DIARY OF A RETIRED RUGBY LEAGUE WRITER
WEEK 34 2018
MONDAY, AUGUST 20
My wife, Marie gathers plums and apples from Wherwell Primary School grounds, which are next to out studio apartment in this lovely Hampshire village. This is day 12 of our UK/Ireland adventure.
Tour Bombay Gin Factory in rural Hampshire. The fields around Micheldever are being readied for a car festival. Pub stop at ‘The Plough’, Itchen Stoke. Buy beef at butchers/fishmongers in New Alresford, then negotiate congested M3 south, to Eastleigh, before a pub stop at White Hart, Stockbridge. That evening we have drinks at one of our ‘locals’, the ‘Mayflower’, at Testcombe, a beautiful spot on the Test River.
TUESDAY, AUGUST 21
Leave Wherwell and visit the Nartional Trust’s Chartwell Estate in Kent. It is so busy, but everything is organised in a smooth manner and the volunteers on hand are so nice. Chartwell is the family home of former Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill. We walk the adjoining forest, then the studio and gardens, followed by the home itself. The estate boasts black swans, a gift from the Australian Government. Our accommodation, at Tonbridge – The Rose and Crown – is quiet basic, which is what I imagined. Receptionist says a World War 1 tank was off-loaded in front of the hotel at the weekend and the Red Arrows provided a fly past, as part of events marking the centenary of the end of World War I. Walk along the Medway River, around the Norman castle, followed by one drink at the Clock House Bar, near busy rail station. Dodgy place. Dinner (cod/chips and mushy peas) at well run Wetherspoons.
Former Widnes rugby league player, Mal Aspey was licensee of the ‘Old Chequers’, Tonbridge, at one stage.
WEDNESDAY, AUGUST 22
Explore Sissinghurst Garden, after soup at their dairy cafe. Fascinating history of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson who fell in love with the castle and created a world renowned garden.
Dinner with Maggie Dobson; her partner, Tony Kriehn and Maggie’s son, Jared and partner, Amy at Cutters Wharf Restaurant, on the inner harbor at Dover. (We had caught up with Maggie’s daughter, Hayley, back at the family home in Avenue Road). Tony has a new job as a maintenance man for a large, sea front block of flats. Jared hopes to run the London Marathon, with Amy, who already has been accepted. The owner of Cutter’s, is an ultra marathon runner. Marie and I became friends with Maggie in 1978, through my late sister, Kerri-Anne, who met Maggie on a coach tour around Europe. Maggie’s husband, Paul, a great chap, died some years ago.
Dover’s main street is so depressing, because of the homeless (many of them Romanian, I understand), litter and a plethora of kebab joints. The Moat House Hotel, where my Kangaroo supporters’ tours stayed in 1990, ’94 and ’98, has gone, replaced by a shopping centre. Our return trip to Tonbridge is a nightmare, because or road works.
THURSDAY, AUGUST 23
Before leaving Tonbridge, I take a photo of the former home of top England cricketer, the late Sir Colin Cowdrey, a gutsy, dignified man. Return our hire car to Oxford and then get a train to London. So many tents, as the Reading Festival gears up. Our conductor is hilarious. “Any tickets, passes, excuses, sob stories, from Slough,” he says after we stopped at the Thames Valley town. A lovely lady, of Indian descent, helps us with the purchase of oyster cards at Paddington Station. We stay in a spacious apartment, looking out at the British Telecom Tower. Drinks at Northumberland Arms, and then the Smugglers Arms. Particularly enjoy Harvard Pale at the latter. See lots of look-a-likes in the Northumberland. One bloke is the spitting image of the late, Peter Sellers; another is a dead ringer for my former Brisbane Brothers’ teammate, Murray Schultz while another could pass for Sydney journalist, Josh Massoud.
FRIDAY, AUGUST 24
Wake to the news Scott Morrison is Australia’s new Prime Minister. Amazing. We’re almost as bad as Italy, when it comes to a turnover of leaders.
Lunch at St Pancras Station Brasserie – sardines, and fish cake (moi); cheese souffle, spicy lamb (Marie). Thought about the Colchester oysters, but the price was just a little too dear. Service is excellent. At the British Library we visit the ‘James Cook. The Voyages’ exhibition. Not bad. A bit too much on the side of the ‘first nations’, for my liking. I thought it would be more about Cook’s achievements, but what do you expect in these politically correct times. Some rude people push and shove their way around the exhibition. In one area, there is reference to an indigenous Australian, surname Kelly, who talks about the fires that were lit along the east coast, when Cook’s ship, the ‘Endeavour’ was sighted.
Drinks at excellent ‘Brewery Tap’ near Euston Station, and a barmaid in a beret catches the eye of patrons. A Serena Williams look-a-like is being photographed as Marie and I walk around Regent’s Park. One drink in Carpenter’s Arms, where there is a double for former Cowboys’ centre, Josh Hannay. Everyone has a double.
