Batley bid farewell to winter

Dave Hadfield tests opinion at the only ground used for 100 years of league

THIS afternoon, 100 years and a few weeks after it all began, the last winter season of professional rugby league in Britain will come to an end.

Of the grounds that hosted a match on 7 September 1895, the start of the league's first winter, only Batley's Mount Pleasant ground is in use. But from the hill that overlooks the little Yorkshire town and the sloping ground - previous uses include county cricket and keeping pigs - the future looks unclear.

The start of summer rugby and the Super League has already delivered one bitter blow to a club whose "Gallant Youths" - as they were known - were the first winners of the Challenge Cup in 1897. Their recent status is better summed up by the bonus offered to players for winning a tie a couple of seasons ago - a box of biscuits apiece.

Less than a year ago they had clinched the runners-up spot in the Second Division and were preparing for life in the First; work was starting on a new stand, which will officially be opened today before the match against Huddersfield.

That prize was denied them by the reorganisation of the game in preparation for Super League, but their chief executive, Richard Illingworth, does not believe in bemoaning the unfairness of fate: "We're where we are and we can't do much about it," he says with some of the bluntness often associated with the name Illingworth. "All we can do is to try to play our way out of it. And the way we're playing we won't get out for some time."

Illingworth admits to "mixed feelings" over the end of the winter game that will come with the full-time hooter this afternoon. "My own personal opinion is that if spectators aren't happy with it, we could do far worse than having the Super League in summer and the First and Second divisions going back to playing in winter. There are a lot of rugby league bloodnuts out there who would come to games in winter whether it was their team or not."

A return to the old timetable would not please the Salford forward whose hair became so matted with mud during one game that he had to hack off his fringe at half-time and only then could see the ball clearly enough to take a pass for the winning try.

Batley's coach, Jeff Grayshon, disagrees with his chief executive: "I've been 27 years playing and coaching and this is going to be a big change, but I think it's one for the better," he says. "I'm sorry to see the winter game go, because it's all I've known. But I'm looking forward to a faster- moving style of play."

A former Great Britain forward and the game's most durable player, Grayshon has played half a dozen games in the reserve side this season at the age of 46. "If I was just starting out now, I think I would welcome it," he says of the Super League and summer rugby. "Everyone says that Batley are a mud-loving team, but the way I've been trying to get them to play will go well with summer rugby."

Grayshon is less certain how Batley's spectators - around 1,300 of them on a good day - will respond to the change, as illustrated by his vignette of domestic life in what is still known, despite its decline, as the heavy woollen district.

"On a Sunday afternoon, if it's cold and wet, your wife might say 'Get yourself off to the rugby'. In summer, she's more likely to want to go off to the coast. Families are going to have a big say in whether or not it works."

Illingworth sees other potential pitfalls. "I can't see anything but a lot of bruised knees and elbows," he says, looking out at Mount Pleasant's playing surface, which has never been the most luxuriantly covered.

"I don't know how much grass we're going to have out there when we're playing through the growing season, but it will help when Bradford Park Avenue [who share the ground at present] move to their new ground."

Grayshon is already in training for the new challenge ahead, however. After 27 winters in the game, he quite likes the idea of finishing off with a game or two in the summer.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
peopleMathematician John Nash inspired the film Beautiful Mind
Richard Blair is concerned the trenches are falling into disrepair
newsGeorge Orwell's son wants to save war site that inspired book
Life and Style
Audrey Hepburn with Hubert De Givenchy, whose well-cut black tuxedo is a 'timeless look'
fashionIt may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
Arts and Entertainment
The pair in their heyday in 1967
Life and Style
fashionFrom bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Guru Careers: Software Developer / C# Developer

£40-50K: Guru Careers: We are seeking an experienced Software / C# Developer w...

Guru Careers: Software Developer

£35 - 40k + Benefits: Guru Careers: We are seeking a Software Developer (JavaS...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant / Resourcer

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitment Consu...

Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, HTML, CSS, JavaScript, AngularJS)

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: UI Developer - (UI, JavaScript, HTML...

Day In a Page

Abuse - and the hell that came afterwards

Abuse - and the hell that follows

James Rhodes on the extraordinary legal battle to publish his memoir
Why we need a 'tranquility map' of England, according to campaigners

It's oh so quiet!

The case for a 'tranquility map' of England
'Timeless fashion': It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it

'Timeless fashion'

It may be a paradox, but the industry loves it
If the West needs a bridge to the 'moderates' inside Isis, maybe we could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive after all

Could have done with Osama bin Laden staying alive?

Robert Fisk on the Fountainheads of World Evil in 2011 - and 2015
New exhibition celebrates the evolution of swimwear

Evolution of swimwear

From bathing dresses in the twenties to modern bikinis
Sun, sex and an anthropological study: One British academic's summer of hell in Magaluf

Sun, sex and an anthropological study

One academic’s summer of hell in Magaluf
From Shakespeare to Rising Damp... to Vicious

Frances de la Tour's 50-year triumph

'Rising Damp' brought De la Tour such recognition that she could be forgiven if she'd never been able to move on. But at 70, she continues to flourish - and to beguile
'That Whitsun, I was late getting away...'

Ian McMillan on the Whitsun Weddings

This weekend is Whitsun, and while the festival may no longer resonate, Larkin's best-loved poem, lives on - along with the train journey at the heart of it
Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath in a new light

Songs from the bell jar

Kathryn Williams explores the works and influences of Sylvia Plath
How one man's day in high heels showed him that Cannes must change its 'no flats' policy

One man's day in high heels

...showed him that Cannes must change its 'flats' policy
Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Is a quiet crusade to reform executive pay bearing fruit?

Dominic Rossi of Fidelity says his pressure on business to control rewards is working. But why aren’t other fund managers helping?
The King David Hotel gives precious work to Palestinians - unless peace talks are on

King David Hotel: Palestinians not included

The King David is special to Jerusalem. Nick Kochan checked in and discovered it has some special arrangements, too
More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years

End of the Aussie brain drain

More people moving from Australia to New Zealand than in the other direction for first time in 24 years
Meditation is touted as a cure for mental instability but can it actually be bad for you?

Can meditation be bad for you?

Researching a mass murder, Dr Miguel Farias discovered that, far from bringing inner peace, meditation can leave devotees in pieces
Eurovision 2015: Australians will be cheering on their first-ever entrant this Saturday

Australia's first-ever Eurovision entrant

Australia, a nation of kitsch-worshippers, has always loved the Eurovision Song Contest. Maggie Alderson says it'll fit in fine