Wow. This was an incredibly difficult one to come up with a top ten, let alone a top three. In a year where we went Olympic (and Paralympics don’t forget) crazy, there have been so many excellent days out away from football. Rugby Union, Rugby League, Cricket, Beach Volleyball. But after some serious thinking we have come up with a list of our top three events, ones that really stuck in the memory for a number of reason.
3rd best non football day out – Olympics Opening Ceremony
We can all remember where we were when Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony burst onto our screen and wowed the world. The hype had been building for weeks, even months but even so, when it eventually started, the world stopped and starred. For an event that was on our doorstep at TBIR Towers we were actually in Edinburgh, having spent the day watching the opening day in the Football tournament in Glasgow. We headed into the city centre, watching the events unfold on a big screen set up especially for the event. They had done themselves proud with numerous torch bearers there for photo opportunities, bars and food outlets set up and lots of comfy cushions. This was the first sign of the country uniting as one, and I was proud to be part of it, even 400 miles away.
2nd best non football day out – Wakefield Trinity Wildcats 16 Castleford Tigers 34
Passions run deep in the Rugby League towns in the north of England and local derbies are played with an intensity that is rarely seen these days in competitive sport. Castleford and Wakefield are separated by the M1, just a few miles apart. They are proud Rugby League towns and when they meet three times a season the local community stops and puts on their finest to support their club. The first meeting this season came on Good Friday and completed one of the best days of sport watching I had had for ages. Two rugby league games sandwiched Barnsley versus West Ham made for a great day of viewing, but this game was the icing on the Yorkshire sporting cake. Rugby League is a high-intensity non stop game. Add in the spice of local pride and you have a game and a half. Oh, and of course a few Stones Bitters.
Best non football day out – Olympics Day Three
This really could have been any day from our Olympic summer but for the fact we managed to squeeze so much in it has to be the best day of sport EVER. We had been lucky to pick up tickets in the general sale for multiple events on the first Monday and the sunshine came out to welcome us as we arrived at Horse Guards Parade for the women’s Beach Volleyball. Whilst everyone may have mocked the sport, everyone deep down wanted to be there to watch it. It was an excellent start to our Games and continued as I headed to Lords for the Archery, the girls to the Olympic Park for the Water Polo. At tea-time we watched the sports from the huge screens and then finished the day off with some Hockey as Team GB beat Argentina. Words cannot describe the day.
Back in the 1970’s Michael Palin and Terry Jones produced a comedy series for the BBC called Ripping Yarns. One particular episode focused on a football team called Barnstoneworth United who had fallen from glory and have lost every game for seasons. It was funny, because nothing like that every happens these days, does it?
Well it appears it does. The real life Barnstoneworth United are actually currently playing in the world of Rugby League. Ladies and Gentlemen I give you Gateshead Thunder.
Back in 1999 Gateshead RFL were given a silly name and a golden ticket to join the Super League. They even got to rename their stadium (Gateshead International Athletics Stadium) into a tough sounding name – The Thunderdome. Alas the experient failed, and after a planned forced merger with Hull failed, the club withdrew and reformed lower down the leagues.
After a few false starts they worked their way up to the 2nd tier of English Rugby League before falling back into the Co-Operative Championship 1. And that was when the fun started. Since 21st March 2010 the club have played 47 games in this division and they have lost 46 of them. Their last win? At home to the London Skolars. The only game they haven’t lost in the last 26 months? A draw against the London Skolars. And today, they were playing the London Skolars. Despite heavy defeats such as 132-0 to Blackpool Panthers or 94-0 to the Swinton Lions, the travelled with spirit down to North London. After all, London’s second Rugby League team were just above them in the table.
The London Skolars were formed out of an “old boys” network – college students who enjoyed playing the game after they left education. Originally they were called Student Rugby League Old Boys but changed their name as part of an ill-fated attempt to win sponsorship from Skol beer (hence why they are the Skolars and not Scholars). They have also found losing a hard habit to break, winning only a handful of games in the past few seasons (mainly against the Thunder). Continue reading
“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. Continue reading
This was to be the day of all days. The plan was to take in three (THREE!) Rugby League games, fitted around a trip to Oakwell to watch Barnsley v West Ham. Originally on the agenda was the Humberside derby as Hull Kingston Rovers took on their bigger neighbours Hull RLFC at Craven Park. As the ground (recently chosen as one venues for next year’s Rugby League World Cup) was a new one on me I was well up for this. However, at some point between early February when the fixtures came out, and early April when I got round to trying to buy a ticket the game appeared to have been switched to the KC Stadium and my interest waned a little as I have been there a few times already.
Game two became game one and just forty five minutes after leaving the TBIR Northern HQ in Lincoln I was pulling up outside the Keepmoat Stadium in Doncaster at 3pm. In fact I appeared to be one of the only cars there, and if it wasn’t for the sight of the London Skolars coach I would assume it was wrong place at the wrong time.
Doncaster is a football town. However, the opening of the Keepmoat stadium five years ago has breathed life into the rugby league team and they are now proudly trying to work their way up the Rugby League ladder, playing this season in the National Championship 1. The club have had an emotional life, which has seen numerous name changes, grounds, owners and flirtations with mergers, bankruptcy and the odd promotion. But today it is about steady progress and playing at an excellent venue such as the Keepmoat certainly helps.
The Skolars history by comparison to Doncaster’s has been sedate to say the least. They were formed in 1995 as a club for graduating students who still wanted to play the game. They have made steady progress up the leagues, and whilst they will always live in the shadow of London’s other rugby league side, the Broncos, they continue to play the game in the right spirit. Continue reading
There is always a choice. That is my answer to all of those England fans who head up to Wembley to watch England play and expect things to be different in terms of the trains, the atmosphere, the presence of the Mexican wave, the disappearing crowd after 70 minutes and of course the performance. Look up the definition of madness and then answer the question “do I have a choice?”
Of course you do. As we all do. So yesterday we chose rugby league. Harlequins v Bradford Bulls. A family fun day no less in Twickenham. We dressed Cynical Dave up as a 14 year old schoolgirl and trundled off down the A316 in our 4 x 4 to enjoy an afternoon of fan focused entertainment. A picture tells a 1,000 words so here is my 16,000 word report.