Rivalry amongst supporters of sporting teams runs deep – I’m sure you have experienced it and probably have it at home! I was brought up in a football house split right down the middle; Dad and sister Liverpool fans, Mum and me Evertonians. How lucky was I to have a Dad willing to give up his Saturday afternoons to take me along to the Everton matches (and even hang around afterwards while I waited to get Bob Latchford or Andy King’s autographs!) – wonder if he spent the whole time there hoping they’d lose!?
Despite living in Wigan from an early age rugby league wasn’t a sport I had any interest in until Chris came along. Passionate about rugby, long suffering supporter of Leigh and definitely old enough to remember their glory days. He took me along to a few international matches, local derby’s and games of interest – I even spent one season as part of the opening title sequence of Question of Sport celebrating a GB try at Central Park (I knew it was me - anyone else would have struggled to pick me out!). Living in Wigan with no real ties to Leigh (although I did live there for 2 years when I was very young – we moved around a lot!) I had no interest in supporting them and time and time again it was the Saints of St Helens who caught my attention. Saints are the local team for most of my family and so me and the two ‘grown ups’ ended up as big fans of St Helens, living in Wigan with almost all of our friends Wigan supporters. Not the easiest choice we ever made, but it wasn’t long before we were all ardent fans attending as many games as we could.
Wigan is one of the great rugby league towns in the UK and probably the world, with a long history of success in the sport forever winning trophies and celebrating achievements. From the 1987 season they won the Challenge Cup 8 years on the run and remain the team who have won it the most with 19 wins overall. They also hold the record for the team with the most wins in the Rugby League World Club Challenge.
The World Club Challenge started slowly with a couple of games here and there but since the year 2000 it has been an annual event held at the beginning of the season; a match between the winners of the NRL (Australia) and the Super League Champions. Now it always seems to me that there is something not quite right with this fixture. The teams contesting the match are often very different from the teams who won the right to take part. Why is it not the culmination of the two seasons as the ultimate prize each year?
So, February 17th, 2019 saw the fixture held in our hometown of Wigan; a match to be fought between the local team Wigan Warriors and, from Australia, Sydney Roosters.
How exciting you may think! We love rugby and Chris is also a Sydney Roosters Fan (You find most rugby fans will have a favourite Aussie team – the NRL is an exciting and highly skilled competition) so tickets seemed a perfect Christmas present from Lucy for her Dad. What’s the problem you may wonder? Well who do we support on the night!?
Local rivalry between teams is a part of the game Wigan don’t like Saints, Saints don’t like Wigan, everyone dislikes Leeds and so on, but the greatest dislike for a team is usually reserved for any Australian team particularly the national side! For many, many years the Aussie Rugby League team have dominated all competitions and it is a rare occasion when the English national side manages to overcome them. British sides have been more successful in the World Club Challenge but maybe that has something to do with most of the fixtures being played in the UK in front of a passionate sell-out crowd of mostly British people – home advantage always helps.
Such was the atmosphere for the 2019 match. A crowd of over 21,000 supporters, the vast majority from Wigan, filling the stadium with noise; cheers and drums and, at crucial points of the game, lots of boos! Does that affect someone trying to kick for goal? Maybe they just blank it all out.
If you studied form you would have expected the strong Sydney Roosters team to easily overcome Wigan, but certain factors made it a hard game to predict. Our rugby season had already started – only a few weeks in but it meant Wigan Warriors were match fit whilst Sydney were still in their pre season. Sydney had travelled a long way to take part in the game and again they were playing the match in a very hostile stadium full of thousands of people willing them to lose. But sadly for Wigan it was not to be and despite a strong second half challenge Sydney demonstrated their speed and skill winning the match by 20 points to 8.
And for us – what a night! Back row centre seats – a trek to the top but well worth the view. Entertainment from the AC/DC Experience (surprised to find they are a local band!), fireworks, flag waving and a great game of rugby. Despite our local rivalries we found ourselves cheering Wigan all the way (don’t expect that to last though) and the game was a much less stressful experience as a neutral supporter!
No mention of the game on any sports news the following day – after all rugby league is just played in northern towns isn't it?
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