Tag Archives: Rugby League

Win over Wigan highlights Broncos potential despite league’s malaise

Not even Storm Freya could keep London Broncos’ loyal hordes of followers away.

Even as the wind howled and the rain blew through the stands, as the wet mud and gravel squelched underfoot, and as chips were turned to salty mush by the ever-worsening downpour, still they cheered and revelled in the sheer joy of a competitive Super League team in London.

And they were rewarded. The Broncos battled as the gale battered rain against their skin, matching reigning champions Wigan Warriors in every department, turning around a 10-0 deficit to emerge 18-16 victors.

This was a statement victory for London, a proclamation that the-once laughing stock of professional rugby league are no longer here to make up the numbers.

It was the nature of the win that leaves such an impression. After two Wigan tries in the early exchanges, one could be forgiven for anticipating something of a rout.

The travelling fans certainly seemed to, but as the contest wore on, their singing slowly lost its zeal and volume. In contrast, as the Broncos gained a foothold in the game, so the home support found its voice.

Danny Ward’s side rallied to score twice and lead 12-10 at the interval. Kieran Dixon’s magnificent run at the start of the second half extended their advatanage, and the hosts held firm despite a late Wigan onslaught to claim a famous victory.

Long way to go

There can be a tendency to dwell too long and too keenly on such monumental results. After all, the 2019 Super League is just five games old, and there remains a long and winding road ahead.

According to rugby league journalist and Broncos fan David Ballheimer, such sweet victories need to be tempered with level-headedness.

“It was a magnificent win for London, but the importance of it won’t be known until late September,” he told Elephant Sport.

“If the Broncos stay up, this was an absolutely humongous win. If they get relegated, it was just a good win. They have to stay up, that’s the whole target of the season. I’m delighted, I thought it was fantastic, but I’m not going over the top.”

This season is London’s first at rugby league’s top table since 2014, when the Broncos managed just a single victory in a dire campaign.

But in their five games thus far this time around, the club have doubled that total, with this triumph over Wigan adding to their opening-day defeat of Wakefield Trinity.

Combined with their victory over the Toronto Wolfpack in last season’s Million Pound Game to gain promotion, there is a buoyant mood around the club once again.

A nomadic existence

The Broncos are currently based at the Trailfinders Sports Ground, where rugby union’s Ealing Trailfinders play their home games.

It is something of a ramshackle affair, a mishmash of temporary stands and hastily-assembled broadcast gantries. The main stand looks more like it belongs at a leisure centre than in a Super League stadium.

However, despite the imperfections of Trailfinders in terms of facilities, there is a homely feel to the place, its dissymmetry a fitting reflection perhaps of the club’s own lack of assuredness in its own identity.

The London Broncos have had a nomadic existence since their formation as the Fulham RLFC in 1980, and have played under numerous monikers and at a variety of homes since then.

The club’s odyssey has taken in Craven Cottage, Crystal Palace National Sports Centre (twice), Polytechnic Sports Ground, Copthall Stadium, Twickenham Stoop (three times), The Valley (twice), Griffin Park, The Hive and, finally, Ealing Trailfinders — remarkable given its mere 39-year existence.

Ballheimer suggests that a ground of their own would be the ideal solution, but given the impracticalities of such a step, Ealing is as good a home as any.

“It’s a great deal better than a lot of them were,” he says. “To be perfectly honest, a good home would be their own ground, where they are responsible for the food, the bars, who plays there, when they play there, who looks after the pitch, how the pitch is marked, and everything else.

“Having their own ground would be so massive, but it is utterly impossible.

“Ealing is better than Brentford, definitely better than the Hive, better than Harlequins because it’s more accessible to the general spectator — it’s that much closer to central London.

“It’s good but it’s not perfect. If it was perfect it would have a capacity of 10,000 and there would be 6,000 London fans coming every week. But that is a pipe dream.”

Doing the right things

It’s arguable as to whether the transient nature of the club’s existence has stunted their growth as a force in rugby league.

Could it be that the constant name and ground changes have disillusioned potential supporters? It’s a claim that is difficult to qualify, and Ballheimer believes that while such ground-hopping has had an effect, the club’s future is bright.

