20 Glorious years of Army rugby league


So, British Army rugby league.

Believe it or not, until 20 years ago, the playing of rugby league in the British armed forces was deemed to be illegal. That was until brave members of the armed forces such as Sean Fanning and Damien Clayton alongside the members of the all-party rugby league group that finally allowed the announcement in the Houses of Parliament that the ban on playing the game had been lifted.

And now, twenty years on, and over 20 years since I left the Army, after attending the Sephton memorial trophy and meeting Al Boyle and then Jamie Doig, I found myself taking my seat at the Royal Military academy, Sandhurst to celebrate what is fast becoming the must play game in the services. After meeting up with everyone at the pavilion, and seeing everyone taking the obligatory photo with the legend of the game that is Andy Gregory, we all set about catching up with old friends and making new ones.

Little known fact, Andy was one of the first Army RL coaches.

Little known fact, Andy was one of the first Army RL coaches.

It was due to my former service and the fact I’d written about inter services matches that Major General Richard Semple, president of Army RL had invited me to join over 200 guests from the Army, the RFL and the Political animals to celebrate the liberation of a game that we all loved.

There were two games to play before we headed for dinner, the first of which was supposed to be Combat support services v Combat Support, which in reality meant a mixture of Royal Engineers and Army vets v everyone else.

The Royal Engineers are by far and away the best Corps team in the Army, and at half time, to be told they were losing seemed to stir them into action, however the damage had already been done and the final score of 38-16 left a bitter taste in the mouths of the engineers.

Game two saw the Army VETS take on a team formed of those formed from the political world in the shape of The Political Animals who are a rugby league football club comprising Lords, current and former MPs and Councillors. As the Animals were short a couple of players, they brought in Ikram Butt, former Leeds, Featherstone and England player and founder of the British Asian Rugby association, as well as a couple of players from the Army who were looking just to pull on a shirt and get involved in a game of Masters rugby league. One member of the Animals was 74 years old, and moved with enough pace to outsmart players a lot younger than himself!

However, despite certain media outlets reporting of the game, the match was a close fought affair, with Chris Brown, one of the original Army players scoring for both sides in a 5-4 win for the army.

Greg Mulholland MP, member of the Political Animals RL team

Greg Mulholland MP, member of the Political Animals RL team

After the games, everyone headed back to the lines to get suited and booted to have pre dinner drinks in the Indian Army Memorial room and a photo to commemorate the day.

Once we had all imbibed a couple of gins, it was time to head into the dining room.

Accompanied by the band of the Royal Logistics Corps, we first had a briefing from Major Rich Naivalura (Nav to his friends) on the etiquette of the evening and no matter how much we drank, we were not to heckle the guest speakers or he would be escorting the offending party out of the room…Oddly, no one took him up on his escorting offer!

With the wine flowing, and the band playing in the background, over 200 of us started to swap old army tales of battles both on and off the fields of play. Of those who for whatever reason had been unable to make it for the event, and those lost in the course of battle. As Major General Semple said, Rugby League is the perfect Armed Forces sport. It requires team work, speed of thought and movement, courage and the ability to put others ahead of yourself when needed. As the port arrived, it was time to raise a glass to those who had gone before, and who were no longer with us, some of whom had been instrumental in getting the ban or playing the game in the armed forces overturned.

At the end of the meal, the Army presented the Animals with a framed Army RL shirt and the Animals presented the Army with one of their original playing shirts. The food was simply delicious. I don’t remember the Army Catering Corps ever making my lunch as a humble squaddie look and taste as good as this meal did.

Once the top table had adjourned to the bar, and the beer began to flow in earnest, Andy Gregory auctioned off a signed photo of him leading Great Britain into battle and a ball signed by the entire Wigan Warriors side from last season in aid of Soldiers League, the official charity of Army rugby league and raised a little over £300.

