Rugby league should celebrate Hull’s special derby

“You’re either red and white, or black and white. There’s no in between.” (Roger Millward)

Rugby league fans will argue about anything, so it is no surprise that there is debate as to which is the best derby in the game. 

Wiganers and Saints will argue that theirs is the best, providing the best quality rugby league, with more at stake when it comes to glory than any other derby in the game.

Folk from West Yorkshire might well disagree, although the Leeds – Bradford rivalry has lost some of its shine in recent seasons. Wakefield against Castleford certainly has the passion, but it seems to lack a little in wider interest. Leeds v Hunslet hardly ever happens, and the two clubs now actually work closely together anyway.

Which is usually where conversation switches to Hull, especially if there is an East Riding type present in the room. Hull people will always insist that theirs is the only true city derby in the game, and for that reason, will always be superior to any other such event in the game.

While the bluster and confidence of fans is usually something we should take with a pinch of salt, there is much truth in many supporters’ assertions about the Hull derby.

This is the only game in rugby league where the local population, and the local press, are divided between two teams. Everyone in the city and surrounding area has an allegiance when it comes to this game, even if they don’t actually like rugby.

That means that wherever you go in the city you are likely to meet someone who supports the opposition. Everywhere car stickers, T-shirts, replica training tops and hats will remind you of your team or the other lot.

Your section of the town cannot go into lockdown, you can’t put up a ‘welcome to hell’ sign in your own city. Even if the divide between ‘east’ and ‘west’ becomes more noticeable around this time.

The fact is that populations have moved around the city so that the old east-west divide, centred on the River Hull, matters less these days. But memories are long, and blood is thicker than water. Some will recall the divide between the dockers of the east and the fishermen of the west.

Some families may even be divided, but the reasons for an allegiance are usually kept crystal clear in a fan’s heart throughout their lives.

All this keeps the contest fresh, the passion fierce and the rivalry ever present. The fact that Hull is a reasonably sized city, in UK terms anyway, means that interest is high in terms of numbers too. 

To really understand you probably have to have lived in Hull, but this event is certainly the closest we come in our game to the kind of derby days soccer throws up in cities such as Sheffield, Liverpool and Glasgow. 

Even people who barely have an interest in rugby league, or even sport in general, will look out for the result. And everyone goes into the game believing that their team will win, whatever the form book might say.

Yes, there can be needle. Bitterness and bile, verbal poison and even punches can be exchanged when tempers get frayed. But that kind of feeling is what sport is about. We can leave the ‘brotherhood’ schtick to the rugby union types, whose clubs have few community fundamentals and nothing to match this kind of domestic occasion.

Which is why those few, bitter voices who maintain that Hull is only big enough for one Super League team, or that Super League is only big enough for one Hull team, are talking rubbish.

Rugby league needs events like this. Events which add quality and interest to the sport, are a chance to celebrate history and heritage, and to become wrapped up in something bigger than just ourselves.

Something special, in other words. Something spicy to sell the game and something that thousands of people will pay to watch. Something that the whole game should celebrate, especially at the moment, as we scrabble around for sponsors and seek greater southern coverage. These kind of games are our special occasions, our showpieces.

And something that even the biggest detractors of Hull as a city and as a Super League town will still make sure that they tune into the TV coverage of on Friday afternoon. Something significant.

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