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
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