Talking Grass Roots: Weathering the storm

A regular theme in this column at this time of the year, certainly during the winter era but also following the switch of most amateur competitions to summer, has been the effect of the weather on fixtures.

That would certainly have been the case this time around. Strong snow and frozen pitches around the land would, I imagine, have led to me reflecting on an almost total wipe-out, although now I come to think about it the Covid-19 lockdown has meant that I’m no longer quite the weather-watcher that I usually am, given that matches are not taking place anyway.

Nevertheless, it’s one of the few positives of the pandemic – although a very small one – that fixtures are not being disrupted by frozen pitches and the like. At least players, coaches, administrators and supporters are not being affected by the stop-start impact of the weather – they know where they are, even if it’s not exactly in a great place. Having said that, however, it will be good to get back to the happy days of when the main worry was the temperature.

Many folk are quite busy regardless and not, as I touched on last week, only such as me. Ian Golden and his colleagues at the Wales Rugby League are a prime example.

Golden, the Welsh media manager, emailed me last week with an impressive list of what those folk are getting up to. The launch of a Wheelchair team at Cardiff Blue Dragons is reported on elsewhere today, and there will shortly be a regular Saturday feature (dubbed Skipper Saturday/Captenau Cymru, at celebrating the country’s many great captains as the 2021 World Cup approaches.

A review of past World Cups began last Thursday, and the Wales RL is launching a commemoration of the birthdays of every one of their players to have appeared in a men’s or Wheelchair World Cup for Wales, appearing on the day they were born. St Helens’ Kel Coslett was a typical example last week.

Talking of birthdays, Wigan St Judes are celebrating their 40th anniversary this year – congratulations to all at Parson’s Meadow, who epitomise what amateur Rugby League should be about. On a more sombre note, however, I seem to be receiving more reports than usual about people at the grass roots sadly passing away, and the last week has been no different. Blackbrook player Jordan Welsby tragically died on New Year’s Eve after having been hit by a car on Boxing Day. That fine veteran of the defunct Hull outfit Fenners, Tommy Walker, left us as Christmas beckoned, and last week Keith Hitchiner, who cut his teeth with the Market District Boys Club before playing for a number of teams in the Leeds area – including, I understand, Bisons – passed away at the age of 74. Keith, who was well known to many folk at professional level, having been a real stalwart of Hunslet RLFC, leaves a wife, Joy. His niece Natasha has confirmed that he will be laid to rest on Tuesday 2 February (11.00am) at St Anthony’s Church, Beeston, Leeds (just down from the Tommy Wass pub on Dewsbury Road) followed by burial at Hunslet cemetery at noon.

And, after I’d drafted this column, news came through of the death at work of young Kells player Cameron Taylor in what is yet another absolute tragedy. My commiserations are extended to the families and friends of Jordan, Tommy, Keith and Cameron.

On a happier note, it seems to me that funding for grassroots outfits via the World Cup’s small grants programme is set to break the £1 million mark. The latest list of recipients released by the Rugby Football League reveals that over £780,000 has now been donated, which is tremendous news. The 2021 World Cup may be in some jeopardy because of Covid-19 – hopefully it will survive the impact of the pandemic – but even if it doesn’t the benefits for the sport in this country, thanks to Jon Dutton and his team, have already been enormous.

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