We always planned to have a weekly blog of both serious work related stuff and a slightly less serious sharing of what has been going on.
Well after 14 months of being in business we have finally got around to some action and this will be updated weekly.
The latest is published below, you can find the archive on the menu bar to the left of this text, or if you are really lazy click here
Blog 1: Dentist Terror and Social Norms
Blog 2: The Undergorund Economy of Greater Manchester - part 1
This blog was originally written in 2013 for publication in Ireland.
A few folk have asked to read it again so please find it in full below, hope you enjoy.
As an avid Rugby League fan this month has seen my work productivity rapidly diminish as England, Wales, France and Ireland hosted games in the 2013 Rugby League World Cup. The tournament (older than its Rugby Union counterpart by 33 years) is the first to be held on these shores since the 2000 event (due to rail crashes, the worst rain in fifty years and a bizarre choice of venues) struggled to ignite the public.
Rather than tread the easy ground of reporting on the stadium record crowds, fantastic Rugby League and upsets galore, I instead will share my experiences at four events as they happened.
Game Day 1: Ireland v Fiji – Spotland Stadium, Rochdale
Spotland is a tidy ground holding around 9000. The organisers had hoped for a crowd of around 6000 but as the game drew nearer and spurred on by the games at Cardiff and Warrington the crowd ended up being capacity – what a result!
We parked at Hopwood Hall College around one and a half miles from the ground. As is traditional in Rochdale my friend and I ensured we had the customary bottle of cider to walk to the game with (showing that I have moved up in the world this was Cidre as opposed to anything with lightning in the title). After a choice encounter with a kebab shop owners dog that I fear may be on the spit at the time of writing we arrived at a buzzing Spotland.
The Fijian presence in the crowd was huge; some local, some had travelled from afar cheering on the Bati. We had decided to stand, mainly as we are cheapskates and the tickets were a fiver! After consuming a very suspicious looking hotdog that was the length of my arm the teams were ready to come out, the music was pumping and the fireworks were set off and the gladiators entered the arena only to be interrupted by the tannoy ‘could the owner of a range rover registration number …………’ the crowd were aghast ‘a range rover in Rochdale, whose could it be?’ normality was resumed shortly after when the next announcement was for a Vauxhall Cavalier.
Anyway talking over, now time for the action – almost. The Fijians before the game huddle in a circle and sing a prayer, whilst not a religious, this was incredibly moving. Faith is very important to this team however any general niceties were soon removed when the Fijians kicked off and took it upon themselves to break people, literally (but legally).
The poor Irish – they pretty much had any life and spirit smashed out of them by the big men in white – the crowd very much on the side of the Fijians cheered with every hit. The experience of the Fijians, many of whom are playing in the NRL shone through and they assembled a reasonable lead by half time.
Half time (and after another suspicious hot dog, which were now growing on me) the RLWC put on its show they have called ‘the viral dance’ – which begged the question when does something become viral? Can you claim it by putting it in the title or does it need to go viral before it is viral? Top comment of the day came from an older gentleman after someone said ‘these dancers are rubbish’ he then said ‘don’t be knocking them, they’re ill’ we all felt a little embarrassed assuming he knew something about the dancers, it later turned out he didn’t quite understand the meaning of the term viral!
The second half followed the same way as the first, the Fijians had a bit more quality and the Irish were lacking a little bit of match awareness. A couple of late Irish tries made the score line a respectable 32-14 and meant the boys in green would have some positives to take to their showdown against England.
The Fijians and Irish teams formed a circle at the end and said a prayer together and then every single player walked around the crowd and shook anyone’s hands that wanted to, big money NRL stars were genuinely humbled saying ‘thanks for coming out’
All in all a wonderful night. As we walked back to the car my friend said to me ‘I really feel part of this World Cup’ roll on Saturday and Huddersfield
Food: Enormous Hot Dog
High point: Ashton Simms smashing Brett White
Crowd: Capacity 8872
Star of the Show: People of Rochdale
Game Day 2: England v Ireland – John Smiths Stadium, Huddersfield
Rochdale was wonderful and I had high hopes for another great day out in my favourite northern town, Huddersfield.
Huddersfield is the birthplace of Rugby League and arriving on the train the beautiful town square is home to the George Hotel when those clubs famously broke away to form the Northern Union.
The game had sold out about two weeks prior (the stadium has never ever sold out before) so we were expecting a great occasion, the fact our tickets said row A did ring some alarm bells but it had its benefits.