“I think the nomadic nature of the club has been a problem,” he says, “but London is doing better now than they have done for seven or eight years. Last time they were in the Super League, London were frankly an embarrassment.

“They are getting better. They are doing things right. They’re getting fans coming to the games. They are getting a better atmosphere — every crowd so far this season has been over 2,000. This is a massive increase and improvement on their last Super League season. There are signs.”

The match against Wigan certainly backed up Ballheimer’s assertions, with a feel-good atmosphere that only manifests amidst a happy club and fanbase.

Loyal followers still trek from across the capital; pints flow freely and pies are consumed with a sense that those attending are eager to make the most of the club’s Super League return — to simply enjoy.

Capital gains

However, even though there are green shoots peeking through at London Broncos, there remains a sense that rugby league itself is in something of a malaise.

The sport has always lacked the fanfare and media attention enjoyed by rugby union in its professional era and, according to Ballheimer, the powers-that-be have a responsibility to do more to market the sport to a wider audience.

“Rugby league needs a complete rethink about how it is run and what its aims are”

“The sport needs a complete rethink about how it is run and what its aims are. This goes far beyond London Broncos. It needs to consider whether it wants to be a national sport or the sport of the north of England.

“If it’s the sport of the north of England, and the media is all based in the south, what chance do they have? If it’s not a national sport, why should Sky invest millions of pounds in covering it?

“I honestly believe that Super League should insist there is a London franchise, because there has to be capital city representation in the national league. I barely watched a Super League game in the four years London weren’t in it because it meant nothing to me.”

If one thing is for certain, it’s that London has a power to bring new fans to a sport.

American sports have already begun to harness this phenomenon, with the NFL staging matches in the capital and the O2 Arena hosting NBA games, while Major League Baseball is set to host its first London series this summer when the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox come to town.

The city of 8.7m is a hive of sporting curiosity, forever willing to embrace new ideas and influences.

For rugby league to ignore that would be a crime, and perhaps the authorities should be doing more to appeal to those in the capital and the south of England, and not cling so tightly to the sport’s northern traditions.

For all the relative success of the London Broncos over the last 18 months or so, there is still a sense that potential is being wasted, that the club is swimmingly admirably against a tide.

Two fingers to the establishment: Reviewing ‘A Yorkshire Tragedy’

Award-winning journalist Anthony Clavane is right to have a chip on his shoulder over what he calls ‘a culture of neglect’. Having been raised in Leeds and worked in the capital, he is all too familiar with the increasingly glaring north-south divide in Britain. 

In his new book A Yorkshire Tragedy, he illustrates in heartbreaking detail the extent to which a formerly industrial and sporting powerhouse has been rendered a national afterthought.

Moreover, the hollowing out of working classes, so integral to Yorkshire’s character and communities, has transformed once bustling areas into ghost towns.

“I’m most upset by the idea that the working classes are being cut off from leisure,” reveals Clavane.

The economic growth enjoyed alongside the industrial revolution during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Clavane argues, was driven by a local trinity of home, work and leisure.

In Hull, St Andrew’s Dock, the Boulevard and Hessle Road were pillars of communalism, binding players and workers together in the name of advancement by co-operation.

Expression of community

Workers felt that they played a significant role in local life, and that local teams embodied a spirit not quite seen in a “less communal and more atomised” London.

yorkshire-tragedy“If you look at sport, where was it invented? In the north,” explains Clavane. “And which communities did it emerge from?

“The very first modern football club was in Sheffield. Modern sport and cricket was played in Sheffield and Leeds and came out of the industrial working classes.

“What I’m arguing is that these industrial areas – which grew directly as a result of industry – sport was their expression of community.

“When Featherstone won the Rugby League Challenge Cup in 1983, most of their players were miners. They had just lifted the trophy in Wembley, millions watched it, and two mornings later they were down the mines.

“Could you imagine Lionel Messi or Wayne Rooney going to the mines?”

The decline of Leeds United, once a formidable top-flight force, is also particularly telling.

Leeds have spent the majority of the last decade sitting precariously below the elite tier of English football, and Clavane jokingly expresses his frustration.

“It upsets me that Leeds United are not the greatest team the world has ever seen any more.”

Under chairman Peter Ridsdale, Leeds encountered severe financial problems, including large loans which could only be repaid by selling key players.

