“Build it and they will come”..I love that saying. It is the mantra of the out of town stadium designer, when trying to convince a club that selling their current character-filled stadium to a supermarket and moving to identikit soul-less arena on the edge of an industrial state is a good idea. But sometimes a change can be as good as a rest and everyone benefits.
London Broncos are at a watershed in their professional Super League lives. Last November it was announced that their “partnership” with Harlequins RFU was coming to an end and that they would revert back to the name they had carried since 1994. More worryingly was the indication that Harlequins would also want their tenants to vacate the Stoop in 2013. The Stoop in Twickenham was the Broncos sixth London based venue and they have struggled to light up the locals with a love for Rugby League. Last season you could almost guarantee a pair of tickets for each game via competitions in Metro and The Evening Standard.
This season, under their new old name they had again struggled to attract more than 3,000 for home games. With the Stoop needing to go through its end of Rugby Union season maintenance the Broncos announced they would take the game to new parts of the South East.
First up was a trip east to play at Leyton Orient’s Matchroom Stadium for the game versus Bradford Bulls where 2,844 fans came along – around about the average at the Stoop. Then they were going into the heart of Kent for the game versus Hull to be played at Gillingham FC’s Priestfield stadium.
This was not just a marketing exercise to woe the hearts and minds of the locals. This was also a “thank you” for the work done by the Medway Dragons in trying to spread the Rugby League word in the Garden of England. And of course any sports clubs trying to break virgin ground meant I had to be there.
So on such a flimsy reason that is why Lolly and I pitched up to the home of the Super Gills at 1.30pm on Sunday 20th May. “This was history in the making” I explained to CMF why I was dropping her and Littlest Fuller at Dickens World.
The joint clubs had done an excellent job in marketing the game locally, and had offered adult tickets for just £10 and children’s ones for a ridiculous £1 it was unsurprising when we arrived they were nearly queuing round the block to get in. The visitors Hull had also travelled in numbers, using the excuse of a trip to south of the Thames to pull out their Sunday best.
London Broncos 12 Hull RLFC 14 – Priestfield – Sunday 20th May 2012
This was a betting no brainer. Play off chasing Hull were firm favourites. Having won a little bit of cash on the 90 minute draw last night in the Champions League final I went on Hull to be winning at half time by at least 15 points. So when after 25 minutes the Broncos were still leading by a Kieran Dixon try and a Witt conversion you could understand not only my anxiety, but the collective frustrations of Superman, Wonderwoman, Batman, Mario and a human Twister.
Hull simply could not get going in a first half littered with mistakes and some dubious refereeing. However on twenty seven minutes they finally drew level after capitalising on a penalty close to the Broncos line and allowing Ben Crooks to crash over the line. Danny Tickle’s simple conversion levelled the scores and with the half time hooter sounding I ripped up my virtual betting slip.
The second half was more of the same. Broncos kept the tempo up and the pressure on but couldn’t find the killer pass or kick to the corner on the 5th tackle. But it was Hull who finally took the lead when Richard Whitting went over and another Tickle conversion put the visitors 12-6 up. Tickle was on hand again with just twenty minutes to go with a penalty to make the score 14-6.
It was at this point that Hull expected to start turning the screw and piling on the points. However, it was the Broncos who came right back at them and Robertson’s try and a Rodney conversion brought the deficit down to 2 points with just under ten minutes to play.
Despite keeping possession of the ball the Broncos simply couldn’t break the last line of Hull defence and the visitors ran out winners by 2 points. But the Broncos were also winners. A crowd of nearly 4,000 had been much more than they could have expected. A large travelling support had helped but it was also some good local marketing and the novelty value of watching a sport that is rarely on offer in the region that ultimately led to the game being classed as a “tick in the box”.