Book of the Week; Godfather of rugby league, man of mystery
Dave Hadfield was a schoolboy convert to rugby league, the game which, one way or another, has dominated his life ever since. After working for newspapers in Shropshire and Blackpool (where he covered the fortunes of Blackpool Borough) he travelled the world, working mainly in Hong Kong and Sydney. He became The Independent's rugby league man in 1990 and has written five books on the game and broadcast extensively for Sky and the BBC. Dave played his last game at the age of 53 and would have set up a try if anyone could have been bothered supporting his break. When not writing about the sport, he now limits himself to a bit of tick and pass with his local club, the Bolton Mets. Family includes supporters - of varying degrees of dedication - of Salford, Wigan, Sheffield Eagles and St George Illawarra.
Monday 16 November 1998
By Tom Mitchell
(Echotime Inc, hardback, pounds 16)
HOW IS it possible to resist a book with a chapter entitled "Kruschev and Rugby League"?
Tom Mitchell, who died earlier this year, not long after completing his autobiography, would be the only man who could bring the two things together, along with musings on silage, watercress and Workington Town, without it all reading like an elaborate spoof.
This, as you will have gathered by now, is something of a mixed bag, but then Mitchell was an extraordinary man with an extraordinary range of activities and interests.
He was best known in rugby league circles as the driving force behind Workington, the Great Britain manager on the successful and legendary 1958 tour to Australia and, latterly, as the elder statesman - even "The Godfather" - of the game.
But he was also a working farmer, mile-runner and mountain-climber, a qualified chemist and a much-travelled government operative whose journeys abroad, including the one on which he and Nikita got down to business, were surrounded by a certain air of mystery.
There are those who believe that he was, in essence, a spy and they will find nothing here to dissuade them from that opinion.
What is certain is that his contribution to the game he loved was immense and that is duly reflected here, especially in his accounts of the early days of a new club at Workington and the most detailed description yet of that momentous 1958 tour.
He is particularly good on the cloak-and-dagger business of signing players from rugby union. He might or might not have been engaged in espionage in Russia and points east, but he certainly was when he ventured into South Wales or the Scottish Borders.
Quite how such a distinctive figure, with his luxuriant beard and extravagant hats, expected to avoid being recognised is not clear. In fact, you suspect that was all part of the fun.
This is not so much a life-story in the conventional sense as a trawl through a remarkable man's memories and mementoes. At times, it seems to be in no particular order or priority, although it has its own internal logic. There might be more here about silage than the average rugby league supporter feels he needs to know, but it is all part of the overall picture.
Apart from Kruschev, Mitchell meets up with Picasso, King Farookh and Burgess, Philby and McLean - not a Workington front row, but the notorious spies.
He is at his warmest and most vivid, however, recalling the players he signed and celebrating the qualities of men like Gus Risman, Brian Edgar and the tragically crippled John Burke.
You could field a useful side as well from "The Ones Who Got Away", players with whom Mitchell met and negotiated - all incognito, of course - like Barry John, David Duckham and Andy Irvine.
It comes as a surprise, in fact, that a man often regarded as a patron saint of rugby league kept such a big foot in the other camp. To him, a good rugby player was a good rugby player and, reading between the lines, Kruschev seemed to think the same.
Latest in Sport
Cristiano Ronaldo pays €60,000 for brain operation for 10-month-old boy
Bayern Munich 1 Arsenal 1 match report: Lukas Podolski goal fails to inspire comeback at the Allianz Arena as Gunners are knocked out of Champions League
Michael Schumacher 'experience' gives F1 legend chance to 'show his character', says Lewis Hamilton
The 10 funniest football chants revealed, with poll naming West Ham supporters as 'wittiest in the country'
Barcelona 2 Manchester City 1 match report: Lionel Messi and Dani Alves on target as Pablo Zabaleta sees red and City exit Champions League
- 1 Hells of residence: Inside Macedonia's horrifying student accommodation - where the walls are green and the food is black
- 2 Arrest made after man is found by the side of the road with his penis cut off
- 3 Michael Schumacher 'experience' gives F1 legend chance to 'show his character', says Lewis Hamilton
- 4 Girl found in the Amazon rainforest with neighbour Grover Morales after going missing for 7 months
- 5 Disney's Frozen is 'very evil' gay propaganda, says Christian pastor
Katie Hopkins continues campaign to become Britain's most hated talking head with poorly timed Bob Crow tweet
No EU referendum under Labour: Ed Miliband to reveal that vote on membership is ‘unlikely’ in next Parliament if party wins power
Grace Dent: Who cares if she spells it Barraco Barner? Gemma Worrall is more employable than some bookish arts graduate
Fracking is turning the US into a bigger oil producer than Saudi Arabia
Europeans have ‘got whiter’ due to natural selection in past 5,000 years, scientists say
How climate change helped Genghis Khan: Scientists believe a sudden period of warmer weather allowed the Mongols to invade with such success
Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Corporate / Commercial Solicitor - Buckinghams...
£20000 - £23000 per annum: Inspiring Interns: The world's leading mobile adver...
£40000 - £60000 per annum + Highly Competitive Salary: Austen Lloyd: Construct...
£35000 - £45000 per annum: Charter Selection: Charter Selection are currently ...