No one is quite sure what this is doing here. Has Salut! Sunderland taken leave of its senses? Has Rugby League taken over from football? Let Pete Sixsmith – who went back to Old Trafford one week on, and not to collect his personal copy of Sir Alex’s non-apology to Alan Wiley – explain …
Continuing the theme of Club v Country, I have to say that I couldn’t give a rat’s a*** about the “national team”. Ever since Sir Alf failed to take Monty to Mexico and various idiots refused to pick Kevin Phillips on a regular basis, I have absolutely zero interest in the Ingerland project.
The only thing I like about international football is that you get a weekend off from the routine of the Premier League (or, in Newcastle’s case, the Coca Cola Championship) and it allows me to get to an obscure ground or have a Northern League day.
The weekend of the game in Ukraine gave me an opportunity to combine the two loves of my increasingly anorakish football/rugby league life. Older readers of this column will know that I first saw light of day in Leeds in 1951 and I spent the first years of my sport watching days at Headingley, supporting the Loiners in their battles with Bradford Northern, Hunslet, Wigan etc. My first hero was Lewis Jones, an excellent stand off cum centre who played for Leeds for many years.
When the Regent Oil Company moved my father away from the 13 a side stronghold of West Yorkshire to the football playing North East, I quickly abandoned the egg shaped ball for the round ball, realising that the 15 a side game played in County Durham was one for estate agents and PE Teachers and not for someone who was proud of his working class roots, despite his gradual elevation into the bourgeoisie.
Since then, I have followed the fortunes of the Loiners/Rhinos from a distance, and have seen at least one game a season for the past few years. Imagine my delight when I saw that this years Grand Final coincided with a blank Saturday. Once the Rhinos had established their presence at Old Trafford by winning their semi final, I logged on, bought a ticket and prepared for my second successive Saturday evening at the Theatre of Red Faced Old Scotsmen.
Their opponents were St Helens (hat’s the glass making town in Lancashire, not the village between Bishop and West) and it’s fair to say the players and fans of both clubs have the same mutual affection and respect for each other as do Peter Andre and Jordan.
I had seen the two League clashes between them and to describe them as brutal would be an under exaggeration. This game was no different. I am of the opinion that Rugby League at this level is the hardest of all team games and that the players are the fittest on the planet. It’s a game of crunching tackles and fast breaks with players to-ing and fro-ing as replacements can come and go; no need for blood capsules here.
The fact that Leeds won by 18-10 was a relief after the disappointments of last week. The fact that the event was very different from last week was interesting.
Firstly, the crowd , although smaller, was much noisier and engaged with what was going on in front of them, unlike the United fans, who sit back and demand to be entertained rather than spur their side on.
Also, the stewarding was much gentler than it had been the week before. On entering the turnstile before our – Sunderland’s – game, I had to pass a line of police and then a line of events staff before I was given a jolly good frisking by a rather serious young man. He even asked me to take my hat off, thereby thwarting my attempt to smuggle in a half firkin of Cameron’s Strongarm. Here, I had to show my ticket, no frisking, no removing of headgear ( a top hat this time, to smuggle in some Bolly in expectation of Lord Snooty Cameron and his Posh Pals forming the next government).
Inside the ground there was little difference; the stewards were polite and respectful, showed you to your seat and left you alone.
The major difference was the prices. The seat I had last week cost me £41. A similar seat this week cost me £26. Clearly, the Rugby League, unlike the Glazers, is aware that its aficionados do not have bottomless pockets.
It was an engrossing game, described as an “arm wrestle” by a man on the return tram to Altrincham. Saints probably played the better rugby, but Leeds were so well organised and had such a strong feeling of togetherness that I was always confident that they would come out on top. It was a great occasion and I am pleased that I have witnessed a Grand Final.
I had spent the earlier part of the afternoon watching Altrincham play Mansfield in a Conference game. It proved that there are players more prone to stupid acts than Kieran Richardson as two red and white striped Alty players were dispatched early for acts of crass idiocy. The first one went when he ran 30 yards to push a Mansfield player to the ground and the other for calling the referee a “f****** idiot” as he spoke to him about an innocuous challenge. Second yellow, second use of the soap! Can’t imagine Kevin Sinfield or Kieron Cunningham being as dumb as that!!