Leeds Rhinos 48 Huddersfield Giants 16 (16th May 2015)
Sometimes I do wonder quite why I do what I do. Saturday, for example, when I embarked on a 450 mile round trip to watch a sport I’m not really into, followed by a women’s 2nd tier football match. I’m just glad I did, as it was a fine day out. Painful sets of roadworks up the M1, and a sat-nav having something of a nervous breakdown in Leeds city centre didn’t bode well, but I had a good day seeing two games and three grounds.
Three, because although I only went to two games, Headingley Cricket Ground and the rugby ground occupy the same site, sharing a stand like co-joined twins. From the main Kirkstall Road, only the cricket ground is visible. Most striking is the new pavilion, all weird triangles and angles, like a giant piece of origami. Also notable are the floodlights, with a rose (white, no doubt) picked out around the lights themselves.
Like most cricket grounds in England, Headingley wasn’t all that special, but it had just enough to lift it out of the ordinary. The unusual new pavilion was a stark contrast to the old one, thankfully located on the other side of the field, or the contrast between the two could have been jarring. Instead the old pavilion sat next to the stand shared with the rugby ground – a curious push-me-pull-you of a stand with a double tier of seats on the cricket side, and a single larger tier for the rugby.
The rugby side was impressive though, with terracing on three sides and a traditional-looking main stand the likes of which are rarely seen any more. Wooden seats and row letters on big black on white squares were like revisiting my early days of travelling up and down country in the 1980s, when you never realised how many traditional old grounds and stands would soon vanish forever.
With this being a local derby, there was a sort of casual attempt at segregation, with the open end, naturally, being designated as the away end. Shaped like a piece of cheese, this end followed the line of a narrow alley between the ground and the back gardens of posh-looking semi-detached houses, rather out of place against the student accommodation that fills the Headingley area, and whose gardens would no doubt amass a fair collection of converted rugby balls over a season.
Opposite was the most modern part of the ground, with a tall deck of seats over a terrace below. Unlike the cricket ground’s origami effort, this new stand complements the rest of the ground perfectly, even if the seats themselves didn’t seem to be too popular.
There’s talk of rebuilding the terrace on the south side of the ground too, but hopefully that day won’t be too soon, as this final stand is one of the last big old terraces left in the country. Its cavernous pitched roof is perfect for helping the roars of the crowd reverberate around in the way that no new stands ever seem to. Had some bloke near me not kept letting out Guinness farts, it was nigh on perfect. I can always forgive the odd pillar or two for a terrace such as this.
Yes, there may have been dancing girls, a mascot, an opera singer, and those odd gas jet blower things that dramatically fire clouds of smoke to herald a team’s entrance pre-match, but it still felt like a traditional day out, rather than the manufactured orchestrated-response “entertainment experience” that too many football clubs seem convinced fans want these days. The terrace is a place to cheer and grumble, not sing along to whatever tune the club DJ had decided will get the fans fired up this month.
As it happens Leeds Rhinos take the field to the Leeds United anthem “Marching On Together”, and with United’s woes, coupled with the Rhinos resurgence, there are almost as many marching on at Headingley as at Elland Road these days.
For the Leeds Rhinos fans, there’d be a lot more cheering than grumbling on this day. I can’t say I know much about rugby league – other than this game was a lot quicker and more enjoyable than the one I saw in Australia – but it was clear that on this day at least, Leeds were far better than Huddersfield. In fact they ran in four tries in the opening 20 minutes or so, and had another disallowed. When Huddersfield got one of their own just before half-time, it was already looking like a consolation.
There was no let up in the 2nd half. In fact it just got worse for the amber & purple clad Huddersfield fans, and it wasn’t too long before they were doing a conga of defiance around the away end, as any hope of gaining enjoyment from the game itself vanished.
The Leeds fan loved it though, and why not? They ran in another four tries, and even if the crowd for this Challenge cup tie was about half of what they get for league games, it never felt “low” in the way that half-empty all-seater football grounds do when they play lower key games. Different sport, granted, but it did feel like the old days of football in the past, and it’s weird that on what is predominantly a football ground site, my two favourite grounds this season have been rugby ones.
There will be five more chances this season for that to change, with two grounds in Scotland and three in the Czech Republic to come, but if Gloucesters’s Kingsholm and Headingley are to be my best grounds of the year, I’m more than willing to overlook the small detail of them hosting the “wrong” sport.