Ahead of tomorrow’ Wembley Rugby League Challenge Cup final, the Express carries a good story on Warrington forward, Chris Hill, a former Leigh player.
Our daughter-in-law, Channelle sends a message that Tom Banks, a good friend of her brother, Jack, will play for the Wallabies, against the All Blacks in Auckland tomorrow.
Learn of the passing of former St George and Cronulla forward, Lance Thompson, aged just 40.
France win the European under-19 rugby league title, in Belgrade, Serbia.
SATURDAY, AUGUST 25
CHALLENGE CUP DAY. See our first Warrington fan outside Warren Street Station. Chat to a Wakefield league fan on the tube to Wembley Park. He is part of a group of 20 from the former wool trade city. They all get off at Kilburn, for a few pints. We have drinks at JJ Moons, which is packed with league fans. Our seats in the stadium’s south stand, are magnificent. Beside us are a couple from Wales, who are originally from Bradford. In 1978, at the old Wembley, Marie and I stood on the terraces behind the goal posts at the southern end of the field, at the St Helens v Leeds match. There were 98,000 there that day. British fans explained to me that it would have been 100,000, but Wembley restricted the number of tickets to 98,000, because league fans are generally bigger than their soccer counterparts. An urban myth, perhaps. Before the game, we chat to a number of fans, including a chap from Castleford, who is wearing a 1969 Wembley replica (Castleford beat Salford that year). Also a Bradford Northern fan, who says league is hanging on by the fingernails in the UK. Lots of different jerseys, including York, Halifax, Keighley, Hull, Sydney Roosters, Australia and Great Britain.
Catalans win a classic game 20-14, and Oldham referee, Robert Hicks can take a lot of the credit for the spectacle. Give me the Pom refs over ours, any day of the week. And please, just one ref, not two. Former Australian Test player, Greg Bird, who missed the game through suspension, joins his teammates in emotional scenes on the pitch, as the French fans sing ‘The Marseilles’. The crowd was only 50,672 with about 6,000 having flown over from France’s south west. Catalans’ owner, Bernard Guasch said it was very difficult for the club’s mainly working class fans to be able to afford the high air fare prices that come with the peak holiday season of August.
Wade Deacon from Widnes won the High Schools (Year 7), Steven Mullaney Memorial curtain raiser against Wigan’s St John Fisher. (Mullaney was a Wakefield Schoolboy player, killed in a road a smash a year after he scored a 70 metre try against St Helens in the curtain raiser to the 1986 Cup final).
After the match, Marie and I catch up with league scribes Martin Richards, David Burke, Richard Bott and Terry Holmes at Friday’s, where we also run into French international, Eloi Pelissier, who now plays for London Broncos. Also see Sheffield Eagles’ star, Matty Smith posing for photographs with fans.
Learn of the passing former Wynnum-Manly and Brisbane Norths’ centre, Eric Lilley, aged 73. Eric also coached Burleigh Bears to a Gold Coast A grade title in 1979, with my former Brothers’ teammate, Peter McNamara the skipper.
One drink at Prince of Wales Feathers on the way home, and we are not alone in believing that the prices are a rip-off.
SUNDAY, AUGUST 26
Daily Express League writer, Ross Heppenstall has a excellent report on the Wembley final. Former Lismore Marist Brothers’ centre, David Mead told Heppenstall Catalan were in a dark place after a bad start to the season and he had questioned his decision to move to France. “But (coach) Steve McNamara maintained we would come good, even if other people doubted him,” Mead said.
Tube to St Pauls and then to Smithfield Markets for their 150th birthday celebrations. The rain is non-stop. ‘Silva’ and ‘Jenny Moore’s Mystic Business’ are two of the live acts, and they both leave us cold (and wet). The weather is no better as we get off the tube in Baker Street, where we are ‘forced’ to take refuge in ‘Globe’ pub, where Watford v Palace soccer is on TV. It costs 17 pounds 40p for a double rhubarb gin and a Camden Pale. The toilets are disgusting. As the weather clears, we walk the back streets to Marylebone Village, where we find a great ‘Yorkshire Pub’, ‘Angel in the Field’. The barmaid, a horse enthusiast from Surrey, is lovely. Dinner at Italian restaurant, Caldesi, which boasts a cooking school at the rear. Monk fish, fried zucchini, home made pasta, creme brulee, the highlights of our meal. Walk ‘home’ with the BT tower as our guide. It carries the message ‘Safe Carnival today’, a reference to the Notting Hill Carnival, where patrons have to go through knife arches (metal detectors).
Photo 1: Steve Ricketts at Chartwell
Photo 2: Sissinghurst
Photo 3: Steve Ricketts (centre) with Maggie Dobson and Tony Kriehn in Dover
Photo 4: Euston Tap
Photo 5: Challenge Cup teams, Wembley
Photo 6: French fans
Photo 7: Catalans celebrate
Photo 8: The Cup is ours
Photo 9: Old league journos – David Burke (left), Martin Richards and Steve Ricketts.
Photo 10: Marie and Steve Ricketts at the Angel in the Field.