Rugby League: Highfield's victory means an end to Midland presence: Dave Hadfield witnesses Nottingham receiving solidarity despite defeats on and off the field

PROFESSIONAL rugby league in the East Midlands died not with a whimper but with a defiant demonstration of solidarity from those who believe that the decision to expel Nottingham City and two other clubs is indefensible.

Victory for Highfield by 39-6 against Nottingham means that they will be allowed to remain in the League next season. They renewed their pledge after the game, however, to fight alongside Nottingham, and the two other teams now facing extinction, Chorley and Blackpool, to overturn the League's decision. 'It's morally and legally wrong and we will continue to fight it all the way,' Geoff Fletcher, the Highfield chairman, said.

Equally impressive was the show of support at the Harvey Hadden stadium yesterday from the game at large. A gate of 851 might sound modest, but it was the highest of the season for Nottingham and more than double their average.

That did not indicate that the city had belatedly taken them to its heart though; the extra customers were fans of other clubs attracted by the call from the Rugby League Supporters Association for a demonstration against the expulsions.

When commuters from the points of the League compass gathered at half-time to present a bouquet to the Nottingham chairman Paul Tomlinson's octagenarian mother and part-time programme seller, Joan, there were few clubs in the League unrepresented.

By that time, it was clear that Nottingham were not going to add to their single victory of the season. They had begun brightly enough, with two overseas players who are likely to be snapped up by bigger clubs, Eric Kibe, the Kenyan full back, and Duane Harp, the Australian scrum-half, showing up well.

After Highfield's Willie Johnson jinked over in the 11th minute, however, the visitors were always in control. The biggest cheer of the afternoon came in the last minute when Tony Chappell went over for Nottingham's only try, adding the goal points which, barring a legal victory during the close season, will be their last.

It was a bitter-sweet way for the nine-year attempt to establish the game in the East Midlands to end.

'Sometimes I wish I had never got involved,' Tomlinson admitted. 'I suppose it's like taking heroin, except I understand that you get more of a buzz from that.'

The prospect of a place in a feeder league does not seem like much of a lifeline to him. 'My heart would say yes, but the reality is that the League wants three teams out, in fact they want more than three.'

The clubs which have dubbed themselves the Fighting Four have a meeting with the League this week. After that the next step would be a high court injunction. They have the moral high ground, a good deal of support and very little money. In the meantime that injury-time try stands as the last, brave gesture.

Nottingham: Kibe; Thompson, Wright (Middleton, 40), Moore, Dean Jackson, Chappell, Harp; Burgess (Spinks, 39) Sankey, Nicholson (Burgess, 62), Darryl Jackson, Idle, Rudd.

Highfield: C Johnson (Brown 40); Evans, Barrow, Hester, Durnin, Stephenson (Ashcroft 44), W Johnson; Lewis, Pemberton, Tinsley, Potter, Viller, Dolan.

Referee: J Smith (Halifax).