Pie-eaters' route to world domination

BOOK OF THE WEEK: The Best Years of our Lives by Paul Wilson (Mainstrea m, pounds 15.99)
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The Independent Online
With all due respect to Orwell's pier, and the fine efforts of mint manufacturers and pie-makers, Wigan is best known for its rugby league team. They were always one of the big names but since they won the 1985 Challenge Cup they have dominated the game, any game, to an unrivalled degree.

The nine Challenge Cups, eight League titles, eight Regal Trophies, five Premierships, five Lancashire Cups and three World Club Challenge wins did not occur in a bygone, sepia-tinted age. They were accumulated under Thatcher and Major. They even took the Sydney and Middlesex Sevens. In 1995 they won everything they entered with the most unexpected trophy - remember it was once given to the England rugby union side for winning a single game -being the BBC's Team of the Year.

What emerges from Wilson's comprehensive review is the dominance of the four directors - Maurice Lindsay, Jack Robinson, Jack Hilton and Tom Rathbone - who took control in 1982. Players and coaches came and went but they remained in charge. The first two often acted as scouts, signing players without consulting the coach. Lindsay went on to run the game in Britain leaving Robinson to take over as chairman. By the end of the book both are grappling with the perils of ambition - Lindsay struggling with the grand Super League design with Robinson forced to make cutbacks as Super League's first season proved troublesome.

The vast haul of trophies came via a number of coaches as Lindsay and Robinson always sought improvement and two left in bizarre circumstances. Alex Murphy was sacked after a wrestling match with Lindsay and John Dorahy's troubled year - just the Double in 94/95 - ended with a dispute that has many versions but, as Wilson says, "the idea of Dorahy and Robinson rolling around in the dusty aisle of a coach was too good not to be true".

Wilson takes us from the days where a dispirited, wizened giant of a club becomes one that, by 1994, was deemed to ruining the game for everyone else. We are taken through the games with admirable brevity courtesy of insights from many of the participants. Perhaps there is too much Lindsay and Robinson and nothing at all, as usual, from the great Ellery Hanley, but Shaun Edwards adds an interesting chapter running through their 43 consecutive victories in the Challenge Cup.

Wilson dedicates the book to "anyone else who has ever thought that rugby league might be a teeny bit more interesting than rugby union". It would be a shame that those from, say, St Helens or Leeds, missed out on a remarkable tale well told but the main market is bound to be a small Lancashire town, disparagingly referred to as "pie-eaters", whose mood is determined by 13 men in Cherry and White.

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