Saturday, July 12, 2014
Rugby League News

Secret Speccie

Secret Speccie

Are Rugby League grounds fit for purpose? In 2011, Rugby League World kicked off a series of features to find out. Now you can read them all here on TotalRL.com.

The Reports

Who is Secret Speccie?

Our reporter has been a professional sportswriter for nearly 20 years and has written about Rugby League for the trade press and national newspapers. He has written books about the game and reported on it for radio. You are as likely to see Secret Speccie at an amateur or youth game as at an international or Super League match. He has watched Rugby League in eight countries and from the press box, the directors box, the stand, the terrace, the hill, the dug-out and even the wing!

The Background Story
(First published in Rugby League World, Issue 365 (Sept 2011)

Over twenty years ago, the Rugby League Supporters Association (RLSA) carried out an extensive survey of Rugby League grounds, prompted by the enforcement of the Taylor Report following the Hillsborough disaster in 1989.
All 14 top flight clubs were visited, with Sheffield’s brand new Don Valley stadium coming out on top with 83%, streets clear of second place Knowsley Road on 51% which was the only other ground to gain over half the available marks. Bottom on 21% was Oldham’s condemned Watersheddings.
Twenty years on, only six of the 14 grounds surveyed are still used in Super League, including Saints’ temporary home at a now unrecognisable Naughton Park.
The survey results were an eye-opener, a reminder of how grim things had got for fans of Rugby League (and football) in that period. Most grounds didn’t have a public bar, covered terracing was rare, wooden seats were crammed into low-roofed stands and only the brave used the toilets. At the time, the RFL declared 83% of First Division grounds to be ‘satisfactory’. The RLSA dismissed that as ‘blind complacency’ and made 11 recommendations for improvements. Few – if any – of those were in place two years later, when a second mammoth survey was completed, this time taking in every pro ground.
The RLSA stressed they were ‘evaluating facilities not atmosphere’ and consequently some of the league’s smallest clubs fared better than the likes of Oldham (again) and Halifax, who were both among the big boys then. They concentrated their criticism on the gaping lack of facilities for the disabled and young children; issues that have since been addressed by our clubs through both legal necessity and moral obligation. Don Valley remained top ‘despite problems over the distance from the pitch, lack of a bar and its relatively steep admission charges of £6/£4’.
There were no pies on sale at Central Park, home of the Pie Eaters, though the reviewers loved the ambience up the road at Chorley’s Victory Park, which reminded them of a bowling green. Seeing Huddersfield down in 29th place overall at Fartown merely reiterates the modern day miracle of the Giants.
It is indicative of the changing attitudes of our clubs – or rather fans no longer tolerating sub-human conditions – that of the 14 Division One grounds in 1993, five have moved to new stadiums, three more are hoping to, and all the others have either rebuilt their ground or are in the process of doing so.
By 1996 you would think the top clubs at least would have got their houses in order for the launch of Super League. However a third RLSA survey revealed a depressingly familiar scene. This time the winner was overseas; the Charlety Stadium, home of Paris Saint Germain pipping Huddersfield’s brand new McAlpine Stadium and London Broncos’ temporary home at Charlton Athletic. Don Valley stadium again fared well along with a trio of grounds outside Super League: Hunslet, Keighley and Featherstone.
The fact that the survey was obsessed with food and toilets – some of which were indistinguishable – tells you how archaic many facilities still were.
Some of the comments made about our now long-lost grounds were truly depressing: the true state of them by the birth of ‘summer rugby’ bore little resemblance to the romanticised nostalgic pictures we painted in our memories. Of the grounds we are about to visit again, Hull KR’s Craven Park was “starting to wear” despite its youth and Headingley was “past its sell-by date” and “left behind” with “uncomfortable seats, disgraceful toilets, crumbling concrete” and a “scary passage” in the South Stand.
Castleford was considered a “good traditional ground” with “friendly, welcoming people” but “needs modernisation” and “doesn’t lend itself to Super League”.
So what has changed? Our ‘Secret Speccie’ will be visiting 14 Super League grounds to find out, assessing the ground, the experience as a visitor and value for money. Wish them luck!