Talking Grassroots: Season of Change

Talking Grassroots Rugby League with Phil Hodgson of League Express

THE COP26 meeting being held in Glasgow is surely the most important gathering in the history of mankind.

Quite a few people would have contested that assertion only a matter of months back but it seems that there is general consensus that climate change is a worrying reality.

A benefit of that is that the quest to counter the threat could actually bring humanity together, united as it now is by a common and very pressing cause.

I’d like to think that my hope in that regard is well-founded – time will tell, I suppose, but there’s no alternative.

What’s all this got to do with amateur Rugby League? I hear you asking.

Well, it’s got a great deal to do with everything, in truth, and our great sport is some way down the list of priorities when compared to the threats, on so many fronts, that climate change poses. Insofar as Rugby League, at least in this country, is concerned, however, I think that one change could be imminent, or at least on the near horizon.

It’s over a quarter of a century ago now since we switched from ‘winter’ to ‘summer’ at professional level; a move that I wasn’t happy about then, and which I’ve never really come to terms with.

Bit by bit the amateur game has followed suit, save for the Student, Colleges and schools arenas, which of course have to stick to term-times and semesters. And, of course, the Pennine League and the Women’s Amateur Rugby League Association have never moved away from the traditional season.

Rarely a week passes without someone confiding in me that the switch was “the worst thing amateur Rugby League ever did”. Occasionally the identity of such lamenters might surprise readers.

Those woes may, in time – possibly sooner rather than later – be eased. As world temperatures rise (and hopefully they won’t, as nations properly address the issue) it may well become impossible to play Rugby League in summer, in which case the sport will have no alternative other than to switch back to winter.

It’s dawned on me as I’m penning this offering that I’m almost hoping for temperatures to keep on rising as a means of fulfilling my desire for winter rugby. On second thoughts, I’d rather temperatures fall, and that summer Rugby League remains the norm. My ideal, though, would be for temperature rises to be kept in check, and in line with what’s needed for the planet to survive as we know it – but that it still gets too warm for us to play in summer.

None of this may affect Wheelchair Rugby League, which is of course played indoors, either way. The topic may still be debated this week in Medway, though, where two Test matches are being played England and France, with a Wheelchair game between England Knights and the Espoirs also taking place.

I had to look up the word ‘Espoirs’ to establish exactly who the Knights will be playing. Espoir is French for ‘hope’, and the title is therefore a nice way of describing players whose ambition it is to become full internationals. I’m sure that that game, on the Friday evening, will be every bit as entertaining as the Tests, which are taking place on Wednesday and Saturday.

The fact that those three games are being played at all is testament to England Wheelchair manager Martin Coyd OBE who, immediately it was announced that the 2021 World Cup was being postponed, pledged to arrange meaningful internationals in their place. Martin has been true to his word – a trait that perhaps goes some way to explaining why he was once honoured by the Queen.

While England and France are playing the Second Test, with the Fassolette-Kielty Trophy at stake, an attractive match will be taking place at Robin Park, Wigan, between a Great Britain All Stars side – with some top partaking players named elsewhere in this issue – and a BARLA Select side. The important ‘Life for a Kid’ charity will benefit, so get along if you can for an entertaining afternoon that should be great value at just a fiver admission.

News of this fixture came my way from the estimable Dave Merrick, who is one of the best referees I’ve come across at amateur level and who is coming out of retirement (sort of, as he’s very busy at Featherstone Rovers) to officiate. Dave is – like so many referees – one of life’s ‘givers’ (I won’t forget easily how much he did for his colleague Martin Bingley, who was blinded in an appalling incident). Dave, as reported in today’s issue, is swimming a mile a day for the Rob Burrow fund. What a bloke! Support him if you can.

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