Thursday August 1st 2013, kick off 8pm at Twickenham Stoop Stadium.
Rugby League Super League.
London Broncos (All Black/Sky Blue trim) 18-30 Leeds Rhinos (Blue/Yellow/White).
Att 2,377, admission £20, programme £3, pastie £2, beer £3.75.
A visit to the Stoop had been on my agenda for a few years now to watch the Broncos. The Stoop is actually the home ground of the ‘Harlequins’ Rugby Union club, which sits in the shadow of the headquarters of RU, Twickenham Stadium. Harlequins are a number of (many now playing out in the suburbs of Bucks/Herts and Berks) well established London-based Rugby Union clubs, in facts Broncos were previously labelled Harlequins RL, before reverting to name of the Broncos.
For those of you unaware, Rugby has two different sets of codes and leagues in England. ‘Union’ is largely played and well supported in the South of England and Wales. ‘League’ grew up in the North, with its catchment area being a line across the country from the Humber to where the Mersey meets the Irish sea, and played in a few other areas just to the North of that line.
Union and League fans are passionate about 'their' sport, and both view the other code as inferior. So for the best part of a century league has been played 'Oooop Naaarth' and Union further South, and never the twain shall meet. A Union team has 15 players and League 13 players.
In many ways League has historically been closer to football (soccer), it has attracted a working class following in it's norther towns and cities, and the grounds the game were played on looked more like football grounds than the Union grounds, IE standing terracing for football/R league and seated stands for Union.
Since the revolution of Leagues ‘Super League’ and the promotion of it from Sky Sports, League is now played largely, certainly the top-level at all seater stadiums. Broncos who have been around under various guises since originally playing in 1980 at Fulham FC’s Craven Cottage have always struggled to attract foot fall through the turnstiles. The South’s sports followers already has football/cricket and rugby union in its heart, and apart from a hardcore who follow the Broncos, the casual walk up support has never been forthcoming and seems unlikely to do so in the future. Also this would probably explain the nomadic existence of the club, who have moved around London, from Fulham FC to the Crystal Palace Sports Centre, Barnet Copthall Stadium to Charlton FC/Brentford FC, one wonders how many of the original Fulham RL fans have followed them around their travels?
Tonight the reigning champions from Leeds were in town on a balmy London evening, where the temp gauge had hit 32 celsius (34 at Heathrow Airport apparently). The green sheen of the pitch looked magnificent and with fans able to sup a cool pint pitchside, you’d think the sports public of London would arrive in droves, well no, with the East Stand housing about 700 Leeds fans, and upward of 2/300 also sitting in our West Stand, the turnout of 2,377 must have been a major disappointment to the owner David Hughes. The attendances though have always been a bone of contention and hinder the progress of the club in being able to attract the really big names of the sport, although they did have some semblance of success in the late 90s making a challenge cup final and finishing second in the league in 1997.
On the pitch, Leeds had too much craft, movement and pace, however Broncos put in a solid performance which clearly must have been a vast improvement on their 70-0 thrashing to Wigan the previous weekend in the Challenge Cup S/F. The match ebbed and flowed and was thoroughly enjoyable, as it progressed making mental note to self to take in more Rugby League, and perhaps even some Union during the winter. Leeds (and England) Captain Kevin Sinfield was making his 500th appearance for the Rhinos, and his kicking was sublime, wherever the angle into the posts.
The result was never in doubt, as Leeds took the points without one felt needing to use their last gear, but the game had been a great advert for rugby league, and with it being so easy to reach the venue by train from my work I will be back next season for more League action.