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?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Structural Engineer

£17000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Graduate Structural Engineer ...

Recruitment Genius: New Business Development Manager - OTE £36,000

£22000 - £36000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A New Business Manager role sui...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - Inbound & Outbound Calls

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This particular opportunity is ...

Recruitment Genius: Windows Server Engineer - Compute Engineer

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Compute Engineer role also ...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor