Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Great Guardian Article here about my great game::

Walking in a Wakefield wonderland

Trinity may never relive the glory days of the 50s and 60s but their triumph in adversity is every bit as appealing

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats' Richard Moore

Wakefield Trinity Wildcats refuse to go away despite their travails. Photograph: Joe Giddens/EMPICS

When I was growing up in Wakefield, the city was famous for three things – world domination of the forced rhubarb industry, the prison and its reputation as the party capital of Yorkshire. The infamous Westgate Run, a 16-stop pub crawl, was the highlight of many people's weekends and the mayhem that regularly ensued while on it is vividly and chillingly captured by David Peace in the last part of his Red Riding Quartet, Nineteen Eighty Three. Violence was sporadic but the fear of it was always a hazard and a punch in the mouth for saying the wrong thing or the usual bogus incitement, "looking at my bird", was a fairly regular occurrence.

Back then the city's most famous institution, Wakefield Trinity, were mired in the doldrums, playing in a decrepit stadium that had fewer visitors than the adjacent Theatre Club, a poor relation of Batley Variety Club, where The Dooleys and refugees from ITV's The Comedians seemed to be in constant residence. Trinity were largely the preserve of older generations whose memories of Jonty Parkin, the Dreadnoughts and the stellar side of the late 50s and 60s that won three Challenge Cups and back-to-back league titles, contrasted so piquantly with what was on offer at Belle Vue in the mid-70s.

Little had changed at the stadium since This Sporting Life was filmed there in 1962. The key match scenes in that film were shot the morning of a Challenge Cup tie against Wigan and though some had willingly answered the call to turn up early to form a crowd of extras, the director, Lindsay Anderson, still had to thicken the numbers with wooden dummies. There were lots of jokes about the dummies for once leaving the committee room but in retrospect the fans were blessed and enjoyed a charmed decade.

Right at the beginning of the film,Trinity's then captain, Derek "Rocky" Turner, was playing the role of the opposition's loose forward and it was his job to fly off the back of what were still then contested scrums and rattle the teeth of his opposite number, the star Richard Harris, to trigger the key flashback scenes. Anderson had told Turner to make it look as authentic as possible and Rocky needed no second invitation, nailing the scene in the first take and knocking Harris unconscious. The director was happier than Harris but you can't help thinking that he should have picked someone less brutal than Turner for the role – even Billy Wilson, the teak-tough Kangaroo prop, said one tackle from Rocky left him feeling like he had been decapitated.

Stories of those bygone players permeated my youth as the club, fixated with the past and with dwindling crowds compared to local rivals Castleford and Featherstone, struggled. In 1979 there was a fleeting resurgence when the silky skills of David Topliss and the hard-tackling former England union scrum-half Mike Lampkowski were paired with great forwards such as Trevor Skerrett and Bill Ashurst but defeat at Wembley turned Trinity into a selling club again and real decline set in. Signing the great Australia stand‑off Wally Lewis for a 10-game spell at £1,000 a match in late 1983 was a bold attempt to reverse the slump but his galvanising impact, though memorable, was ephemeral and ended as soon as he left.

For much of the next decade after leaving home, Trinity played little part in my thinking. Already, in Michael Parkinson's phrase, "football daft and cricket mad", there was no time for a third sporting passion. It wasn't until I started working in Sportspages, where the rugby league diaspora would meet to buy League Express and moan about the price of the imported autobiographies of Steve Roach and Benny Elias, that the club game came back on my radar. Watching Trinity escape from fraught scrapes with relegation over the past 10 years has warmed the heart but nothing has so bonded me to my hometown club than the awful year they have just endured.

The deaths in quick succession of Topliss, Don Fox and Adam Watene should have left the team demoralised. They have no money, relatively small crowds, struggle on in a ramshackle ground with little prospect of funding a new one and know that the Super League would prefer to give a licence to a more glamorous or club, or any well‑supported club with better facilities. But despite all these setbacks they have made a thrilling start to the season winning two of their opening three games thanks to the character and skill of the players and the astuteness and grit of the coach, John Kear. The club's heyday is unmatchable but after almost 40 years in the wilderness they still make me proud.