The Self-Isolation Chronicles: Widnes Vikings

1. They attempted to sign Darren Lockyer and Tim Sheens in 2011.

Following their return to Super League in 2011, chairman Steve O’Connor and Director of Rugby Paul Cullen were on a mission to return Widnes to their former glory. And quickly. They made a tentative approach for recently retired Australia skipper Darren Lockyer, but couldn’t convince him back into the sport. He admitted he seriously considered the offer, however, with the club also making a first attempt to bring Tim Sheens to the club. While he was coaching Wests and Australia, they tried to lure a 60-year-old Sheens over to Widnes. He even met Cullen in Australia and was, by own admission, close to accepting the offer. He would go on to win the World Cup with the Kangaroos in 2015, taking the long route to the Vikings, before eventually becoming their coach at the start of this year.

2. Tim Sheens took one final training session with the Kangaroos before leaving Australia.

Sheens had one final desire before leaving the Australia national team to become Salford Red Devils Director of Rugby in 2015, coach a Kangaroos training session. Not the national team, however, the Campbelltown City Kangaroos. The club held a special place in the heart of Sheens, after he started his coaching career there as assistant in 1983 and came out of retirement to captain the club to the Group 6 premiership that season. He would become the first-grade coach of Penrith Panthers, just a year later, in a rapid career trajectory. Hench forth, the four-time NRL Premiership winning coach had one final wish before he left for Salford: coach the Kangaroos. He took charge of an U18s, reserve and first-grade training session for a fairy-tale finish.

3. They ground-share with an American Football team.

Widnes Vikings’ DCLB Stadium, known previously as Halton Stadium, Naughton Park and Lowerhouse Lane, also hosts home games for both Everton and Liverpool Ladies and local football side Widnes FC. But perhaps the most intriguing tenant to grace the infamous iPitch comes in the form of American Football side Halton Spartans. The gridiron club were formed in 2014 and currently play in the NFC Division 2 Central in the American Football pyramid in the UK. Their playing roster currently contains a defensive back by the name of Dough Laughton (we’re sure it’s not the 75-year-old ex-Vikings coach) and defensive lineman Matthew Smith (the Christian name for Matty Smith, but we doubt this is a dual-registration move gone mad).

4. One of their players’ sons went on to play for Atlético Madrid.

Lambeth-born Brimah Kebbie began his Rugby League career at Widnes in 1988 and exploded onto the scene as a clinical winger, earning a move to St Helens in 1991. Kebbie would later feature for Huddersfield in two spells, either side of a successful stint at Bradford Northern in which he was part of the side to finish runner-up to Wigan in the 1993-1994 season, and finished his career at Saracens in 1996. Two years earlier his son Elliot was born, beginning his journey as one of the country’s biggest young football prospects. He featured in the Leeds United Academy set-up and earned plaudits from almost all of the top clubs all around Europe. A trial with Barcelona followed and, although he was unable to earn a contract with the Catalan club, he joined Spanish giants Atlético Madrid. However, in a sad twist of fate while on loan at Scottish club Rangers, Kebbie was diagnosed with Esptein-Barr virus, a condition that saw him lose three stone in two months, left him in a wheelchair and ruled him out of the game for 18 months. That, partnered with subsequent depression, curtailed the footballing career of the now clubless 25-year-old, who saw his career fizzle out with spells at: Hull City, Brighouse Town, Salford City, Bradford Park Avenue, Barnsley, Norwegian side Sandefjord and most recently Billericay Town.

5. Keith Elwell holds the Rugby League record for consecutive games.

Widnes stalwart Keith Elwell, the club appearance record holder with 591 games, set a remarkable record in 1982. He played a staggering 242 games in a row for the club, starting from the 1976-77 Challenge Cup final against Leeds on 7th May 1977 and ending with a game against Hull FC on 26th September. This was a massive 5 years, 4 months and 19 days later, with a mammoth amount of minutes to earn him the accolade as the ultimate evergreen. Over a 16-year career with the club, from 1970 to 1986, he was part of the side dubbed the ‘cup kings’ and along with Eric Hughes was the only man to feature in all 7 of the 10 Challenge Cup final appearances between 1975 and 1984. Elwell helped Widnes win the cup four times in that period, 1975, 1979, 1981 and 1984 and was a three-time Premiership winner as well with wins in 1980, 1982 and 1983 in a dominant spell for Widnes.