26th July 2017
A Saturday afternoon in Leeds presented me with the opportunity to take in some amateur rugby league. A look at the fixture list revealed that the Hunslet Club Parkside were playing at home to the Milford Marlins: second versus third (with the top three sides separated only by points difference) in the Kingstone Press National Conference League Division 1 (which is the second tier of the nationwide amateur game). A tight match in prospect, I thought.
A 45 minute walk from the centre of the city through post-industrial Hunslet – past the warehouses and the clutch repairers and the Grade II-listed gateposts of “Boyne Engine Works, 1858” in Jack Lane – took me to the Hunslet Club, where a well-attended children’s gala was in full swing. From there, it was a short walk past some open ground to the main rugby pitches, where the two teams were warming up.
A glance at the scoreboard informed me of my location. I was at the home ground of the Hunslet Warriors, who were about to take on the Lock Lane club – in the same division as HCP and the Marlins.
Having effectively entered the Warriors’ ground through the (unguarded) back entrance, I asked the man taking the gate money where Hunslet Club Parkside were playing. He patiently explained that their ground was about a quarter of a mile away, down a path through some trees, and asked if I was still heading that way. No, I thought: this is where I have ended up and so here I will remain. I duly paid my £1-50p entrance fee plus £1 for a neat programme.
It was a good game. Playing down the slope, Lock Lane – a famous amateur club, based in Castleford – started the brighter with their prop forwards making a lot of ground. A 10-0 lead quickly opened up and I did wonder whether a half-time change of scenery to the match down the road might be in order. But the Warriors then had a period of consistent possession, aided by some ill-discipline from their visitors, and went into a 12-10 lead. Lock Lane edged in front just before the interval: 16-12.
In the second half, with the slope to their advantage, the Warriors took control and the final score of 28-16 was about right on the balance of play. Having started the day fourth from bottom of the division – with three sides to be relegated at the end of the season – this was a timely result for the home side, although it turned out that two of the three sides currently at the foot of the table also won on Saturday.
It was a hard – but, as far as I could detect, fair – game. The players looked to be well coached – running strongly, tackling aggressively and moving the ball competently through the hands. Standing behind the barrier close to the touchline provided me with a close view of the physical – and verbal – confrontations between the players, but the young referee kept a good control and only needed to brandish one yellow card towards the end of the game. The Lock Lane full back left the field temporarily with a shiner of a black eye and one of his colleagues was (uncomfortably) carried off after sustaining a first-half leg injury. He seemed to recover, however, walking gingerly down the touchline and reassuring his mates behind the barrier that he would still be fit for their planned Saturday night out.
Not all the invective was directed at the opposition. When, following a play-the-ball, a Warrior passed the ball to one of his colleagues on the narrow short side – only for him to be heavily tackled – a plaintive cry rang out from the middle of the pitch: “Will you stop doing that f…..g move?” I thought this a bit harsh: both sets of half-backs varied the play well and both hookers also distributed effectively to their willing runners.
After the match, I took a different route back into Leeds, stopping off briefly for a pint in The Garden Gate public house – another building with Grade II listed status – which houses the Hunslet RLFC Heritage Room, the opening of which I was pleased to attend in October 2014.
Later, I sought out the result of the Hunslet Club Parkside/Milford Marlins game. 24-0 to the home side: as it turned out, not such a tight match after all.