The resulting implosion sent the club crashing into League One within just a few years, seemingly wiping clean all the progress that had been made in the late ’90s and early 2000s.

Blame game

The Hillsborough disaster of 1989, too, was an incident so tragic that in many ways it was microcosmic of the marginalisation of Yorkshire.

Families and friends of the 96 victims, knowing full well what had happened that day, were ignored and repeatedly demonised by a largely ignorant London media.

The Sun, in particular, is infamous for the blame game it played in the ensuing weeks. The stadium’s chequered safety record was not addressed sufficiently, as it may well have been had it been located in London, echoing the horrific fire at Bradford just four years earlier.

“Very simply, up until 1989, Hillsborough was a symbol of ambition, aspiration and majestic football because the stadium was the Wembley of the north.

“After ’89 it became a symbol of death and everything bad about football and society,” Clavane points out, clearly in saddened agreement with my suggestion that it was emblematic of Yorkshire as a whole.

Condescending neighbour

A Yorkshire Tragedy is alone worth reading for the rich history it unearths.

Drawing upon a wealth of sporting and political knowledge, as well as important critiques of the cultural effects of neo-liberal capitalism, Clavane can best be commended for capturing the rancorous nature of the lament felt by a substantial part of Yorkshire’s working class.

“Clavane notices an ominous connection between neglect and Yorkshire’s rejection of the political status quo on June 23rd this year”

There is no denying their ostracism from the centre of the political consensus. Government funding (or lack thereof) tends not to be afforded to worthy northern programmes and the media, too, seem fixated with events in London.

“There has always been a certain ‘chippiness’ towards the south, or at least the idea of the south as a condescending neighbour that sucks in the north’s skill, goods and talent,” writes Clavane, astutely.

Globalised capitalism, of which the author believes there exists a socially responsible version, has made a mockery of the very values which made Yorkshire a 19th and 20th century powerhouse

Beginning in the Thatcher years of the 1980s, strong social principles of togetherness and collectivism were thrown out, with the individual placed before the community.

Disenfranchised

‘Right to buy’ increased homelessness throughout Yorkshire, the closing down of mines, decline of the fishing industry and outsourcing of factory work broke that spirited link between work and play, and left many in the north unable to reap the rewards of the south’s economic growth.

A Yorkshire Tragedy reaches out to those who have been left behind and reminds them that they are loved. It tells the disenfranchised men and women of Yorkshire that they are a cherished part of Britain, with a rich and respectable history.

“Sport is unpredictable, and these things go in cycles. But I don’t see the downward cycle coming back up”

Like me, Clavane notices an ominous connection between neglect and Yorkshire’s rejection of the political status quo on June 23rd this year. “What I think has happened is that whole swathes of the country have got chips on their shoulder over being left behind and betrayed, and that to me could help to explain the Brexit vote.

“These deep-rooted, long-standing communities have gone into decline and they’ve stuck two fingers up to the establishment and they will continue to do so.

On the question of an upturn in fortunes, Clavane is characteristically unmoved

“I’m a glass half empty man, so not very. It’s very strange. If I was writing about the decline of the economy or the film industry, you can forecast a trend. But let’s say Leeds and Sheffield Wednesday go up, all of a sudden my theory is buggered. That’s what sport is, it’s unpredictable, and these things go in cycles. But I don’t see the downward cycle coming back up.”

Yorkshire has been left behind. Of that there is no question. The author was understandably “very moved and angry by the absence of communities, shockingly impoverished” while writing his book. If only the political elite had an ounce of his consideration.

A Yorkshire Tragedy: The Rise and Fall of a Sporting Powerhouse, Quercus, £16.99. Feature image courtesy of the72.co.uk

Five successful sporting switches

We all have an occasional urge to do something new to freshen up our lives, and trying out a new sport is one way of doing it.

But imagine if that urge could lead to a potentially lucrative and dazzling new career when you’re already made a name for yourself as a sportsman.

The most recent star to switch from one sport to another is former Bundesliga goalkeeper Tim Wiese, who made a successful WWE pro-wrestling debut in Munich.

We look at five other moves that paid off.

5. Andrew Flintoff – from cricket to boxing to cricket

Flintoff strikes a pose. Pic by Adam Cool© , flickr creative commons

Many cricketers have shown their talents for other sports. Dennis Compton, for example, played 78 Tests for England but also had a successful career as a footballer with Arsenal.

