Rugby League: Fans' state-of-the-ark discomforts: Tony Collins laments the difference between a Wembley full house

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The Independent Online
'IF there's ever going to be a revolution in this country, ' I was once told by a veteran of the 1984-85 miners' strike, 'it will take place on the same day as the Challenge Cup final. It's the only way that 80,000 northerners can get into London without arousing suspicion.

If he's right, the authorities had better be on their guard this Saturday. A full house is expected for the World Cup final at Wembley and not many will count themselves among the Government's most vociferous supporters. But as well as being a possible dress-rehearsal for the Day Of Reckoning, the World Cup final will also give rugby league supporters a rare opportunity to experience Wembley twice in a season.

Normally happening only on the last Saturday in April, we will sit in comfort under cover, choose from a range of edible food and marvel at the vast array of toilet facilities. If it wasn't for prices as high as Wembley's Olympic Gallery, it could almost be paradise - and it's certainly a stark reminder that when it comes to sporting facilities, Britain is still two nations.

Like the rest of the north of England, rugby league grounds have for years suffered from malign neglect. Facilities are generally so primitive that Cro-Magnon man would have had them condemned. In fact, the brilliance of the action on the pitch is in almost exactly inverse proportion to conditions off it.

Mention the world Odsal in league circles and free association immediately throws up 'inhospitable'. Brilliant sunshine or sub-tropical heatwaves just do not affect Bradford Northern's stadium - there's always a howling icy wind to welcome you there. Total uncovered exposure to the elements, apart from a token stand with a roof inspired by Lego, have led to rumours that Anglia TV is making a Survival Special about the extreme climatic conditions endured by Northern fans.

Thrum Hall, home to Halifax, must be a source of many a nightmare to parents who have dutifully potty-trained their children. 'Do we need to book tickets?' I was once asked by a southern- based friend who was travelling up to see his first live rugby league match. 'No, but bring a pair of fisherman's waders,' I replied, having spent many a half- time in Thrum Hall's East Stand toilets on tip-toes trying to avoid the rising level of recycled Yorkshire bitter.

But even when clubs are given the chance to start anew, the changes are less than startling. When my own club, Hull KR, was forced to sell its old ground in 1988 and build a new one, Rovers' fans hoped for the best. What we got was a 'stadium' with two stands and no ends, allowing it to double up as an experimental Arctic wind tunnel and a superb viewing area for watching the winter fog roll up the Humber and settle over the pitch.

Both Leeds and Wigan have spent millions developing their grounds, yet most of it appears to be for the benefit of the well- heeled supporter and the corporate sponsor. Even today, the half-time toilet dash at Central Park at night matches is occasionally enlivened by the lack of a bulb in the gents, giving rise to one of the more bizarre variants of blind man's bluff.

But such levels of squalor or lack of planning are also to be found in the non-rugby league grounds that the game uses. The pounds 25m Don Valley Stadium, home of Sheffield Eagles, is only covered on one side, enabling you to catch pneumonia in state-of-the- art surroundings rather than in the usual state-of-the-ark arena.

Swansea City's Vetch Field, adopted home of the Welsh national side, has in the past allowed a group of us to come to the aid of women supporters by practising our door-hanging skills on the solitary, doorless, ladies' toilet. Ground-sharing with a football team often means facilities as bad as, if not worse than, the average rugby league ground, even forgetting the ugly fences and barriers used for crowd segregation.

On Saturday we will see some of the world's finest footballers in an almost perfect setting. But whatever the conditions, when it comes down to making the choice between watching rugby league - with its poor grounds, lack of facilities and appalling toilets - and any other code of football, whether its played at Highbury, Twickenham or the Houston Astrodrome, you can give me the fisherman's waders any time . . .

The author is a contributor to the Rugby League fanzine, TGG], the greatest game.

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