My Introduction to Rugby League
Bizarrely my introduction to rugby league came when I was nineteen and about to be appointed chief photographer on the Oriana, one of the largest cruise ships in the world. The maiden voyage left the UK in December 1960. We were between Perth and Sydney when a lady came up to me and introduced herself as Russ Pepperell’s mother-in-law. I looked at her in amazement – what on earth did that mean? My family had moved to Huddersfield whilst I was away at sea, I had spent two or three weeks maximum here, but she had read that I was from Huddersfield.
She said: “Russ Pepperell, Fartown.” She could have been talking about a mountain on the moon. This conversation went on for several minutes ... eventually in desperation she said, “You are from Huddersfield aren’t you?” Then I explained that I’d only just moved there.
She explained that she was travelling to Australia to join Russ and her daughter, Barbara, in Manley. She told me that Russ had been captain when Huddersfield had won the Challenge Cup. It didn’t mean a lot to me, but I arranged that we would all meet when we got to Sydney. I arranged to show the whole Pepperell family round the ship, because it was the first time that the Oriana had arrived in Sydney – a very big event.
We formed a really firm friendship. I used to get to Sydney every two or three months and I would buy some steaks and take them up to their house in Manley for a barbecue.
On my first visit to their home I was shown pictures of Russ Pepperell with the Challenge Cup trophy, indeed pictures that I am now incredibly familiar with, but at the time I just looked at and said: “Well, that’s very nice,” to be very polite, but not fully appreciating the significance of a victory like that to the club, to the individuals involved in the team, or to the town as a whole. I now fully appreciate what a momentous event it was.
On a subsequent trip I met Pat Devery and Johnny Hunter, and had the pleasure of showing them and Russell round the ship, finishing off with a few beers in one of the lounges. That would have been 1961-62, and it’s nice to think, now, that I was able to sit with Russ, with Pat Devery and with Johnny Hunter, and just listen to them talking, having a very nice evening indeed. Russ had always spoken so highly of them, and the reality is they were nice people. One of the things I have discovered over the years is that most people who are involved with rugby league, most people who play rugby league, most people who support rugby league are, in fact, nice people.
First Match as Chairman
To go on a January afternoon to Mount Pleasant was anything but pleasant. It was a bitterly cold day. It was absolutely freezing. I was taken down to sit in the seats which were old cinema seats. They had probably seen better days when they were in the cinema. They were bereft of anything that you would call comfort and we sat there in the freezing cold, watching this away game with probably another 600 hardy souls.
As it got colder as the game went on, I hadn’t been as cold as that since delivering newspapers at Filey in the midst of winter. I just kept looking at my watch and thinking, “Oh, 20 minutes to half time, ten minutes to half time, three minutes to half time, thank goodness it’s half time”. The hooter went and I thought, “Well at least now we can go and get warm”.
More fool me. We literally walked about 20 yards to the side of the stand and stood on a piece of concrete, probably 15 feet square, stamping our feet up and down trying to keep warm, and a lady member of the Board obviously recognised my plight and took pity on me and brought me a cup of coffee from the little caravan that they had selling snacks and stuff – at least I believe it was coffee …
it was definitely intended to be coffee, in a little plastic cup. I’m not a coffee drinker, but I literally stood there for the next five minutes or so with my hands shaking, holding this cup and warming my hands on it. Then, lo and behold, the break was over and we were back into the cinema seats for another gruelling 40 minutes of rugby league on the coldest day that I can recall. Whilst I had a coat on and gloves, I certainly wasn’t dressed for the weather.
Now, when I go to an away match, when I think we’re going to be in those types of conditions I wrap up properly for it and find it quite stimulating and enjoyable. So that was my first introduction to rugby league at an away match, and my first match as Chairman.That was a pretty grim day.
This memory was recorded as part of the Huddersfield Rugby League Heritage project www.huddersfieldrlheritage.co.uk.
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Huddersfield Giants v Bradford Bulls March 3rd 2013 is the first Rugby League memories game, raising awareness of dementia.
Memory added on February 19, 2013
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