Sunday, 24 April 2016

Castleford Tigers 16 Hull Kingston Rovers 58

Super League
Attendance: 7,106

God, I felt like a southerner today as if I had “southern softy” tattooed on my forehead. Over 20 years after relocating from London to York I went to my first rugby league match. In fact I felt more foreign in a stadium than I have done since going to the Corsica Cup final four years ago and I was only 20 miles from home.

“I haven’t been here before. Are there open terraces or is it all fixed seating?” I asked a security man outside the ground. After that I didn’t need to disclose my origins again and, with access all areas, set about wandering around this vintage brick and corrugated steel sporting arena. I’d wanted to visit for some years but never got around to it and was conscious that time was starting to run out because ‘Cas’, as all the fans call them, are due to move to a new stadium in two years.

It was unusual to be in a such a large and full ground with terraces on three sides. The open, railway end, reminded me of dear old Elm Park which is no bad thing in my book. The creeky old seated grandstand with its two giant floodlight pylons partly obscuring the view is the main feature and, looming behind the terrace to its right are three chimneys that provide some northern, industrial context.

The spectators provided plenty more. I’d guess that the vast majority of them live within a few miles of the ground and come to every game and there was a refreshing apparent absence of corporatisation, the stadium name apart (see notes at the end). The sense of community, forged in Castleford’s mining days, is extraordinarily strong. Despite drawing large crowds Super League passes by most UK sports fans to the extent that going to a match feels a bit like joining a cult for the afternoon. But there’s nothing out of the ordinary about it in industrial towns across Yorkshire and Lancashire where rugby league seem to provide a regular family outing like baseball in the US. Everyone goes to the game from nippers in pushchairs to youths, parents and grandparents with an even split between the sexes. The older women berate the players like handbag-wielding grannies used to scream at wrestlers in the 70s.

The girls aspire to be in the Castleford Tigers Paws cheerleaders, a formidable platoon of 30 or so pom-pom shaking lasses in their teens and 20s who paraded single-file onto the pitch like Take me Out contestants. You could almost smell the perfume from the touchline. Some will have started in the Paws Dance Academy. I suppose cheerleaders are another unlikely connection with baseball.

The match (highlights here) was as one-sided as the result suggests. KR ran in 11 tries and Cas didn’t score at all in the second half. “The more we went after it, the worst we got,” said Cas coach Daryl Powell. Too true. The Tigers weren’t roaring today and didn’t make the game much of a contest but it was still an enjoyable and unsual occasion for me and a type of northern exposure that all newcomers to this region should experience.

Name games: Cas’s ground name is a bizarre hybrid. Originally built for the town’s short-lived football club in 1926, The Jungle was renamed two seasons ago as the Mend-a-Hose Jungle following a deal with local firm Mend-A-Hose which makes fluid connector products. The Paws cheer leaders danced at half-time to Welcome to the Jungle by Guns and Roses as well as, predictably, Eye of the Tiger. How about Abba’s I am a Tiger and Tiger Feet by Mud?

For full album of pics click here.