Malcolm Dawson writes……Rafael – the latest gentleman’s gentleman in situ at Sixsmith Towers must have expected a busy weekend warming up the Taylor’s pork pies and chilling the Timothy Taylor’s Landlord while Pete Sixsmith settled himself in front of the telly for the World Cup Qualifiers and alongside the radio for Test Match Special. But he would have been surprised, for after brushing down the moleskin trousers and polishing the monocle, he had the weekend to himself as the aforementioned Sixer took in a Four Nations match on the west coast before following his hometown team into the nearest National Park to witness an F.A. Vase tie that just might see the victors on the road to Wembley.
RUGBY LEAGUE AND THE FA VASE
Unlike some, I look forward to the international breaks. It means that the weekend is not fraught with anxiety about the latest relegation battle and I can watch a game without coming out feeling as if I had just been horse whipped by Donald Trump.
I got my fix this weekend in Workington and Pickering. The former is a gritty and largely unlovely, one time iron manufacturing town in West Cumbria and the other is an attractive market town set on the edge of the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. Both venues gave me far more pleasure than trips to Manchester or London have done this season.
The Workington visit was for a Rugby League Four Nations game between New Zealand and Scotland. The Kiwis are regarded as one of the two best sides in the world, along with their friends across the Tasman Sea, while Scottish Rugby League is regarded as being even lower in world standings than Scottish football. Or at least it was until Friday. New Zealand were expected to win while the Scots were expected to put up gritty if limited resistance to the likes of Shaun Johnson, Jesse Bromwich and Jason Nightingale. Made up of some good Super League players like Danny Brough and Lewis Tierney and some decent Australians in Lachlan Coote and Euan Aitken, they had given England a shock at Coventry the week before. But surely not against the Kiwis?
They did. At one stage they had a 12-10 lead, coming back from a Broderick Crawford (10-4), before two quick fire tries from Gerard Beale looked to seal it for the Kiwis. Isaac Luke, kicking into the wind and rain that only Cumbria can produce, failed with the conversions, but they still looked set for an unconvincing win and a re-match with Australia at Anfield next weekend.
But up stepped Huddersfield stand off Danny Brough to set up Euan Aitken (Scots name, Aussie born and bred) to crash over the line, leaving the outstanding Brough to put the conversion between the sticks for an unexpected 18 all draw. Wonderful stuff.
It was a fitting end to a very pleasant day with coffee taken at The Llama Karma Kafe near Penrith and tea taken at The New Bookshop in Cockermouth’s impressive main street. A stroll along it shows you the flood level in 2009 when it was at least 5’ deep and every business was awash with water from the fast flowing, bank bursting River Cocker. Jennings Brothers Brewery suffered particularly badly but has been repaired and restored and the brewery shop is as good a place to start a short tour of the town, home to William Wordsworth and Ben Stokes.
Workington also suffered in those floods with a bridge being washed away and a Police Officer losing his life while trying to protect it. Workington Town play at Derwent Park, a stadium built in the 1950’s and looking it. They have a long covered terrace down one side but no real “ends” as there is a speedway track that forms the circumference of the playing area. Like Halifax Town’s Shay, Newport County’s Somerton Park and Berwick Rangers Shielfield Park, the smell of burning exhausts and burning cinders lingers on long after the speedway season is over.
Pickering Town play in the Northern Counties East League and are doing well in it. They went into their FA Vase clash with Shildon on the back of a good win at second placed Liversedge and were quietly confident of causing an upset. There was a familiar name in the Pikes squad – Jules Gabbiadini, son of Marco, although not blessed with the huge thighs of his father.
The upset failed to materialise as The Railwaymen cantered to an impressive 5-0 win. Two early goals from Michael Rae (no relation to Alex as far as I know – he is a Poolie) both expertly taken put Shildon in a very strong position. Daniel Moore scored a very good third to finish the contest before the interval. Minutes into the second half David Ferguson, once a regular at Hetton for the Under 21’s, scored a fine fourth after some intricate passing bamboozled the Pikes’ defence and Amar Purewal, recently signed from Darlington, wrapped up the scoring to give Shildon a fine 5-0 win.
The ride over had been damp and dank until I hit Sutton Bank, the steepest main road in England with a 25% incline. At the top, the fog had descended and,had we been playing Sutton Bank Rovers, the game would have been off. But it lifted and there was a relatively pleasant run through Helmsley and Kirkbymoorside to Pickering. Lunch was taken at Elizabeth Botham’s Bakery and Café where a minor complaint about the malted bread used in my Whitby Crab sandwich resulted in the manager offering me a packet of ginger biscuits, the keys to her car and a lifetime supply of Lemon Drizzle cake as compensation. I settled for a Rustic Brown loaf.
No more international breaks until March. Four months of unrelieved anxiety beckons.