As I crossed the famous old parade ground in the company of Al Boyle and Mike Donnison, chair of Crosfields ARLFC, I could look back on a very memorable day of both rugby and dining. There are not many occasions when I can truly say I’ve been overawed, but finding a cannon next to the parade ground that was taken at Waterloo certainly ranks up there with the best of them. All the way through to the magnificent Indian dining room where we had pre dinner drinks, to the dining room itself, the whole day was inspiring, and reminded me why being a soldier was the best job I ever had.


A very special thanks has to go out to Major Dave Groce, who had managed to organise the entire event whilst also getting ready to take up his new four year posting with his family in Canada. Dave, you will be a very hard act to follow. I’m sure everyone at Army Rugby League will join me in wishing you and your family happy trails in Canada and we hope that we get a replacement who is just as passionate and knowledgeable about the sport as you yourself are.

Animals MOM Chris Brown

Chris Brown. Army Stalwart & try scorer for both sides.

Chris Brown with Mullholland receiving MOM shirt

Chris, receiving his MOM prize.

Dave Groce

The man, the leg end, Dave Groce in full flight.

Animals in silence


On Zak Hardaker…


So, here’s the thing. We all saw Zak Hardaker make those comments live on TV. I’m no lip reading expert, but I do have a deaf aunt who taught me the basics (only got as far as the bottom lip…) so I do have some small ability here. Even my 13 year old sat up and said “Did he just say what I think he said?”

After Castleford were fined £40k for a small section of fans directing homophobic chants towards Gareth Thomas, everyone thought that Rugby League had seen the back of this sort of thing, and certainly, I can’t remember the last time I heard anything like it on the terraces, and I don’t get to spend every game in the luxurious press boxes, I love chatting to the fans of the sport and asking them their opinion of what they have seen, just as much as asking the players and coaches theirs.

Now the RFL have (rightly) taken their time to investigate what was said by Zak, and banned him for 5 matches, I hope that sends the message to other players that this sort of thing will not be tolerated, either on the pitch, or off the pitch. In today’s ever connected social media world, where every little tweet and Facebook comment is avidly poured over by fans of all sides and ages, it’s all the more important for Clubs to take the lead and employ someone to educate players and staff on the use of social media and on their roles within the community. Players for the most part DO understand these responsibilities, and in the heat and passion of a game, sometimes things get said, but its how the players and clubs, and more importantly, the RFL react that counts.

I’m happy to say that in this case, the RFL have been fantastic. They stood back, avoided the kneejerk reaction that some were demanding, investigated it thoroughly and reached a decision that for the most part we can all agree was a fair and reasonable response to what was said. All of this came during the same week that the UK’s first LBGT club had most of their equipment stolen.

All I can say is anyone who thinks that homophobia is rife in our sport should look at how the rugby league family responded to Martin & Stans call for equipment that they could borrow.

We are lucky to be involved in a sport where things like this are a rare occurrence. I hope that Zak takes his punishment like a man, learns from it and comes back stronger, as we need exciting young players who are ready to be role models for both the clubs and the wider community.

