Sunday, April 22, 2007

Headingley again...

Another day, another game of rugby, another visit to Headingley.

Today it was the turn of the Leeds Tykes who also play on the same ground as the Leeds Rhinos (last nights game), and also play rugby...

...but its not the same game, oh no.

The difference between rugby league and rugby union mystifies many UK citizens so we cannot expect visitors from overseas to understand the complexities of the argument, but let me try and give my potted (very potted) history and definition of the two games...

Once upon a time there was a game called rugby, a game which differed from nancyball in that you were allowed to pick up the ball and run with it in rugby rather than have to kick it with your feet all the time, fall over and pretend to be mortally injured as happens every three minutes in nancyball.

In rugby your opponent was allowed to tackle you by whatever means he found fit, and grapple you to the floor in an attempt to wrest the ball from your grasp, in doing so all of his team mates were allowed to join in the wresting of the ball and all of your team mates were allowed to join in to de-wrest the ball and retain possesion for themselves - crossing a line at both ends of the pitch was the way to score points.

Are you with me so far ?

In 1895 a group of rugby teams in the north of england petitioned the English Rugby Union to allow their players to recieve compensation for lost wages, something that was strictly against the rules of the game and the rules of Victorian fortitude - games were for enjoyment and not for profit.

And here is where the good old class system of the British Isles joins the fray - the English Rugby Union was based in the south of England and many of its member clubs were connected or related to the fee paying schools of the toff class that were prevelant in the south at that time, players of their clubs were generally financially supported by fathers allowance from the family estate and they were quite able to play at any time without worrying about losing a days pay from their employer, as they didn't have one.

On the other hand the clubs in the north doing the petitioning were in the mill towns and relied upon working class grafters for their playing staff - playing games on a saturday meant taking a day off work and losing one sixth of your pay, and if your full pay only just kept you off the breadline ("breadline" being a quite literal metaphor) then losing one sixth of it every week with the threat that t'gaffer would replace you if you took too many saturdays off, was unacceptable.

So the split occured, the clubs in the north of England became The Northern Union and eventually The Rugby Football League (Rugby League) and allowed members to make "broken time payments". In order to do this those clubs had to generate an income and it wasn't too long before rule changes came into force to make the game more attractive to spectators who would then pay money to watch the game, which in turn went in the players pockets - all the time that this was going on the southern (Union) clubs kept to the original gameplan and remained strictly amatuer, although "expenses" were eventually allowed and these "expenses" could sometimes reach epic proportions resulting in the saying in the 1960's that the only difference between Union and League clubs was that the League players declared their income for taxation purposes.

In recent years the sham of Union players purporting to be amatuer was discontinued and their players were finally allowed to draw a wage from the game, both games were now fully professional at their respective top tier leagues but both codes of the game were by now completely different, Rugby League having evolved into a spectator sport where the ball is visible to the viewer at all times, where tackles are made and the ball immediately recycled into play again, its a game played at speed with tactics that are deliberately simple to understand and partake of.

Rugby Union has retained much of the original game before the 1895 split, only a part of the game involves running with the ball and much is made of the "ruck", a period of the game after a tackle has been made and players of both sides grapple on the floor and attempt the wrest the ball from their opponents, its not extremely viewer friendly to the casual observer and many things that go on inside the ruck are penalised without the viewer seeing or understanding why the penalty has been given - still, its supporters point to the ruck as one of the sports great assets and vigourously resist any attempts to clean up the rolling around on the floor bits.

So there you have it.
Two different games
Played on the same pitch
With the same ball
And similar, but not identical, rules.

And I enjoy watching both
I'm in a minority as most supporters of one of the codes do not enjoy the other
But I do, so there

Today it was the turn of the Leeds Tykes to take on a team by the strange name of The Earth Titans, an example of why clubs should allow themselves to be totally dictated to by sponsors - for "Earth Titans" read Rotherham, its not as glamorous but then "Earth Titans" fools no-one, we know that Rotherham is not glamorous.

Rotherham won, but Leeds were already promoted to the Premier division two weeks ago so the result counted for nought, what did count though was the fact that my nephew Ben was playing in the half time entertainment junior league game, a 15 minute exhibition of "tag rugby" (I won't confuse you any further, this is another form of rugby for youngsters), what Ned (his dad, my brother) didn't explain as that 24 other junior teams were doing the exhibition too so at the half time interval we were treated to over 200 seven and eight year olds running in all directions all over the pitch in something like a dozen games of tag rugby - the kids seemed to know what they were doing anyway.

It was fantastic to see and at the end of the game when The Leeds Tykes were presented with their trophy for winning their league, all 200 kids were invited onto the pitch to join in the celebrations with them and have official commemorative photos taken with the players who spent the best part of half an hour sharing their glory with shitloads of ankle biters, all of whom will never forget the day when they played rugby on the Headingley pitch and then celebrated with the players - something that you will never see in nancyball where the players are jealously guarded from the public to the extent where they start to believe their own hype and disappear up their own arses.

So a weekend of two rugby games, two different codes of rugby but two very enjoyable games nevertheless.

Life is good sometimes.

No comments: