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.)

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