First Utility Super League Round 15 preview


We begin our round with the first televised game of the week as Wigan Warriors travel across the Pennines to take on the Huddersfield Giants. Huddersfield Giants are without Wales international forward Craig Kopczak for their home game with champions Wigan.
Winger Jodie Broughton is still missing with the injury he suffered at Magic Weekend, which also kept him out of Friday’s loss at St Helens.
Wigan captain Sean O’Loughlin is back after a month out injured, while full-back Matty Bowen also returns after missing last week’s win at Salford. With Wigan having players starting to return from long term injury, and as the business end of the season appears over the horizon, Mr Wane (Smiler to his mates) will be wanting to make certain that his young guns don’t rest on their laurels, and are fighting for their spot in the squad game in and game out.
The Giants beat Wigan in the opening game of the season at the DW Stadium, courtesy of a hat-trick of tries from winger Jermaine McGillvary.
I see this being a close fought game, with Wigan gaining revenge. Paul Anderson will be looking to see an improvement from his squad, but for me, Wigan will be at least two converted tries too good for the Giants.
Friday sees three games from the First Utility Super League take place, all kicking off at 8pm.
Your live TV game is from the Halliwell Jones as Warrington Wolves take on the Leeds Rhinos.
Warrington’s Ben Westwood begins a three-match suspension after being found guilty of making a dangerous throw against Wakefield on Sunday, whilst another second-rower, Trent Waterhouse, is out with the knee injury he suffered against St Helens at the Magic Weekend.
Super League leaders Leeds welcome Jamie Peacock back from injury. His return sees winger Ben Jones-Bishop excluded from the squad in the only change to the 19 players named for last week’s home victory over Hull FC.
Leeds are right where their legion of fans want them to be, sitting pretty at the top of the league, but Warrington at home won’t be an easy game to win. Even with influential players like Westwood missing, Tony Smith might just have a little surprise in store for his old club. For me, this is Warrington by 6.
Game two of Friday sees Widnes Vikings take on Catalan Dragons. The Dragons still don’t travel well and the Vikings are red hot at home this season. Danny Galea and Danny Craven have recovered from injuries to be named in Widnes’ 19-man squad, and Paddy Flynn starts a two-match suspension after admitting a punching offence during the loss at Castleford.
Catalan’s joint-captain Jason Baitieri replaces Antoni Maria in the only change to the squad that beat Bradford. Laurent Frayssinous will want to put his teams travel sickness behind them if they are to mount a serious challenge for the top of the league, but this won’t be the evening it begins. I see the Vikings winning this by at least 12 points, and probably by more.
Friday’s third game is St Helens v Salford. I’m beginning to fear for Salford. A squad with that much experience should not be getting pummelled into submission as easily as the Red Devils seem to be at times. If this carries on, there will be wholesale changes (again) at the end of the season. I don’t know if the fans will want to see yet more promises dashed on the rocks. To be fair to Dr Koukash, he really has put his money where his mouth is, but it’s now time for the players to start showing that they have what it takes on the field to deserve not only the shirt, but the fans respect as well.
As for St Helens, they will be confident, even with players like Willie Manu, Adam Swift, Jonny Lomax, Alex Walmsley and Mark Percival all out that they will easily overpower a Salford team who are yet to really gel as a squad on the field.
Either way, I see a Saints win, by at least 30.
Only the one game on Saturday, London Broncos v Hull FC at The Hive.
The only way Lee Radford’s season could get any worse is if his Hull side become the first to lose to London this season. On paper, FC should breeze past London, but this game isn’t played on paper. Radford will have taken heart from his side’s performance at Leeds last week, where they held the Rhinos for long periods, despite ending up on the wrong end of a 20-6 loss. After three straight losses, Radford will have left his 19 man squad under no illusions as to what he expects from them.
Two points.
His opposite number will also be on the hunt for those elusive points. With Bradford Bulls hearing against their point’s deduction due to begin next week, getting off the mark is more important than ever for the London outfit. If, as expected, Bradford get a couple of points back, London could be all but relegated in a few weeks’ time. With the club looking to establish itself in yet another new home and trying to entice fans of the sport to come and see quality rugby league, then staying in the top flight really has to be a priority. With all that said, I can only see one team of fans leaving happy, and they will be wearing the Broncos colours, but only by four points.
Into Sunday and the first game today sees Bradford v Wakefield in what many expected to be a relegation four pointer. That could still be the case depending on the outcome of the independent tribunal that sits on the 4th June.
Should Bradford regain points that will really pull Wakefield into the basement battle. With only 8 points themselves, and had Bradford not had the deduction, they would have 12 points already and be up in contention for a play-off spot.
All that said, with the Bulls being at home, I see them gaining a fourth win of the season, ahead of some good news later next week. This will be a win for Bradford by at least 12 points.
The final game of round 15 is Castleford Tigers v Hull KR. Despite recent results, Hull KR coach Craig Sandercock will be nervous about going into this one. Castleford are one of this seasons form sides, and at home are exceptional in attack. Rovers are no slouches themselves, but can at times lack a spine and solidity to their defence. Being only three points away from the top of the table will give an added expectation to this. Usually these are great matches, and as such, I wonder why this one is not on TV. With the fans at the Hose being up close and personal to the pitch, the atmosphere is usually intense and that transfers onto the pitch and the players. This will be a great match for those there, but I only see one team winning, and that’s Castleford by 16 points.
So, there you have this week’s preview. If you’d like an event previewed for your website or publication, feel free to contact me for more information.

