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.

Voices
voices
News
general electionThis quiz matches undecided voters with the best party for them
Arts and Entertainment
Keira Knightley and Matthew Macfadyen starred in the big screen adaptation of Austen's novel in 2005
tvStar says studios are forcing actors to get buff for period roles
News
Prince William and his wife Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge show their newly-born daughter, their second child, to the media outside the Lindo Wing at St Mary's Hospital in central London, on 2 May 2015.
news
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

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey/ South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Trainee Consultant - Surrey / South West London

£22000 per annum + pension,bonus,career progression: Ashdown Group: An establi...

Ashdown Group: Recruitment Consultant / Account Manager - Surrey / SW London

£40000 per annum + realistic targets: Ashdown Group: A thriving recruitment co...

Ashdown Group: Part-time Payroll Officer - Yorkshire - Professional Services

£25000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful professional services firm is lo...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before