We arrived into Huddersfield at 12.30 for a 2.30 kick off, as is traditional in Huddersfield we were heading to the gas club – a wonderfully ‘real’ venue. However, the word on the grape vine was it was a one in one out scenario, unheard of. Instead we went to another pub which was jam packed. There was something that felt quite illegal about the live satellite feed from the Premier League game and its always a tell-tale sign when the TV is round the corner and speaking in Russian. Fortunately, they had some decent ales on so it was game on. Three Hob Goblins later we set out to the John Smith’s stadium which although nearly twenty years old is a fine looking stadium which holds around 25,000, the ground is five minutes’ walk from town and more importantly thirty seconds from the gas club.
Unfortunately, the rumours were true and the gas club was full, so we walked into the stadium. By now onto Guinness we were disappointed that the ‘mega’ burger did not meet the expectations we had set for it, maybe those Rochdale Hot Dogs have set the bar too high!
Row A was as we suspected Row A, but it did mean we were close to the action and also meant that the cheerleaders clad in fish nets and a general look of cold misery about them were never more than four feet away – every cloud!
A quick go on Paddy Power backing England to win by 44+ and we were ready to go. England were electric for the first half and blew the Irish away. I felt smug as I pretty much knew I had covered the handicap in my bet barring a simultaneous Irish resurgence and English collapse. On a sporting note Ryan Hall must be the finest winger in either code of Rugby, strong as an Ox and can bend round corner flags like no other man I have met (not sure how many men I have asked to do this but it’s definitely a few!)
Half time- and the big question was would we see the fabled viral dance? Yes of course we would, I’m still not convinced and to further show the ‘viral’ nature of the dance the screens were showing the official video which seemed a bit bizarre, call me old fashioned but put a junior game on the pitch at half time for me.
As the second half got underway I was unwillingly given the task of hiding the bottle of vodka that one of our contingent brought in as I have ‘big feet’. Three more guinness’s (is the plural guinnei?) and as feared and almost guaranteed by the fact I had put money on it, the Irish defence toughened up and the English forgot how to score. The game finished 42-0 which although seems a blow-out was a credit to the Irish lads many of whom are part time players up against what can only be described as monsters!
Again the players came around the ground to say thanks and we were off – I know what you are thinking and yes we did get into to the gas club for a few more pints and pie and peas before the walk back up to the station. The Head of Steam at Huddersfield station is one of great pub with a huge range ales so a couple in here would be a perfect end to a great day . As has happened so many times though an innocent IPA leads to a tour of ales and although I managed to be on the seven thirty train back to Greenfield I knew I would regret it!
When arriving home I must have been a little worse for wear as I sat through the entire xfactor and I was told I enjoyed it, this has presented me with a strategy for surviving the xfactor in the future.
Food: not quite ‘Mega’ Burger and pie and peas
High point: Stadium Record Crowd in Rugby League’s home town
Crowd: Capacity 24,375
Game Day 2: Tonga v Cook Islands – Sports Village, Leigh
Before the tournament kicked off this was the game I had picked out as the most likely to have a ‘bit of biff’
Leigh sports village has to be one of the best looking 10,000 capacity ‘new’ stadiums I have been to. Three seated stands in Leigh colours and one standing terrace behind the sticks. Following northern rules we were standing behind the sticks again (a fiver per ticket with a discount code – great value).
Knowing Leigh and the parking scenario, my contingent decided to park at a nearby car park and walk to the ground. After a long day at work I had to get changed in the car on arrival. As an ear to the ground Northerner I am very aware that this particular car park is well known for certain activities at night time which involve cars, strangers and certain sequences of lights flashing – this presented a getting changed dilemma. To combat this I attempted to change in a queue of traffic outside of town, as with all incidents like this it was doomed to failure and on arrival at the car park I was without shirt and looked suspicious, the guy in charge of parking said the immortal line ‘the rugby’s on tonight mate so it’ll be a bit busy’ I don’t think he was convinced I was there for the game.
I was taking my Ulsterman brother in law to his first live game on the promise of a bit of biff and he met us prior to kick off – again the crowd filled the stadium and as with all the game I have attended it was a stadium record crowd, brilliant.
Two war dances followed which is always good to get in the mood, both teams were under pressure to get a win as Tonga had lost to Scotland and the Cook Islanders were beaten by the USA in their first games.
Fui Fui Moi Moi had let his full hair out so apart from blocking large sections of the pitch from view it was easy to pick out the guy who is one of the toughest and most entertaining around.