England legend Sir Ian Botham also played football whilst playing Test cricket, while South Africa’s Jonty Rhodes played hockey and was actually selected to represent his country at the 1992 Summer Olympics.

A more recent familiar example is Andrew Flintoff’s decision to try professional boxing after retiring from cricket. The former England all-rounder made his pro debut in Manchester 2012 against Richard Dawson from the US.

It ended successfully for Flintoff as he won the fight, which was filmed as part of a TV documentary about his switch from the pitch to the ring.

However, ‘Freddie’ decided to quit while and he was ahead opted instead to make a cricketing comeback.

He came out of retirement to compete for Lancashire in the 2014 Natwest T20 Blast, and also went to Australia later that year to play in the Big Bash for the Brisbane Heat, before finally calling it a day.

4. Adam Gemili – football to athletics

Team GB sprint star Adam Gemili’s footballing career started at Chelsea as a youth player since at the age of eight, and he went on to ply as a defender for Dagenham & Redbridge and Thurrock FC.

Maybe he suspected deep down that soccer stardom was out of his reach, so he opted to develop his other talent – for running fast – instead and left football behind in favour of athletics in 2012.

His most successful achievement on the track to date came at the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow when he finished second in the men’s 100m final.

Still only 23 years of age, he’s surely on course to add to his medals tally on the international stage in the next few years.

3. Fabien Barthez – from football to motorsport

MOTORSPORT - GT TOUR 2012 - PAUL RICARD - LE CASTELLET (FRA) - 26 TO 28/10/2012 - PHOTO : FLORENT GOODEN / DPPI - BARTHEZ FABIEN - TEAM SOFREV ASP FERRARI 458 ITALIA - AMBIANCE PORTRAITFormer Manchester United star Fabien Barthez was known as a fabulous shot stopper, and was named ‘keeper of the tournament as France won the 1998 World Cup.

He also helped his country to win Euro 2000, and won plenty of league titles and cups at club level for the likes of United, Marseille and Monaco.

After retiring in 2007, he swapped football strips for racing suits as he developed a successful career in motorsport.

He has competed in competitions including the Porsche Carrera Cup France, the FIA GT Series and Caterham Sigma Cup France.

In 2013 he was crowned French GT champion, and in 2014 took part in the iconic 24 Hours of Le Mans. Driving a Ferrari 458, he and his co-drivers finished 29th overall and ninth in their class.

2. Sonny Bill Williams – from rugby league to boxing to rugby union

Sonny Bill Williams has had an extraordinary career. An true icon to many, the New Zealander has achieved a ton of success in his time.

From winning two Rugby World Cups and several honours in rugby league, to remaining unbeaten in his boxing career, Williams is surely on of the greatest athletes in the world.

He started out in rugby league, playing for the Canterbury Bulldogs and Sydney Roosters as well as for New Zealand.

He then decided to make a switch to boxing and was unbeaten in seven fights, winning them all, including three by knockout, and claiming the New Zealand heavyweight crown and WBA international belt along the way.

However, rugby union came calling again and he returned to the 15-man code in time to become part of the All Blacks squad which won the 2011 World Cup, helping them to retain it in 2015.

1. Brock Lesnar – multi-sport athlete

Not only he can fight, he can play American football too. Brock Lesnar has success written all over him.

Winning multiple championships in the WWE and New Japan pro-wrestling – as well as dominating the MMA/UFC scene – he also had a brief spell at the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL.

Lesnar signed with WWE in 2000, making his main roster debut in 2002. He went on to become the youngest undisputed WWE champion at the age of 25, a King of the Ring and Royal Rumble winner as well as ending Undertaker’s Wrestlemania streak in 2014.

Nicknamed ‘The Beast’, Lesnar put his WWE career on hold in 2004 in order to pursue a career in American football as a defensive tackle. He was recruited by the Minnesota Vikings for the 2004-05 campaign and played several pre-season games but was then cut from their roster.

UFC came calling, and it was a fresh challenge for Lesnar. He had nine fights, winning six of them, but has now returned to the WWE and has a bout against Goldberg in the Survivor Series on November 20th.