Sixer’s Sentiments: Joey Barton, Premier League withdrawal symptoms and Super League allure

Sixer's a real brick, says Jake; all in all, say Class 3C ...

Pete Sixsmith has been back at the chalk face, enriching young lives and earning the means to enable him to attend Premier League games again next season. Or will he forsake round footballs for the squashed variety? Ask him at the wrong moment, when he’s just been thinking about Joey Barton or recapturing his Rugby League youth, and you risk hearing a disturbing response …

With the season
over, not a huge interest in the playoffs and even less in England’s fortunes, anoraks like myself desperately search for a weekend fix.

This Saturday, for the first time since early July 2011, I spent the sixth afternoon of the week in the house, with precious little to do. I could have gone and watched local cricket, but the effects of a repeat go at the Trans-Pennine Ale Trail to celebrate Gerard Wood’s 50th birthday kept me indoors feeling a wee bit sorry for myself.

However, there was the Sunday to look forward to. And as the 8.31 to Liverpool Lime Street pulled out of Darlington Bank Top, I was eagerly anticipating a day of top class Rugby League at Eastlands Stadium.

For the past seven seasons, the RFL has organised a weekend where all 14 teams have played in the same stadium. They have been to Cardiff and Edinburgh, but this time opted for Manchester and the home of the PL Champions.

The policy, wherever possible, is to have a local derby. So on the Saturday, Castleford and Wakefield, Warrington and Widnes and the two Hull clubs clashed. Next day, Catalans and London and Huddersfield and Salford were non-derby games, followed by Leeds and Bradford and St Helens and Wigan, which most definitely were.

ST vs SUA - 2012-02-18 - Warm up - 15Image: Pierre-Selim

I arrived in time to see all the opening game, played in front of a growing crowd and with plenty of skill but little real passion. Catalans had a noisy bunch of fans in the upper tier, while I searched in vain for anyone from the Broncos. It ended up a comfortable win for the French team.

Next up was second in the table, Huddersfield against lowly Salford. Plenty of support for both sides and a cracking game where the lead changed hands six times before the underdogs clinched it in the closing stages.

The Giants fans sat next to me shook their heads, quaffed their pints and revelled in Town’s dramatic penalty win at Wembley, while Salford supporters, unused to such a glorious victory, cavorted in the sun.

The Leeds v Bradford game (dubbed the “airport derby” by one wag behind me), was no classic as Leeds did their best to turn victory into defeat. Danny McGuire scored five tries but dropped the ball more often than Seamus McDonagh in his playing days and it took that pocket dynamo (love a really good sporting cliché) Rob Burrow to change the game and bring the Rhinos home.

The lower and middle tiers of this excellent stadium were filling nicely and by the time Saints and Wigan appeared, there was a raucous atmosphere, fuelled by beer and local pride. These two are not the best of friends.

As a contest, it was over in the opening 10 minutes as the Pie Munchers blew their rivals away with two stunning tries. At half time, a real beating was on the cards and the Saints fans booed their team off. Shades of The Sports Direct Arena, Nov 2010.

There was a classic brawl which involved all 26 players and ended up with three sent off, which I missed as I had been offered a lift home by my brother and nephew and they had to go to work (whatever that is) the next morning. His car was parked next to that of a Wigan fan carrying the legend “No pies kept in this car overnight”.

So a cracking day out, where I sat with Huddersfield fans to the left of me, Wigan fans to the right, Bradford in front and Leeds and Saints fans in the row behind. All watched the games, roared their teams on and never once involved themselves in raw abuse. When the whistle went to end the games, opposing fans shook hands, not fists.

On the way home, there was a discussion about whether such a thing could be possible for the Premier League. It was a discussion as short as the one that goes “Joey Barton is a positive influence on society; discuss”. Answer: No.

We imagined Sunderland and Newcastle fans mingling at Wembley and exchanging banter in a friendly way. The nephew, for some reason an Arsenal fan (although he does follow the Leeds Rhinos – it’s in the family DNA; fourth generation) and possessing a degree in law, said he could no more sit down with a Spurs fan to watch a match than eat his own liver. And could you imagine the fun if Leeds United were invited. Everybody would want a poke at them.

When did football get as partisan as this? When I was nobbuta lad, I used to go to St James’ Park (as it was then) on the Saturdays I could not get to an away game because Jimmy Wilson had checked my paper round collection money. I even went with my school haversack which had SAFC painted in it and Jim Baxter’s name highlighted.

Now, allegedly older and wiser, I will not contemplate setting foot inside the place for the Olympics and if the World Cup Final were played there and I had a ticket, I would give it away – at least maybe.

On the way out, I spoke to a steward and asked him if there were any major differences between this and a football crowd. He thought for amoment and said “This lot drink more, but they can take it to their seats. We had one altercation where we threw some clowns out for throwing beer about, but other than that there’s not much difference. It’s just that we are much more relaxed with Rugby League”.

As our game stumbles through a potential racial minefield – Terry, Poland, Ukraine – perhaps I will start reflecting on whether the later years of my life will be like the early ones and see me rejecting football for Rugby League. It’s much friendlier.

5 thoughts on “Sixer’s Sentiments: Joey Barton, Premier League withdrawal symptoms and Super League allure”

  1. Keith you are spot on with your observations about drinking.Growing up in a mining village it certainly was the case that men should be able to hold their drink and were very critical of those who couldn’t.Excellent training for any young person and standing them in good stead for the rest of their lives.

  2. To be honest Keith I can’t remember the last time I saw any violence at a footy match in the last thirty years. I have seen some posturing but unlike the late sixties and seventies the only times I have felt uncomfortable wearing red and white to an away game was once at Wolves and once at Birmingham and both of those games were a decade ago and the abuse was verbal.

    Unfortunately it appears that there was some aggression at a pub near Wembley where West Auckland and Dunston supporters had gathered before the game

    but I was in the pub nearest to the stadium an hour before kick off and it was dead. As was the atmosphere for the whole game. Apart from a group of eight or nine youths extolling the virtues of West Auckland (lots of female sexual organs and heroin addicts apparently) there was nothing like the passion of the previous final. A crowd of just over 5,000 and a reasonable but hardly memorable game was an anti climax.

  3. The question When did football become tribal is an interesting and difficult one to answer. As a youngster I lived in Birtley which is one of those villages where the Sunderland/Newcastle split was 50/50 its not like that now. There was never an intense hatred in the game and as for causing bother it was always the same people, and they unfortunatley for themselves couldn’t help it. I live in South Africa where rugby is intense but never confrontational off the field. I have come to the conclusion 40 years ago we went to the match as a family, my Dad would park at the Wheatsheaf and we would walk to the ground. There was a buzz of excitement what would the team be who were the opposition. My Dad worked at the Caterpillar and believed in good behaviour if anyone misbehaved he would be told to calm down. Men did drink but could handle their drink, it was only a boy who mi9sbehaved under drink so it was childish to be out of order. Now it seems people believe themselves “BIG” if they get into trouble or cause disruption. the old days of family football were fantastic it taught us how to behave but now sadly it has the opposite affect and teaches the youngster to be fanatical and trbal. Lets go back to the old days

  4. This is something I can relate to greatly! I live in leeds and have watched and played a lot of rugby league. In fairness I have seen a few scuffs at RL games but this is over the course of 14 years of watching the game.

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