Farewell to Wakefield Trinity’s East Stand

Former Wakefield MP DAVID HINCHLIFFE, a lifelong supporter of Wakefield Trinity, on an iconic stand that he will sit in for the last time for Sunday’s Super League game against Wigan.

When Wakefield Trinity’s East Stand is finally demolished, shortly after the home game against Wigan on 3 July, it will mark the beginning of the long overdue redevelopment of the Belle Vue ground.

For the game of Rugby League, it will be the end of, arguably, the sport’s most famous backdrop, having featured prominently in the iconic 1960s film, This Sporting Life. But more importantly for many fervent followers of Trinity, it will mean the loss of somewhere very special to our lives.

I started watching Trinity, as a boy, around 1958. Much of my growing up was spent viewing matches from the terrace to the front or side of the old West Stand before becoming a contributor to the noisy youth support emanating from the former South Stand, where the modern hospitality block is now. I ‘graduated’ to the East Stand over 40 years ago, being persuaded to relocate there by a fellow Wakefield councillor. 

My earliest memories of the Stand are of it containing mostly bench seats and it is only in relatively recent times that cushioned seats, with backs, have been provided. It first opened during 1924 as a covered terrace and Mike Rylance’s 2013 history of Trinity notes that it then had a capacity of 8,550  – more than the current ground – of which 5,800 were under cover. Obviously, the later individual seats, alongside stringent ground safety measures, have drastically reduced its capacity. 

Over the years the East Stand has introduced me to numerous Rugby League folk it has been a privilege to know and Mike’s late father, Ronnie – a Trinity Challenge Cup winner in 1946 – was one of the many. I never saw Ronnie play but have early memories of watching both Joby Shaw and Don Froggett, with whom I sat over many years. The late Harold Poynton was a regular companion in the stand and his wife, Kath, still attends most matches. Sitting alongside his successor at number 6, Dave Topliss, I learned more about Rugby League from him than anyone else. He taught me that the key elements of our sport  go way beyond just skills with hands and feet and involve constant, detailed anticipation of your opponents’ options in either attack or defence. Watching matches, Dave was always two, three or more moves ahead of the play. 

Bearing in mind that my formative years were spent watching the great Trinity sides of the 1960s, it has been wonderful that so much of my time in the East Stand has been – and still is – in the company of the likes of Ken Rollin, Geoff Oakes, Ian Brooke and my boyhood hero, Neil Fox, from that era. If there are souvenirs to be taken from the Stand before it comes down, mine would have to be the seat Neil occupied for very many years, just in front of the old press box. But, sadly, its back was broken some time back and, while Neil remains in excellent shape, his seat reminds us that it really is time to move on. 

Saying goodbye to the East Stand will be painful for many of us. But hopefully it marks the end of a long journey during which Trinity have nearly merged with Featherstone and Castleford, considered relocation to Ossett, Sharlston, the Wakefield suburbs of Thornes and Durkar, as well as Newmarket, on the boundary with Leeds. Along with ditching the embarrassing ‘Wildcats’ moniker, those running the club should be warmly commended on finally anchoring the new stadium firmly at the club’s traditional home.  

The challenge now for Trinity supporters of my generation is not just retaining our great memories from the old East Stand but ensuring that we live long enough to sit in the new one.

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