I sometimes wonder whether most rugby league fans appreciate how hard it is for those of us outside the heartlands to follow the game as completely as they do. It’s true that the internet now provides as much information as you need, but here in soccer-mad Liverpool there are few rugby league books in shops, no rugby league newspapers or magazines in newsagents and often no chance of getting live rugby league in your local pub.
The last example has often been a point of bitter contention. On holiday in Wales a pub showed pre-season soccer – Liverpool against Lazio – rather than Leeds against Bradford in Super League. This was despite a vote among those in the bar to show the rugby league rather than the football, seemingly showing that many people just don’t take rugby league seriously, even if there is a modicum of popularity.
In a student bar here in Liverpool I once sat alone watching Hull play Huddersfield in the Super League play-offs. One person walked in and after a few moments asked whether we were watching union or league, this being during the 2007 Rugby [Union] World Cup. When I answered him he left; obviously such a die-hard follower of union he didn’t know what sport he was watching.
Thankfully an excellent local pub, The Fly in the Loaf, is one of the few that will almost always show the rugby league. Hanging opposite the bar are signed St Helens and Whitehaven shirts. It was in this pub I found myself on Friday to watch the wonderful St Helens versus Bradford game.
There were some signs of interest among the clientele, but as far as I could tell they came not from the native population but those with some links to rugby league areas. The manager, who decides to show these games, is from Whitehaven. One barman paying close attention to the game was from Rochdale. It seems to me that most interest generated in rugby league in a place like Liverpool comes from those who have moved from the heartlands.
There are other, greater examples. James Graham, that great scouse rugby league hope, had his interest in the game stirred by his Cumbrian father. Liverpool Buccaneers is run mainly by people from St Helens rather than scousers, and the team contains many university students, and others, from outside the city. It was a similar story back in the days of Liverpool City RLFC. For some reason Liverpool has never embraced rugby league, despite the prominence of the Rugby game prior to the split in 1895.
Yet, that isn’t the whole story, and I vividly remember one occasion when that point was double-underlined. It was when Liverpool Buccaneers played Widnes Saints in the RL Conference without a number of student players who had gone on representatove duty to Australia. With a patched up team containing several scouse rugby union players from Sefton RUFC the Buccs overcame the odds to record a famous victory in Widnes.
Hopefully inroads like this can continue to be made across the country, for expansion should be measured in grassroots activity rather than in RFL-aided franchise applicants. Hopefuly also, I can continue to visit the Fly in the Loaf for a friendly atmosphere, a decent pint and the greatest game of all, live on televsion with the commentary of Eddie and Stevo very much inaudible.
Keep Your Eye on Rugby League