Rugby League: The seasons come together in Yorkshire

Dave Hadfield finds relations uneasy for cricket and rugby league at Headingley
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The Independent Online
Back-to-back sporting seasons became a reality at Headingley yesterday when major cricket and rugby league fixtures shared the stage for the first time.

With a little cheek and subterfuge it would have been possible to watch Yorkshire beat Middlesex in the Sunday League and then hide under one's seat until the coast was clear, before sneaking through to the other side of the ground's double-fronted stand to see Leeds take on the Bradford Bulls in the day's most important Super League match.

It was a situation that was always destined to occur once rugby league decided on a switch to a summer season. Indeed, it was one reason why Leeds initially resisted that move.

A new regime, headed by the arch enthusiast for summer rugby, Gary Hetherington, now tries to see the juxtaposition as more of an opportunity than a problem, but this being sport in Yorkshire, relations could not be that simple.

Cricket and rugby might share a home but they share little in the way of goodwill since Yorkshire announced their intention to move out to a green-field site near Wakefield.

An offer by Leeds to extend hospitality to the cricketers after they finished their labours was initially dead-batted by Yorkshire, although Jason Pooley, whose 61 was central to Middlesex' 173, spent much of his time on the boundary discussing the forthcoming rugby and how he intended to be there to enjoy it.

"If relations were better, they could have made much more of this," said Margaret Ratcliffe, the secretary of the "Headingley is Home" campaign that has fought to keep them there.

"They could have had combined tickets and organised it so fans could have gone straight from one event to the other."

Instead, followers of both games were turfed out of the cricket ground like her and her family at five o'clock.

Despite their recent tensions, rugby and cricket have always been in a symbiotic relationship at Headingley, not only because Yorkshire pay Leeds rent.

The double-sided stand, unique in the country when it was built in 1933, is the concrete evidence of that. Even before the two seasons coincided, it was possible during the overlap between the two sports to peer out of the back of the rugby stand and see a second XI match or apprentices practising on the outfield.

There have even been clashes of dates, although on a smaller scale than yesterday's, when a home fixture for Bramley - who also play at Headingley - has followed county cricket.

There was even a time when rugby crossed the divide completely. On Christmas Eve in 1938 the rugby pitch was frozen solid but the cricket ground was fit for play.

The relationship was more of the eyes-averted variety yesterday, but it will continue - even if Yorkshire carry out their threat to move. Plans for the new ground include a back-to-back rugby stadium for use by Wakefield Trinity and Wakefield Rugby Union Club.

Yesterday's exercise in co-existence ended in the most appropriate manner possible with Anthony McGrath, brother of the Leeds assistant coach, Damien McGrath, smiting the winning six into the stand that the two clubs share.

One who was pleased with the early finish was the member of the cricket ground staff who had to do his various duties there before donning his costume as the Leeds mascot, Ronnie the Rhino.

"It's been a busy day for him," Hetherington said. And a fascinating one in the long and tangled history of the relationship between the two sports.

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