The teams then served up a true feast of beautiful end to end Rugby league, for the spectator it was a treat, both teams promoted the ball, scored tries, knocked people over. However, the biff was very much lacking and although it was tough it never boiled over – I suppose we should credit both teams with playing a controlled game. A little bit of me was slightly disappointed I had been served a beautiful steak dinner cooked to perfection and I really wanted pie and chips!
A very even first half finished 18-16 to Tonga and then just on cue the viral dance took over the pitch, again there was much criticism from the terraces especially as the protagonists despite the dance being viral didn’t seem to know it!
Thankfully the second half followed quickly and the game got very interesting, the Cook Islanders were throwing everything at the Tongans and should have come away with at least a draw but they were unable to catch the Tongans. Despite crossing the line with the ball and only needing to let gravity do its thing to score Rapana managed to drop the ball meaning Tonga would live to fight another day, (though they did not fight once!)
As has been customary all the players came round to say hello and pose for pictures.
Another superb game, superb crowd and after a quick walk (where the car park attendant didn’t seem to recognise me clothed) it was time to head home
Food: Morrisons low fat chicken sandwich (bad)
High point: Fui Fui Moi Moi’s hair
Crowd: Capacity 10,544
Star of the Show: Car park attendant showing the inclusive nature of life in Leigh
Unexplained fact: Why does every man in Leigh have a big bunch of keys? There can’t be that many locks.
Game Day 4: Big Hit Semi Finals, England v New Zealand, Australia v Fiji – Wembley
I had Christmas ‘seven sleeps to go’ syndrome for this one, what a day, Wembley, hospitality, Rugby League x2 brilliant!
Wembley is truly a piece of art as a staidum, looks beautiful, feels like a modern building when inside and away from the riff raff! and just screams heritage.
In hospitality I got to meet two of my heroes in Andrew Johns and Brad Fittler who were entertaining the Rugby League glitterati which as always includes some people from Emmerdale and your man from Morse who is now in Lewis (I think he is Lewis but didn’t like to ask). One notable absentee was Gordon Burns from the Krypton Factor who has been at every hospitality event I have ever been to. It was also great to see the 1972 GB World Cup winners including Sky TV’s Stevo.
Everything was free, beer, wine, coffee, food, everything. After eating as much as I could and filling my jacket pockets with non-perishables we were told over the speakers that someone would bring our seat tickets around and escort us to the Royal Box. ‘The Royal Box?’ my guest asked, ‘yes of course’ I replied trying to act like this was a regular occurrence for me! One of two things had happened; either I do not give myself credit for how important I am or (and the one I am inclined to believe) there was a major and I mean major administrative error. As someone who believes in cock ups before conspiracies I went along with it and acted natural.
To put this into perspective Stuart Pearce was two rows behind me, your man from Morse was just in front of me, I was pretty happy with how I have been placed in this natural hierarchy.
The free food continued and I ended up with a free woolly hat (it’s the little touches)
The game was out of this world, New Zealand nicking a last second try and conversion to steal the place in the final from the home team; emotional, exciting, exhilarating and ultimately cruel to the 67,000+ who were in the ground. So many little incidents that turn games and the feeling around the ground was similar to that time I got dumped after the girl said ‘you are a bit boring’ - stomach turning.
England were wonderful, the Kiwis just did enough and did it when it mattered. The crowd had seen something incredibly special and I think we will talk about it for a long time. No excuses came from the England team this was not ‘gallant losers’ the players looked deeply hurt.
Sport at its best.
The second game seemed a bit trivial after the emotional rollercoaster , Fiji have provided much of the colour and been part of the great occasions of this world cup and they deserved their semi-final spot. The gulf though between the top three nations and the rest is still very apparent but it is slowly closing.
The Aussies were ruthless and must be one of the great sporting teams of any sport, they rattled away 64 points and although the Fijians had a go they were always on a hiding to nothing.
After the game the sausage rolls were brought out with cakes, so everyone was happy!
Food: Everything, Antipasti, Roast Pork, Cakes, Biscuits, Sausage Rolls, Sandwiches
High point: The England NZ finale, so exciting, cruel and wonderful
Crowd: 67,545 (8th highest international RL attendance ever)
Star of the Show: Rugby League
That’s it so far, all in all match tickets set me back £15 for three games, the good people at Paddy Power have done a little better out of me though!
What a wonderful competition this has been and I have been part of it and it has been a part of me
EDIT: This competition showed a strong market exists for international rugby league, the tournament boasted record crowds both in the heartlands and beyond. It was such a shame the most was not made of the legacy. What happened in places like Bristol, Limerick, London, France and Wales after the event?
England did not even play another game in England for a further two years.
And so we start again.