9. Slight Detour on the Road to Hell

Apologies from the mysterious hacker known only as Spotty Derek. There’s been no correspondence between Crispin St Claire and Nigel Wood for him to “liberate” this month as apparently Crispin’s been too busy. The following article from Oi You magazine (the South Atlantic’s slightly more aggressive answer to Hello magazine) might explain why.


First published in Rugby League World, Issue 439 (Nov 2017)

Delores Dubois finds much to enjoy at Rugby League’s showcase occasion: the Rowton-Wattlesborough Cup final

What Cannes is to film and the Great Yorkshire Show is to humungous novelty cows, the Rowton-Wattlesborough Cup final is to Rugby League; it’s the big one, the main event, an occasion that demands your attention like a toddler running round with his pants on his head crying “look at me, look at me”.

It was held, as always, at Hell Island’s Judith Chalmers’ Memorial Stadium. It’s of course now over 60 years since the South Atlantic Rugby League took the fateful decision to take the final away from the game’s heartlands to the virgin territory of Hell Island – a move with one foot in grand plans for expansion, another in avoiding the annual argument over where to hold the final. Ever since then fans have made the annual pilgrimage down the M666 to what is billed as the Greatest Sporting Event South of the Azores.

For many, the day begins at Conway Twitty service station, where a kaleidoscope of different coloured shirts mix happily to complain about the queue for the toilets and the cost of a Cornish pasty – without the use of tear gas and water cannon sadly so familiar from rival sporting events such as the Doom Island Golf Open.
This carnival atmosphere continues at the stadium itself with dancing girls, fireworks and martial music from the Marching Band of the 23rd Mounted Deserters. So much so that it almost seems an act of discourtesy to note that in recent years it has all gone downhill once the match has kicked off – the game itself being a drab encounter between the Bard Island Buccaneers and the Bard Island Barracudas. Well not this year!

The Barracudas went out in the semis and a new team has taken their place – the Bard Island Barnacles under the inspirational leadership of player-coach Colin Hitler.

It is fair say that in the world of South Atlantic Rugby League the Barnacles are also rans – the last time they appeared in a final George Formby provided the pre-match entertainment – but Hitler has transformed them into genuine contenders and they’ve won many fans with their “chuck it about and see what happens” style of play. However the odds were still against them, not only because of the Buccaneers’ much greater big match experience but also because of the presence on the field of the Barnacles’ bête noir – controversial referee Dave “Mad Dog” Pulverbatch.

Although Pulverbatch was recently cleared of accusations of bias in favour of the Buccaneers (who are coincidentally owned and run by members of his family), the Barnacles had hoped that a different match official would be appointed, not least because of a run in with Mad Dog just last month when Colin Hitler himself was placed on report for smelling suspiciously of Pagan Man aftershave. Thankfully the judicial panel accepted Colin’s explanation that he was “too rugged for aftershave” but had accidentally sprayed himself with his wife’s Charlie perfume thinking it was fly spray and then in order to get rid of the smell had scrubbed himself down with a mix of Toilet Duck and Vim – hence the offending smell.

However after kick-off it seemed that the final was sadly reverting to type; a succession of penalties pegged the Barnacles into their own half before “Wiggy” Pop, the Toupeed Tornado, was controversially sin binned for “looking like Elton John”. Although the remaining 12 men defended manfully the inevitable happened when the Buccaneers’ Tongan international La’ti Makiarto scored a spectacular try just before half time.

However the drama was only just beginning – retiring to his changing room for his orange segments Mad Dog slipped on bar of soap, and ended up with concussion, tennis elbow and a double hernia. Hearing the commotion his two linesmen, husband and wife team Mike and Bernice Winters rushed to his aid, slipped on the same bar of soap and suffered very similar injuries. As all three left the stadium in the back of an ambulance, the South Atlantic Rugby League were left with no match officials midway through their show piece final.

Thankfully linesmen were soon found; The Buccaneers’ mascot Jolly Roger the Friendly Pirate volunteered to swap his cutlass for a flag, while Gaye Village, head of the Barnacles cheerleaders, the Spicy Scallops, offered to take the other wing as it would be better than “hanging around freezing her pom-poms off waiting for someone to actually score”. They were still short of a referee though. Acton “Blind Owl” Beauchamp, the octogenarian third official did offer to come out of retirement but it was decided that his motorised wheel chair would churn up the pitch too much. But then cometh the moment cometh the man.

Tall and good looking in a way that reminds you of a young Benedict Cumberbatch (but not as common) Crispin St Claire is one of the English Rugby League’s top officials. On secondment to the South Atlantic he was attending the match as Ball Operative (second reserve) and spying the developing crisis put up his hand; as part of his History of Art degree at Hull University, he had taken its fabled Rugby League as Performance Art module and become a fully qualified Rugby League referee. Perhaps he could help? After reassuring the SARL that he would neither strip naked, paint himself bright blue nor communicate solely through the medium of dance, he was given the lilac shirt.

They say that that sign of a good referee is how little you notice him; if that is the case Crispin did a perfect job (later on social media it was claimed that he been supplied with a whistle with no pea in it). In contrast to the first half, the second was free flowing and exciting. Buccaneers’ tries by Mary, Mungo and Midge were balanced by Barnacles efforts from Schnapp, Krackel and Pop. With seconds to go however the Buccaneers were still clinging onto a two point lead when Colin Hitler himself intercepted a loose pass to run the length of the field to score under the posts. As his team rushed to give him congratulations and the paramedics rushed to give him oxygen, Crispin blew his whistle and the Barnacles had won an historic victory. Hitler’s efforts won him the much coveted Bob Todd Trophy but for me it was Crispin St Claire who was man of the match.

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