Day in the high life of Offiah

Have boots will travel: From Pall Mall to Wilderspool and across codes to Clifton Lane; Stephen Brenkley follows the fortunes of a much-travelled flying winger
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The Independent Online
For Martin Offiah it was a long, tense wait towards the end of the longest, most exciting two days in a lifetime of achievement. He was on the Bedford reserve bench for 28 minutes in animated frustration, alternately sitting, stretching, strolling - all the time watching, hoping, maybe praying for the opportunity to create an oddball piece of sporting history.

Then it happened. His colleague, Marcus Cooke, limped off the pitch at Rotherham. Offiah was in the match. He wasn't in it much, touching the ball just three times in the next 52 minutes. But at the last, with 35 seconds remaining, he contrived the most glorious of endings. Intercepting a ball 45 yards out, he whizzed down the left flank to score in the corner and round off a comfortable victory for Bedford. What a rousing culmination it was to a few extraordinary hours in the life of an extraordinary rugby player.

His objective was straight forward enough if quite beyond the compass of ordinary mortals. He wished to play rugby union for Bedford yesterday, having played rugby league for London Broncos the evening before. These events had been preceded by the small matter of his being presented with an MBE at Buckingham Palace. From the moment he awoke on Friday morning, Offiah was caught up in a veritable whirl of activity.

His timetable of events makes breathtaking reading:

Friday 7am: Wake up and don morning suit.

11am: Receive MBE at Buckingham Palace.

12.30pm: Pose for photographs and give interviews.

3.45pm: Take helicopter flight from Battersea Heliport to join Broncos team-mates for Super League match in Lancashire.

7.30pm: Game starts. Offiah hardly involved, touching ball six times and making three tackles as Broncos beat Warrington, 38-18.

10pm: Give more interviews.

Saturday 12.30am: Arrive at Manchester Hotel. Asleep at 1am.

7am: Await organised hire car - to be driven by friends - to meet up with Bedford colleagues across the Pennines.

1.30pm: Bedford coach pulls up at Rotherham's ground. Eager, Offiah is third off.

3.28pm: Goes on as substitute.

4.01 pm: Gets first touch of ball.

4.28 pm: Scores wonderful try with 45-yard run.

In any era the participation by one man in two matches of different disciplines so close together would have been noteworthy. In this age of huge professionalism and vast specialisation, it borders on the monumental and, understandably, attracted immense attention. The irony was inescapable: for 101 years mixing the two codes was simply not countenanced and now here was a chap allowed to play both on consecutive days.

Offiah had been disappointed by his contribution to the Broncos' win but he knew now that he had achieved something never done before and unlikely to be repeated. "I wouldn't recommend it," he said afterwards. "I know it's unique but it's not really feasible. All the travel was very wearing and it was difficult to get focused on the different games. I hadn't trained with Bedford for two weeks. They were not two of the games I was most involved in.

"But yes, I'm pleased. It will be on Question Of Sport maybe in 10 years' time when everybody's forgotten about it. I was glad to get the try. I usually like running that sort of distance but that was hard today."

The worst part of it all for Offiah had been the helicopter journey from Battersea to link up with the Broncos after receiving his MBE. He did it because of his contractual agreement, with his club and Sky Television anxious for him to appear. Bedford have him restored to their ranks exclusively for the rest of the season.

In this part of South Yorkshire they are becoming accustomed to all- round sporting achievements. Just on 22 years ago Chris Balderstone played in the Doncaster Rovers' midfield in a 1-1 draw against Brentford in Doncaster 12 miles away after having spent the day appearing for Leicestershire in their Championship cricket match at Chesterfield - and clinching the title. Unbeaten on 51 overnight, he went on the next day to complete his century. In its way, Offiah's exhilarating try at Rotherham yesterday matched that feat.

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