Warriors (and officials) make hay in Salford


Diary of a Rugby League fan

First of all, congratulations to Wigan Warriors. They played an outstanding game of rugby league at the A.J. Bell stadium. Also well done to referee Phil Bentham. For almost five minutes, he managed to make all his own decisions. After that, every chance he got, he asked Mr Thaler to make the decision for him. Eight tries were sent upstairs… At the rate it’s going, TV games will be running to well over 90 minutes unless the RFL start to make the officials use the technology a little more judiciously than at present.
Salford on the other hand looked lethargic, fuggy and struggled to hold onto the ball for a full set from minute one. How they held Wigan at bay for the majority of the first 40 is a mystery. For coach Harris to say that he didn’t think there was a lot between the teams really is trying…

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Warriors (and officials) make hay in Salford


First of all, congratulations to Wigan Warriors. They played an outstanding game of rugby league at the A.J. Bell stadium. Also well done to referee Phil Bentham. For almost five minutes, he managed to make all his own decisions. After that, every chance he got, he asked Mr Thaler to make the decision for him. Eight tries were sent upstairs… At the rate it’s going, TV games will be running to well over 90 minutes unless the RFL start to make the officials use the technology a little more judiciously than at present.
Salford on the other hand looked lethargic, fuggy and struggled to hold onto the ball for a full set from minute one. How they held Wigan at bay for the majority of the first 40 is a mystery. For coach Harris to say that he didn’t think there was a lot between the teams really is trying to put the gloss on an otherwise miserable night for fans of the Devils. Don’t get me wrong, when the team did actually get back and look out for each other, they looked defensively very strong, but the old weaknesses out wide and also down the centre were often shown up when they struggled to get back onside for their own plays of the ball. I hope it was a lack of fitness and not a lack of hunger for the game, because if it’s the latter, then Dr Koukash has wasted a sizeable chunk of his money. The usual players looked like they wanted more, Morley, Chase, Gleeson, Tasi all looked hungry from the get go, but by the end of the game, Salford looked out on their feet and it was only an unusual lack of awareness in the Wigan defence that allowed Salford to slip over to stop them from being nilled at home.
Aside from the repeated calls to the screen, this was not a night to give your average Salford fan much reason to hope. They have not now won in 7 matches and lie in 11th place in the table.
Big names do not a team make. Salford need to look at the opposition and see that their team made up of local talent, schooled with one aim, to play for the club, shirt and town is what they should be looking to emulate, rather than buying glory.
The fans deserve better. Dr Koukash promised better, in fact, it’s probably time the elephant in the room was mentioned….
Getting rid of Brian Noble was possibly the biggest single mistake made at the club this year. Nobby had just started to get them to look like they were firing on all cylinders and was asked to move sideways. Iestyn Harris is an admirable man, an honest man, who no doubt has a great future ahead of him in coaching, but to be put under the pressure that he is under from both above and on the terraces to produce results, in your first full time coaching position is nothing short of madness. I hope the Dr gives him the time needed to turn Salford into the club that they deserve to be. I also hope that they look to the surrounding area and get a decent academy up and running, and start to bring back some of the players that are currently being lost to other teams from local clubs and schools.
It’s great to see so many kids on the pitch at half time, but how many of them will want to grow up playing to a half empty stadium, just because it’s their home town club? Not many. But it’s there that the future of the club lies, not in players who are looking for a payday.
As it was, I left the ground feeling like the next home game against Bradford could be one that decides if Salford are dragged right into the relegation mire. If Wakefield and Bradford string together a couple of results, Salford could easily be looking at next season being one out of the top flight, and that would really be a blow to the faithful.

