England v. Ireland RL at Huddersfield (2.11.13)

A great occasion, a one-sided match.
A pleasant hour in the Slubbers at lunchtime. A pleasant hour in the Star at teatime.

A plea for international rugby league (John Smith's stadium, 1.11.13)

I was encouraged to go to this day-long seminar by David Thorpe, a colleague from the Peter Davies cricket days. Some well-known speakers, a bit of film footage, a lunch and some great memorabilia. Not purely about international RL; Peter Manning and I had a happy ten minutes in the Wakefield box looking at programmes from the many sixties clashes between Fartown and Wakefield Trinity. The superleague clubs showed off their stuff in hospitality boxes overlooking the John Smith’s stadium pitch.
Bev Risman, Robby Paul and Garry Schofield were the pick of the guests. Risman for being the elder statesman, Paul for his slick journalism and good looks and Schofield for bloody-mindedness. I wonder where he buys his pies; his body is certainly not his temple. Woods, the voice of radio, had the last laugh as Schofield walked into the panel discussion after it had been going five minutes. Something about how many times he’d arrived late down the blind side, cashing in on others’ graft.
The Heywoods were also in attendance, their son the prime mover and organiser of the seminar. Hinchliffe, the ruddy-faced RL Wakefield MP did a good job as compere. All introduced by David Oxley, previous CEO and now president of RL.
It quickly became clear that the traditional wheezing and back-biting in RL circles is not dead. Great progress has been made, but barriers within the heartlands remain. The argument was made by several for relentless optimism as the antidote for internal cynicism. Self-belief there was a plenty and powerful it is, particularly for the individual in the face of difficult odds. Organisationally, it needs the addition of political skill and some of the darker arts, but belief was what was on offer today and refreshing it was.
RL is played in lots of places in addition to the North of England, France, Australia and Polynesia. A growth which is great pr for the sport. However, some of the speakers argued, there was still a lot to do, especially when nearly all of them looked over their shoulders at Rugby Union, the origin of everything and a continuing source of RL’s inferiority complex. Deference to one’s so-called ‘betters’ may have gone, but a veiled animosity for the posh boys seems as strong as ever.
Professor Collins, History of Sport, Leicester de Montford University, concluded the day with evangelical content and delivery. ‘This great game of ours’ is okay, but surely sport is one of the ways individuals make sense of their identity. Its origin is personal; learning and enjoying new skills in a meaningful context such as back garden, school playing fields and local club in the company of friends, mums/dads and brothers/sisters. Then comes competition, checking yourself out against others. ‘This great game of ours’ is the sum of all these individuals. Professor Collins was making a point on an international scale. What of our national identity? Is RL part of it? Community is a dying concept and anything to reverse it would be very welcome. I can see that sport might do that, beginning with young individuals. Aggregating these guys is for the rule-makers and politicians, necessary but remote from most of us. But whatever our thoughts, on the outside we must be positive.
(Did you know the following:
Professor Collins did the excellent radio broadcast ‘Sport and the British’, starring Clare Balding.
Robby Paul plays for the 4th XV at Huddersfield YMCA – wow.
Kick And Clap - A slag name for Rugby Union, the sport played by fat, skilless Rugby players. So called because most of the players in Rugby Union just kick the ball into the stands. This is followed by polite applause from a Union crowd that doesn’t know the name of any players on the field but who like to eat cheese and drink white wine and talk about what school they used to go to and how they love their range rover.)

Ireland v. Australia RL at Thomond Park, Limerick

It was never going to be an equal Rugby League contest. But, I thought it was the only way I was ever going to get a ticket for Thomond Park. I did see a caravan advertising sales, but didn't have time to explore.
5000 crowd in a 25000 capacity stadium which looks like a giant clam. Ireland RU were simultaneously trouncing Samoa.
Four of us on a short break, taking in Cork, Galway and Limerick. The Quays in Galway is a grand street. We went to a late pub night with Irish Band where everyone went mad - terrific. Mostly youngsters who insisted they give up their seats for the likes of us grandparents.
On the Sunday after the game we took the bus up to The Ennis Festival of Irish music. Calmer than the pub and still great craic.
An Irish adventure.

