the people we’d sat near at Broncos I hadn’t really got to know anyone. That all changed when I went alone; in particular one particular Friday evening I think; Broncos beat Warrington Wolves; you’d have thought we’d won the league! There was so much joy going around; I spoke to several fellow fans that night who’ve become good friends; Richard, Michael and not least Shaun who I then sat next to for the next season and pretty much every game since.
I’ve always had a bit of a liking for photo with a player and you can see that continued and oh boy has it since! Back to the watching; a London Skolars run in the Northern Rail Cup meant they got to the you weren’t quite good enough to get in the final, final in Halifax. With Broncos playing in Widnes on the Friday night it felt like a no brainer to have a weekend in the North. And while I was at it I thought it’d be a plan to take in as many games as I could.
To be precise I made 5 games in 4 days; 2 were admittedly at the same venue as Leigh Centurions beat Sheffield to win the Northern Rail Cup Final. Skolars had been beaten in what was a great game by North Wales Crusaders and Broncos had lost to Widnes the night before. I hadn’t booked a game for the Sunday until a week before but decided it had to be done; so Warrington v Hull KR it was! And as if things had been perfectly arranged just for me St Helens v Wigan was my Monday night treat!
I will write more about my sporting trips but to leave you with a funny story before I sign off. There is clearly a fierce rivalry between St Helens and Wigan; I sat in what was probably a season ticket holders seat for this game, in the front row and had a brilliant view. I had next to me a man who must have been in his 70’s he’d supported Saints from the age of 15. The other side lady of a similar age to me. Sam Tomkins then of Wigan; one of Englands’ very best players walked past as he wasn’t playing that day. The lady leapt up as he went to sit down and yelled ‘Scum’ – I leant across and pointed out that he’d made a point of having his photo with a disabled Saints fan and that he was one of England’s finest, so not really scum. She continued to leap up and yell ‘Scuuuum’ at the Wigan fans all through the game. The old boy very quietly leant over and spoke in my ear saying…. ‘You’d never be late for work if you were married to that!’ How funny! And a lovely moment to polish off what was an immense rugby weekend for me!
I feel so at home watching rugby league in the North, the people lack the reserve you can find in the South; I can see that before too long I’ll make a move and go and live Oop North; then I can watch rugby league a whole lot more!