Hats off to the RFL



Magic weekend is over for another year. 2014 will go down as the year that the festival of Rugby League really came of age.
Day one was easily the best single day of rugby in the events history. Close fought games, full stands and great entertainment on and off the pitch. No fan could have asked for more, although it would be nice when buying food and drink if the person on the stand asked for less!
Every single game on day one was a hard fought battle for both teams involved. London almost breaking their duck for the season in a 22-24 loss to Catalan Dragons, Widnes Vikings narrowly beating the ever improving Salford Red Devils 30-24, an epic battle (again) between Hull KR and Hull FC which ended in a 38-24 Robins win and finally, the match of the day as the (according to Shaun Wane) understrength and unfancied Wigan Warriors took Leeds to task in a fantastic 18-14 victory of psychology over tactics.
The day was outstandingly well organised from start to finish. As usual, fans were in party mood, the sun was out and everyone was having a great time.
Sadly, day two was a series of mis-matches. Wakefield pussycats were left needing the RSPCA after the Castleford Tigers ripped them apart, 12-50, the Huddersfield Giants rampaged across the Etihad turf, crushing the Bradford Bulls (HA! More like calves) 54-16 before the only match of the day that looked like a 2 horse race, Warrington Wolves v St Helens, took place. Warrington looked like racing away with this, until a late surge from Saints reeled the wolves back in.
Over all, it was a real festival. The only gripes I heard were complaints about the lack of diversity in the food department. There was not one vegetarian food stall anywhere, want Kosher or Halal? Sorry mate, you’re out of luck.
As usual, the staff at the Etihad were superb. Polite, courteous and always willing to help anyone who needed it.
It really is the perfect venue for such a weekend and the RFL need a really big pat on the back for sticking with it when people didn’t see the point early on. Nigel Wood, Blake Solly et al have really put the game on the map with the Magic Weekend.
Next year, (as I write) we don’t know where it will be. Newcastle is looking favourite at the moment, despite Stevo saying it hasn’t the hotels to cope on Backchat, but Anfield has been mentioned as well.
I’m led to believe there is a window to have the event at the Etihad, but it would have to be the first weekend AFTER the football season as the week after the cranes arrive to start installing the new seats.
If that’s true, then I hope the RFL move quickly to secure the place. The Etihad is the perfect modern stadium for such an event. Outside areas with (limited) food and entertainment areas, space for sponsors to show their wares and superb transport links. I must give a mention to the staff at Metrolink who coped admirably on both days with the crowds, having a laugh with fans and helping get everyone safely on the right tram.
If we do have to leave Manchester for a year, then I hope its to somewhere with similar facilities, but either way, I’ll be getting my Magic tickets again…

the silent tongue that outrage made (I am going to write a bad novel called that)


Robinince's Blog

welcome to my id – an unedited outpouring of ideas and spelling mistakes. 

If only there was a set of graphs that could map out potential offence versus probability of laughter. What a lot of bother that would save censors and comedians. “Mr Carr, your jokes have been fed in and the reading suggests you may increase the level of offence by 0.5, but it has rejected your gag about Amish sex”.

Happily, no such mathematical assistant exists, and we must rely on human judgement. This system, too, is flawed, and can make quite the wrong call in both directions. Sometimes gags are censored due to overly imagining offence caused or because a vocal, fundamentalist minority are seen as the representatives of a much larger cultural group. Sometimes it fails due to lack of empathy and forethought. The equation must also add distance of time from event, hence the comedians…

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