Scotland v. New Zealand RL at Headingley

Another RL World Cup tie that was never going to be an upset. The Scots were great but the Kiwis were awesome.
Compared with the usual frenetic Friday nights at the Rhinos, 16000 watched in a calm atmosphere. It was my birthday present to younger son Chris. A beer in the German market, two beers and a meal in the Taps at Headingley, the game, two more beers in the Palace down by the Armouries and a B&B at the Holiday Inn. I got him onto his London train at 10am the following morning.
It was a reprise of many a Friday night spent at the Rhinos whilst he was a student in Leeds and a player with the university second XIII. I always got home though, so staying overnight was a treat. The Taps is your typical cheerful boozer with cheap food, full of RL banter. Chris once suggested I stay in his flat. 'Oh right,' I said, 'where are you going to sleep?' 'In the bed,' he said, 'you're on the floor.' Needless to say I didn't risk it, given that a blind public health inspector with no sense of smell would have condemned the whole street as a typhoid/plague/cholera, take your pick, hazard.
As we walked from the German market to the Burley Park train, police outriders stopped us from crossing at pedestrian lights. Who was coming? Royalty maybe? No, it was the Scots team bus, clearly late and in a hurry. What could have been the delay? You can make it up, but it would be libellous.

We just made it for the Haka - RL World Cup Final

The ten to eleven train from Greenfield, change at Stalybridge, then take the bus or the connection to Picadilly. We opted to carry on by train. Until two went through full, no room for any more. Half an hour behind schedule. We'll get the bus. 'How long does it take?' 'Forty minutes.' 'When is it going?' 'When it's full.' Gee, not going well. We'll walk up to the main road, see if we can get a taxi, there's none down here. None on the main road either. 'I'll ask this bloke.' 'Get the bus to Ashton, then the express. Don't get a bus to Manchester from here. Goes round all the bloody houses' ' Is that it there? A bus was stopped at the lights which was also, unusually, the bus stop. Thank you mister driver for letting us on. I forgot about my pass. A bloke with a pony tail told us to get the 16 at Ashton bus station. And we did, to Picadilly. Still forgot about my pass. James was not impressed when I eventually remembered.
Now an hour behind schedule. Hour and a half to kick off. James has a pub in mind. It's up by the Opera House, Spinningfields. Could we find it? No. Nice weather for walking aimlessly. James stopped a taxi. Spinningfields. We saw the signs, the taxi man sounded confident. Pound a minute. Could we find it? No. Outside the Science Museum a bloke gave us the right directions. Surrounded by high rise modern glass and concrete stores, offices and flats. An Oast House, with rusty corrugated iron roof, selling real ale. Health and Safety, building regs, whatever, suggests the roof would be for show and there would be slates underneath. But there on the inside, a corrugated iron roof. Two pints of Cumberland ale, no time for food, the Eccles tram. Full but lighthearted. Full bladders too which were emptied down a side street. NE stand, Old Trafford. It's like climbing a bloody mountain. Just in time for the haka.
One sided game, muted crowd. Left with 15 minutes to go with lots of others. New Zealand must have been embarrassed. Much easier journey. I say that but it was still mega crowded. One lady seriously annoyed as she had a reserved seat and the guys sat in it couldn't move. James lifted up her luggage onto the rack. The last piece was shopping and out fell a bottle of wine, slap and broke on the table. Glass and wine everywhere. Nobody hurt, children crying, soon sorted out with chocolate. The lady had to cope.
A pint of Landlord on Stalybridge station, start of the 'Ale Trail', full of men in groups getting stuck in to the real ales.
Funny old day, but we saw the haka.

West Side Story Dec 2013

That nice man Martin Lewis changed our gas and electric supply and he gave us a free night in a hotel. So I looked for some local shows and came up with West Side Story at the Palace, Manchester. Just the matinee on the opening day. Manchester is a favourite destination. The first industrial city and lots of monumental Victorian buildings on view. Some older ones also, such as the library at Cheetham's music school. Today was also Christmas market day; one way of reducing your bank balance.
The show was brilliant. A quiet first half followed by a second half punch in the guts. We knew the music but not the story - wow. Great dancing kids make up the gangs and the principal singers were clearly operatic if you like the style. It is timeless. Kids enjoying and exploring and making a mess. It is happening all over the world. When kids grow up, do they carry on being kids on the side?
Dimitri's is a Greek restaurant near Castlefield. Dimitri lives in Cyprus and collects the takings. Tapas and Retsina. A bit of bustle but you can hear yourself speak.
The local hotel overlooked a railway viaduct and was good enough. Following morning, rainy wet Thursday in Manchester. Best foot forward for the tram to Media City. A look round the Lowry gallery and wait for the midday talk. Brilliant. Lunch and back to Picadilly.
Busy, a bit tiring, but you have it to do.