The Headingley Experience

Martyn Sadler
Martyn Sadler

Visiting Headingley on Friday night to see the World Cup was a wonderful experience, and not just because the New Zealand team gave us a great exhibition of exciting Rugby League.
At half-time they were leading 40-0, and their performance would make the Australians and the English sit up and take notice, with Sonny Bill Williams going over for three first-half tries.
But it wasn’t just the players who caught my attention.
As both teams left the pitch, it was taken over by what seemed to be hundreds of children either playing Rugby League or taking part in the viral dance that has been so strongly promoted in this tournament.
There were two teams of under-9s or under-10s from eight different junior clubs in each of the four corners of the pitch, all looking as though they could be playing for England in the World Cup that will no doubt take place in 2025.
And in the centre of the pitch, between the 40 metre lines, were lots of children showing us how well they have picked up the essence of the World Cup dance.
It was a terrific event, and the enormous Headingley crowd really seemed to enjoy it, almost as much as they enjoyed shouting for Papua New Guinea in the second half of the game.
And it had all been organised not by Leeds Rhinos, but by Leeds City Council.
The real masterstroke of the World Cup organisation was to ask local authorities to bid to host World Cup games.
Every game was allocated to a venue whose local authority had made a successful bid.
The local authority in Leeds has really grasped the nettle, putting its whole organisation on red alert to ensure that its hosting of World Cup games would be a great success, ably assisted, of course, by the Rhinos.
It has got the World Cup message into the community in a variety of ways, and inspired a number of World Cup related events.
For example, Rugby League is currently featuring in an art exhibition at Leeds Town Hall to celebrate the World Cup coming to Leeds. It will run until 16 November. The artist is Mandy Long, and her work is principally ceramic sculptures. I don’t know how many League Express readers habitually visit art exhibitions, but you should give this one a try.

First published in League Express, Monday 11th Nov 2013