The extraordinary lengths some fans will go to in order to support their club deserves a bit of recognition.
“I’m off to The Shay to give them Kieren Moss’ wage for the month.”
That’s the parting comment at the end of a fascinating hour with Halifax fan Jamie Gray, the first inductee into Rugby League World’s ‘Most Dedicated Fans’ alumni.
Visually, Jamie’s commitment to his beloved club is obvious. Tattoos on his left leg of Halifax players Will Sharp, Ben Johnston and Scott Murrell make him stand out above the rest.
“It all started when I had a bet with my mate at the Summer Bash,” he told RLW.
“He said we’d get hammered at Summer Bash against Featherstone. So I said if we win he had to pay for a Will Sharp tattoo on my leg. I’m that mad anyway I wasn’t bothered. Once I had one I couldn’t stop there so the next game I got Jinky on me. Now I’ve got Murrell on there and there’s talk that Steve Tyrer will be going on next. It will become a leg sleeve.
“I like it, the players love it, they think I’m mad but I think Rugby League needs a bit of fun and madness.”
But what really sets this heavily-inked man apart is his incredible effort to help his club create a movement currently evident in and around the town of Halifax.
Last year, Jamie set up and independent supporters group called LS28.
“I was dragged up to Thrum Hall as a kid, wind and snow,” he explained.
“I moved abroad when I was 18 and lived there for six years. I started going back down to The Shay and I noticed that it was like a morgue.
“I looked around and there was no presence at all. Nobody was enjoying themselves, there was no presence at the ground, there were no juniors there, no atmosphere. I knew something had to happen because it was depressing going to the games.
“I started LS28 off, I live in Leeds and that’s my postcode. I thought it was quirky and just done as a bit of a laugh really. I got a massive 30 foot Halifax flag done with LS28 on the bottom. We eventually got more flags done and people started noticing and I figured we could make a change. It was just a non-event, so I thought we could either sit there and let it fade off or do something about it.
“Eventually four or five us started throwing £20 each into a pot every week and we used it to promote the club. We were doing junior ticket giveaways, we bought a season ticket and did a junior competition.
“Then, we realised we could help the club by funding player signings.
“We started the Player Promo scheme where people can come in at anything from £5 a month to some who pay £80/£90 a month. All that money goes into an official account. As of speaking, we have 157 members and every penny that goes in there helps fund players, keeping them at the club and bringing them in and also helping promote the club
“That’s when QLT came along and it sparked it all off. We paid his wages.”
The Player Promo fund currently pays for Moss’ wages and there are plans for the scheme to have a much larger impact as more fans get on board.
It was at this point that the club’s support base truly got behind the concept. The introduction of flags, a drummer and junior-focused schemes helped build an atmosphere. The group set up a base for fans to have parties before and after games at a local pub. What started with a handful of supporters going to celebrate evolved into 300 fans and players packing the place out when they secured a top-four finish. Let me tell you, it was quite the party.
But while Jamie is already going above and beyond with his contribution at the head of the supporters group, he has also spent a small fortune doing things off his own back.
“We found out the players were due to travel down to the London game on the day so we paid for them to stay over.
“It cost the best part of £1,600 between me and a mate.
“You do it through blind faith and for the love of the club. When you see yourself making a difference it doesn’t matter.
“I haven’t thought about how much money I’ve put in but it would be frightening if I figured it out. People tell me I’m mad, but the feeling when you win, there’s nothing like it. If I wasn’t making a difference I wouldn’t carry on.”
But of all of Jamie’s work, perhaps his biggest achievement has been strengthening the relationship between the club, the players and the fans.
There’s an undoubted feel-good factor at The Shay and within the town at the minute. A buzz lingering that hasn’t been felt for some time. It’s helping to awake the sleeping giant of a club.
“I said at the start of the season you have to make people feel special to want to work for you. The players aren’t working for me but they are on the pitch playing for us every week.
“We put a crate of beer on for the players regardless of the result or how they play. If you do things like that, the players will get on the coach and see what the fans are doing for them.
“I think they massively appreciate it, they come to us now and ask if there’s anything they can do for us. That was one of the things badly missing and is at other clubs, a connection between the players and the fans.
“I’ve not seen it like this since the Blue Sox era when the place was bouncing with the likes of Umaga and Tuilagi in. Kids in Halifax should have posters of James Saltonstall and Dan Fleming on their walls, not of Manchester United or Leeds Rhinos players. If you can do that they start to feel a part of it all.
“The players love it, when you’re a part-time player and they’re singing your name and have flags and banners for you, most Super League and NRL clubs don’t have that. They feel ten feet tall.”
Fax, without question, is a club on the up. That not only excites Jamie but has left him contemplating what else he can do… namely in the shape of tattoos.
“If we went up it would have to be something special. I’ve nothing on my back so I’d probably get the full team on my back. My favourite team was ’98 but that’s coming back. The players are unbelievable. The whole of Halifax is buzzing.
“The town needs waking up, there’s a team down there at the minute that’s surpassing almost anything done down at Thrum Hall. Money gets you everything, but Halifax are the exception.”