Rugby League: Hunslet's authentic home from home

Dave Hadfield visits the newest rugby league ground where memories abound
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The Independent Online
The lost tribe of South Leeds have come home, although on this showing, a 17-4 win against Barrow, it will be a little longer before it starts to feel like it.

After 23 years in alien surroundings like Elland Road Greyhound Stadium and a grudging Leeds United's grandiose premises across the road, Hunslet have been back where they belong for four matches now.

Geographically, there is no doubt about the authenticity of the location, it being necessary to go through the industrial estate that replaced the Parkside ground they vacated in 1972 to get to the new South Leeds Stadium.

This, far more than the well-heeled areas around Headingley, is rugby league's heartland in the city, where the vast majority of its players spring from.

The first game back home against Leigh last month attracted an encouraging crowd of over 2,000, but last Sunday, at home to a relatively well supported Second Division team like Hull Kingston Rovers, only 875 turned up. Last night, with a bitter wind bending the corner flags to the M1, there were considerably less than that, not helped by the fact that Barrow, a power in the game themselves not too long ago, now outnumber their own supporters on away trips.

The council-owned ground, although still one-sided, has potential, but Hunslet, for whom the 1965 Wembley defeat by Wigan in what was for 20 years generally regarded as the best of all cup finals, was a recent memory when they sold Parkside, will have to stir some memories of old glories before they can begin to fill it consistently.

Courtesy of a good individual try by Darren Wilson, the Braves led the Hawks 4-2 at half-time, the Americanised alliterations doing nothing to disguise the fact that these are northern English institutions fallen on hard times on and off the field.

But one of Hunslet's longest-serving players, Mick Coyle, put them ahead and Barrow lost their prop Sam Hansen, sent off for a high tackle.

When the Western Samoan World Cup squad member, Des Maea, went over, hailed like all the scorers by an airport-style announcement that adds to the stadium's sense of transience, Hunslet were on their way. It would have merited a few choruses of what people who have heard always claim to be the most poignant of club anthems, "We've swept the seas before," if only anyone could have remembered the tune.

Hunslet: Baker; White, Grant (Evans, 61), Viller, Richardson; Rowse (Walker, 71), Close; Lambert, Brook, Pryce (Grant, 74), Coyle, Maea, Sharp.

Barrow: Trainor; Smith, Robinson, Wilson, Creary; Ashcroft, Shaw; Chelton (Brown, 72), Walsh, Hansen, Morrow, Spenceley, Luxton (John, 68).

Referee: G Shaw (Dewsbury).